My partner and I recently welcomed our miracle twin newborns to the world and we’re thrilled! But also terrified. Somehow we managed to bring two more blond-haired, blue-eyed, males into our rural Midwest society (we are both of primarily European ancestry, but we never expected this!).
We had always planned to teach our children to value diversity and to challenge the system of privilege, but now we’re looking at raising children who are the textbook image of privilege. Help! How can we do parenting right?
I love that you’re concerned about how to teach privilege to your children because that’s step one. But then steps two through one million are yet to come. You have to understand all the facets of privilege yourself, include it in your daily lives, and make sure you’re including diverse media to your kids all the time. It’s HARD. But I can tell you’re ready to take it on head-first, and that’s awesome. I pulled some reader comments from this post since it’s so relevant. Then I’ll talk about a few resources that will help…
Understand it well yourself first
Privilege is expansive and nuanced and teaching it to someone else is HARD. Make sure you’re tapping into sources like Resource Generation which helps young people learn more about wealth and class privilege. Be aware of ALL of the different kinds of privilege, be they race and class-based, weight and ability-based, gender and LGBTQ-based, and more. Find some great books to help you understand it yourself and pass that knowledge along.
Here are some suggestions:
- Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
- Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
- An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(I know this list is missing a billion books — add yours in the comments!)
The National Civil Rights Museum’s Privilege Aptitude Test can help start the conversation about what it means to have privilege based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, or veteran status.
Harvard University’s Implicit Bias help you examine your own beliefs and see where knowledge deficits may exist.
Use child-friendly stories for explanation
Explaining privilege is a complex thing for children and has to be reinforced constantly. Incorporating stories of privilege, like The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Childen Use Stories to Shape Their Lives, Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege, can help. Here’s an excerpt from Of Dogs and Lizards…
Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund — a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.
The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time — this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.
The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature — she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her — she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.
Read the rest here.
Reader Heather introduced this example:
Here’s a privilege test: Make them first graders. Give them coloring books and crayons, but make them unequal in the same ways that our society makes people unequal, so base it on race, ability, weight, perceived socioeconomic status, etc. To them it just looks like they got handed some coloring books and crayons, but halfway through their page you start asking questions like, “Is this the kind of coloring book and crayons you had growing up?” “Why did I give you the Crayolas and you the dollar store crayons?” “Why did you get the brand new book and she got the one someone else has ripped up and scribbled in?”
Now ask them how their quality of crayons and coloring book relates to the car they drive, the house they live in, and the clothes they wear. Ask them how they would feel if they walked onto a store (car lot) and the salesperson immediately started pushing the scribbled-in generic coloring book with the dollar-store 8-box of crayons, when they can afford a 200-pack of Crayolas and the Disney princesses coloring book? Ask how they would feel if you had only handed the girls pink crayons and the boys blue ones?
Include lessons everywhere, all the time
Around age three, my daughter wondered why the bank was closed. I said it was Martin Luther King Day. She asked who MLK was, and why the bank was closed on his day. My daughter is a white person, and we come from a mixed race family. So I took some family photos off the wall and explained which of us were white, which were brown, and which were black. And I explained that when I go out in the world, I’m treated differently than Uncle is, because of the perceived colors of our skins, and that MLK worked to create more fairness for me and Uncle.
Another example: kids can see homeless people in ways adults don’t. My daughter has long had questions about homeless people. I’ve told her that some people have illnesses or problems that makes it very hard for them to keep jobs that will help them pay for their homes. Putting it this way gives me an opportunity to talk with her about her own privileges (economic, disability, and health, among others). As she’s gotten older I’ve expanded on that discussion…
I guess what I’m trying to say is, from my perspective there are eight bazillion opportunities to talk with children about privilege in the courses of their lifetimes. My tactic has just been to take those opportunities and be as straightforward as I can as they arise. My kid doesn’t feel “guilty” — but she does have awareness that she has privileges in our society that she didn’t earn, and which aren’t fair, and which she has a responsibility to both acknowledge and work to mitigate. – Courtney
This makes me think of one of the ways we’re planning on approaching the whole Santa thing when my daughter is old enough for the Santa thing (she’s only 1).
So to allow her the whole “magic of Santa” thing, but keep things in perspective, we’re going to let her know that Santa tells parents the things that kids ask for, but that sometimes, parents can’t always afford to get them everything on their wish list; and, that this is why for each Christmas present she receives from her parents via the list she gave to Santa, she has to pick one of her used toys/clothes/etc. to donate and share with another boy or girl who may have asked Santa for that item, but whose parents couldn’t afford to give it to them. – Lindsay
Fill their minds with diverse media
Make a conscious effort to read, watch, and absorb diverse media. Here are some great lists to get you started:
- Social Justice books
- 13 Diverse Graphic Novels for Kids
- 11 Inspiring Multicultural Biographies for Kids
- TV shows with diverse characters
- 14 Movies and TV shows that educate kids about diversity and race
- 18 Books with Diverse Main Characters
- 9 Picture Books That Celebrate Mixed Race Families
And here are some excellent books to include in your kids’ reading list:
- Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
- The Skin I’m In: A First Look At Racism by Pat Thomas
- White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman
- The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
- Lila and the Crow by Gabrielle Grimard
- Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
- For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George
- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
- Abigail the Whale by Davide Cali
Even more examples for all kinds of privilege can be found here!
More resources for understanding privilege:
What have YOU done to teach privilege to your kids?