MILWAUKEE — With daily protests involving thousands of people around the city, children may be questioning why all of this is happening. Those questions may lead to more difficult conversations about racial inequality. Experts said, while complex, it's never too early to start the conversation with kids.
"We always say, if a child is old enough to ask a question that's race related or you see them making choices or decisions that may be racially based, that's the right time to start talking to them about race and all of the beautiful differences we have in the world," Deanna Singh said.
Singh and her husband, Justin Ponder, are both experts in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Expert with Uplifting Impact. They say, since this most recent round of protests started, they've been inundated with requests from parents looking for help at answering tough questions from kids.
"After 10 to 15 of those, why don't we host a conversation?" Singh said. "That may be a way for us to uniquely think about what we're uniquely positioned to do and we can impact what is happening and how we can be of service."
Within 24 hours, they had more than 200 people register. Their first Zoom conversation was filled to capacity with parents; most of which were white.
"I feel communities of color and families of color and parents have these conversations all of the time," Ponder said. "It's an issue of survival for many of them. It's an issue of how to navigate life in the United States every day. What inspires me and creates a certain sense of hope, is people who don't have to experience these issues and still want to. They voluntarily give up time to learn about how something impacts someone other than themselves. They spend time on how I can talk to my kids to think bout their lives as more than their own."
"We were never unaware that we were the only children of color," Singh said. "Our friends had different places of awakening like, wow, you are not white. Those were really important moments for them. We never had the privilege of saying, we don't know we have a different color. There are all of these things we teach children about being nice, being kind. All of those things are important and should stay. But this is a conversation that is at the next level."
Singh and Ponder give 10 tips to help parents begin the conversation on racial inequality. The tips are meant to help facilitate the tough conversations but it needs to start before that.
"We made sure we were already celebrating these racial issues so they had a vocabulary and baseline language to talk about it when racial problems arose," Ponder said. "It's to confront the negative but to have plenty of framework already laid for the positive. So they don't have in their mind, the only time we talk about race is when something bad has happened and they start building up negative associations."
In order to get started, they say to prioritize your kids in the conversation and get your own emotions in check.
"I think it's important to process whatever you need to process first," Ponder said. "You're children are looking to you. A toddler, when they trip and fall, they immediately look to their parent to see how am I supposed to feel about this? If the parent laughs, the toddler laughs. If the parent panics, the toddler starts to panic."
While these feel like very adult conversations, Singh says kids may very well already have established thoughts about race. She says, it's important to ask them what they already know.
"They'll ask questions too," Singh said. "They'll say, that wouldn't happen to me because I'm white, right? That's a question we've probably gotten six or seven times from kids as young as three years old to teenagers. That would never happen to me because I'm white, right? As if they need justification. They're asking their parents, is that true? These are tough questions. They are having them. They are dealing with them."
In addition to these two tips, they say to be sure to bring facts into the conversation and not opinion.
"If you simply ask them what they think, what they notice, what they feel, what they believe and clarifying questions and work with them, providing guidance, but not editorial, it's much more likely to be a productive conversation that leads to more equitable frames of mind," Ponder said.
Singh and Ponder are holding two Zoom conversations this week; Monday at 7:30 and Wednesday at 7:30. While their goal is to provide the guide for a conversation, they hope this results in parents helping their children become the next generation of ally for people of color.
"We have a system in place where you can have racism without any racists," Ponder said. "You can have racial inequality and no one is ever bigoted. In order to achieve structural change that makes material conditions better for people of color, you have to go to the next level of allyship. We don't provide specifics or 'this is a 10-step program for becoming an ally.' But we try to give parents the tools for them to brainstorm as a family, the ways in which they and their children are uniquely positioned to provide allyship in ways no other family might be."
"Do we think this moment is really important? Yes," Singh said. "But we're not just worried about what is happening today. We're really, really concerned about what happens tomorrow. And who is in control of what happens tomorrow? It's our kids."
For more information, you can visit Deanna's website.