It's not easy talking to kids about subjects that make adults feel uncomfortable – or that adults might not fully understand themselves. But when it comes to race and racism in America, it's imperative that we start listening, learning, and having these conversations with our kids and with each other. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum is president emerita of Spelman College, an award-winning clinical psychologist, a national authority on racial issues in America, and author of the best-selling book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race. In this special episode, Dr. Tatum joins Care.com CEO Tim Allen for a discussion about Talking to Kids About Race and Racism. She offers guidance on how to have important – often difficult – conversations with kids of all ages about race and racism that are empathetic, constructive, and compassionate.
Listen to this episode to learn:
Talking to kids about race and racism
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Talking to kids about subjects that make adults feel uncomfortable or that adults might not even fully understand themselves is never easy, but when it comes to talking to our kids about race and racism, it's an imperative. Today's guest will teach you how to have these important, often difficult conversations with kids of all ages in a way that's empathetic, constructive, and compassionate. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum recently joined Care.com CEO, Tim Allen, for a live webinar event with thousands of parents, teachers, and caregivers, to talk about how to teach your kids about race and racism. This is a special episode of Equal Parts. Have a listen.
Tim Allen: Thank you to all the parents and the caregivers joining us. My name is Tim Allen. I'm the Care.com CEO. Care is committed to providing tools, education, resources to parents and caregivers while you're caring for all you love. That's our commitment to the world. Let me introduce Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. Dr. Tatum is the president emerita at Spelman College.
She's an award-winning psychologist. She's widely known for all of her work. She's the author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race. She has another book called Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation. Dr. Tatum, thank you, and thank you for your time.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Thank you for having me. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
Tim Allen: Appreciate it. Jumping right in. Parents in America are now having conversations that have long been either ignored or avoided or have been very uncomfortable. You have been having these conversations for years. In fact, your book came out in 1997. How do we, as parents, start really having the conversations and taking the actions so that our children aren't having to have the same conversations with their children in 23 years?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Let me start out by saying that children will ask questions starting at a very early age. Many people will ask, when do kids notice difference? Babies notice difference, six-month-olds notice difference, but by the time children have language, two-year-olds are able to have a conversation with you and ask questions, "Why does that person look so dark? Why is that person's hair like that?"
These are the kinds of questions particularly that White children are likely to ask when they encounter a Black person or a dark-skinned person, maybe in a grocery store or someplace else, and parents may respond with the well-known "shhh" when such a question gets asked. Maybe because if it's been asked in public, they're embarrassed, but in fact, being able to answer a child's question about difference is very helpful because they do notice.
They are not blind as we sometimes like to describe kids as color blind. They do notice, but if they are "shhh" a lot, they realize they're not supposed to mention or talk about the differences they noticed, and we leave them with a lot of confusion if we don't answer those questions.
Tim Allen: Would your advice be to be straight to the point but keep it age-appropriate for the child as you've talked about developmental cycles are different with kids of different ages? How do you recommend approaching the conversation directly with kids at different spectrums?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Let me start by saying that when we are talking to children about racial difference, again, all these conversations should be age-appropriate. One way to have an age-appropriate conversation particularly with a toddler or a preschooler is to use books. There are lots of age-appropriate children's books that have images or talk about physical difference. When we talk about different skin color or different eye shape or different hair texture, we are helping children understand the wider world.
We're helping them understand it in a way that is positive and affirming for all the different children who are being depicted if we have chosen our books wisely. Having said that, those conversations are different than the conversations about racism. Racism is about unfairness. A lot of parents might say, "My three-year-old, my four-year-old, my five-year-old is too young to have a conversation about racism." In fact, they're not too young if we are talking about it relative to fair and unfair.
You can have a conversation with a three or four-year-old about what it means to treat somebody unfairly. If I gave Tommy two cookies every afternoon and only gave you one, would that be fair? It would not. Sometimes, in our society, people are treated differently because of the way they look. Some people are given more good things and less punishment, and other people are given more punishment and fewer good things simply because of the way they look.
That's a three or four-year-old conversation, and you can say, "That's very unfair." Those conversations might come up because of what's happening in the news or perhaps because of a question a child asked, and so following the child's lead by listening carefully to the questions they ask can take you a long way toward having those conversations.
Tim Allen: You're talking in regards to the insular conversations of parents to children. Especially as a White father, how do I ensure my school is supporting that or the teachers or the other people who are interacting in my child's life are supporting those messages and also being consistent in giving the message of racism as fair or unfair but also hears what differences represent?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. Parents of all backgrounds should feel free and empowered to ask questions of the caregivers. One of the things that I'd like to tell parents to do is, first of all, look around and see what you see in the building, in the school. Who are the caregivers? Who are the children? Are there groups of children missing? Is it an all-White environment? Is it diverse? Are the staff diverse? What's up on the walls? What are the posters? What are the books? What's in the play corner?
These are questions that any parent can ask because every parent should want their child to be growing up understanding that they live in a diverse world. Just by asking, "Who's missing from the picture here?" is one way to start a conversation. Another way is to ask the educators, the caregivers, "How are you talking about difference with children? What crayons are available if kids are spending time coloring? Do we have a set of crayons that represents all skin tones?" for example.
These are the kinds of questions that any parent can ask, but they're especially important if you want to see your own child represented, and that's a bigger task for the parent of color often because their children are the ones who are less likely to see their skin color represented or their family group represented in the stories or the resources available, but every parent should think it's important.
Tim Allen: It's the implicit signals children pick up on from the crayons, through the messaging on the wall you're talking about. For Black parents who there may not be a large body of Black students, what can they do to have the conversations so that there's modeling outside of themselves? There's role modeling, there's emulation available. What are the things that Black parents could also do in order to ensure that they're getting the full spectrum of exposure so that way, it's not just a one-segmented school, especially with hyper segregation occurring?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: If we talk about the experiences of Black families living in predominantly White communities, and this happens to be another area of my research, one of the challenges that Black families in those communities have is finding other kids of color for their children to be friends with. Their child might be the only child of color in the classroom or in the neighborhood. While you certainly want your children to have friends of all backgrounds, there is something important for children to see people like themselves represented. Parents who are raising children in that environment will often tell me in the interviews that I've had with them that they seek out opportunities.
Maybe it's driving to a church, a town or two over where there is a larger Black population, or maybe it's making sure that they stay connected to cousins and relatives who will share and reflect their background so that their kids have some opportunity to see themselves reflected not just in a book or on a video because that's a hard position to be in to be one of few, but if you're a White parent and your situation is that you're living in a largely White environment where there are very few children of color for your children to befriend, then your task is to think about how do I expand my child's experience so they don't just grow up in this very homogeneous bubble.
One of the things I tell educators when I'm having those opportunities to do professional development is that all of our kids need to know how to live and learn how to live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial environment. The 21st century is very diverse, and if we don't have those skills as young people, we are, in essence, causing our children to be what I call social dinosaurs, not ready for the climate in which they're going to be living.
Tim Allen: You have a stat in the book that blew me away where a study was performed that 75% of White parents have social networks that are fully White. It's not even intentional in all regards, sometimes it's intentional, but there's also just this implicit normal gravitation towards a homogeneous state that we have to disrupt as parents and really stand and say, "I'm going to consciously do something about this."
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. It is absolutely necessary to think about how do I expand my social network? One of the things we know is that if an adult has a multiracial group of friends, their children will have a multiracial group of friends because the friends have children, but the parent is also modeling that, "I embrace and celebrate the diversity in our community and I am connected to people from all backgrounds."
When that's true, then it's a natural thing for children to learn how to do that as well. The parent who says, "I don't have any friends of color. How do I make friends of color?" The best way perhaps would be to think about what are your interests? Do you like to sing? Are you in a community choir? There are gospel choirs you could join. Are there international clubs that you could be a part of? Is there a book club connected to the local library that might bring you into contact with people who are different from yourself? It might mean extending beyond your usual comfort zone, but that is part of how it gets done.
Tim Allen: There was another moment I had reading your book, this aha moment of we're using the analogy of the airport walkway to talk not just about how you shouldn't be racist, there's the racist or the act of racism, but anti-racism, and that's something parents are really trying to have a conversation with their kids about and invoke and enroll. Do you mind sharing that analogy with everyone?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. It's really important when we think about understanding racism, that racism is not just prejudiced. It's not just negative attitudes about a particular person or set of people. It's about policies and practices and institutional context that really form a system. That system was in place before I was born, before you were born. It has been operating in our country a long time, really baked into our cultural context.
If we think about it as like a conveyor belt that we step on at birth, we step onto this conveyor belt and we're growing up and the conveyor belt is carrying us along like the automatic sidewalk, the automatic walkway at the airport, what we can say is that that conveyor belt of racism that's carrying all of us along can be interrupted, but there are some people who are walking-- If you've been on that walkway at the airport, you know there are some people who like to walk fast to their destination.
There are other people who like to stand still. If there are people who are walking fast, we might think of those people relative to racism as the active racists, the people who are embracing White supremacy, embracing the racial ideology that has underlined the racism in our society, and they're really going for it. Then, there are a lot of people who don't want to go where they're going, but they are just standing still.
They would say, "I'm not racist because I'm not following those people. I'm not going there," but they're still being carried along by that same conveyor belt. They're just not actively being carried along. Then, there are people who will say, "I see where that walkway is headed. I don't want to go there. I'm going to turn around. I'm going to be not racist. I'm turning around. I'm not even looking."
Now, unless they're moving, they're just traveling backwards. They're still being carried along, but they don't see where they're going. Some people might describe that as being passively anti-racist, but what I would say is that there's no such thing as being not racist or passively anti-racist because the only way to interrupt that process is to actively walk in the opposite direction.
You have to be moving faster than that conveyor belt to really interrupt being carried along. When people hear that term anti-racist, what that is saying is we have to be working against those systems. We have to interrupt those policies and practices. We have to create new systems that are equitable and that don't reinforce a racial hierarchy in our society.
Tim Allen: There's a topic out there today that's complex and really packs in a lot of different emotions and values, which is kids are taught at an early age the police are going to protect them, and if they're ever in danger, to call the police. There's a different conversation of Black families about what happens, especially with adolescence or as you grow older about how to interact with the police that White parents don't have to have.
Plus, you layer on top of that all the images that have been happening in the news. You've got a lot of different messages that Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter. How do you unpack this for kids and explain it to them in a way that they understand and can process all of this complex information and messaging?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: It is complex. As you have illustrated, there are adults who are not clear on some of these topics, but to the extent that we are trying to help children understand, for example, the recent events following the murder of George Floyd, many young children will not have seen that video and we would hope that would be the case. You don't want kids to see something traumatic like that if you can prevent it, particularly young children.
If a child has been inadvertently exposed, saw something on TV or on a computer screen and has questions about it, you certainly want to talk about those questions. Even if you're not talking about that specific incident, but if you're talking about why are people protesting, you can talk about the fact that people are protesting because some bad things have happened, particularly to Black people.
"Some bad things have happened when police officers made mistakes. One mistake that happened was this police officer knelt on--" I wouldn't even get into the specifics. I would say, "A police officer hurt someone very badly, and that was unfair. Sometimes, that happens more frequently. We know in our society that those bad things happen more frequently to Black people at the hands of police than they do to White people. It's not fair, but it's a fact.
We are working to make sure it stops happening that way." I think the emphasis on working to change is an important message for children. It will be reassuring to them to hear that not just that bad things happened because bad things did happen but that people are working to change those bad things. One question that might come up though, it's important to say, is a young child might say, "Will that happen to me? Could that happen to you? Maybe I'm worried that that's going to happen to my dad or it's going to happen to me."
Particularly Black children might have that concern. If that were being expressed, or even if it wasn't, a parent can say with some reassurance, particularly to a young child, a three-year-old, a four-year-old, "I'm here to protect you. I'm going to make sure that those things don't happen." Now, if your child is 14 or 15, you can't say that with the same confidence because that 14 or 15-year-old is spending time away from you, out riding his or her bike, maybe starting to learn to drive depending on the age of driving in your state.
If children are spending time outside of your protective bubble, then what Black parents have to say to their children, "Here's what you need to know to be safe. I hope this never happens to you. We know that there are lots of police officers who are truly trying to protect people, but we also know that sometimes, bad things happen. Here's what you need to do to ensure that it's less likely to happen to you." It's a tough conversation, there's no question, but if you don't have it, you leave your child quite vulnerable.
Tim Allen: Shifting from parents to child relationship, and to the parent to parent dynamic or the caregiver to parent dynamic, what do you recommend for parents in regards to interacting with other parents or parents interacting with caregivers or caregivers interacting with parents where they aren't necessarily doing the work or perhaps even have some belief structures that could be considered racist or could be considered not in alignment with what you want for your children?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: One parent talking to another parent who's expressing a point of view maybe that you don't share. Maybe expressing prejudicial attitudes or maybe just talking about, "I don't want my children to be color-blind," that maybe you as a parent have come to understand that that's not helpful. You want to talk to that parent about it. I often recommend what I call the 3F strategy, FFF. If you're wondering what those F stands for, it's felt, found, and feel.
Let's imagine we're having that conversation. You might say something like, "I felt that way." There was a time when I felt that the most important thing was that for my children to "not see color," but then I found out that actually, children do see color, they just learn not to talk about it, and that what we really want them to know is that it's not right to discriminate against someone on the basis of their color, but there's nothing wrong with the color, there's nothing wrong with the diversity in our world, and I want my children to appreciate those differences.
Now, I feel it's important for me to talk about not only that we recognize those differences, but we also recognize that we have to work against racism to prevent people from being mistreated on the basis of those differences.
Tim Allen: You tell the story-- and I've heard it a number of times because it's such a great story about your son, Jonathan, and his friend telling him that the reason his skin is dark is he drank too much chocolate milk. Do you mind sharing that story with the parents, and then also the lessons that you were able to share with Jonathan through that story?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Sure. I'm going to give you the short version of the story, but there's also a TEDx talk of the same title that parents can find on YouTube. It goes back to when my son who's now all grown up was then three. I picked him up from his childcare center and he asked me, "Mom, Tommy says my skin is brown because I drink chocolate milk. Is that true?" Of course, it's not true. I said that. I said, "No, Jonathan, it's not true. Your skin is brown because you have something in your skin called melanin.
Everybody has some, and in fact, it's a good thing to have because it helps protect your skin from the sun, but the more you have, the browner your skin is. Even Tommy has some." We talked about that too. I said, "At your school, you are the kid with the most, and that's why your skin is the brownest." He liked my explanation, which also happens to be accurate. He liked the fact that he was the kid with the most of something, but I was concerned about Tommy, as in, who was straightening Tommy out?
Who was answering Tommy's question? It was that experience, that conversation I had with Jonathan that prompted me the next day to go to the school and ask the teachers, "I'm wondering, how are you talking about difference?" As it happened, Jonathan was the only Black child in his class, and so I wondered what kinds of conversations the children were having and the teachers were having with the children.
The teacher I spoke with said, "It hasn't come up." Of course, it had come up, but maybe it had come up in the dress-up corner or someplace out of earshot where the kids were talking to each other and maybe the teacher didn't hear the conversation. It also made me wonder whether we sometimes have what I'm going to call selective attention. We don't pay attention to the things that make us uncomfortable.
"If I don't notice that conversation, I won't have to figure out what to say, and so let me just tune into something else," but, in fact, kids are having these conversations, they need information. I think it's also important to say that Tommy was not being mean or biased in his question, though I will say when he said too much chocolate milk, that implies that you're doing something wrong.
You wouldn't have this brown skin if you weren't drinking too much chocolate milk, which suggests that Tommy was already sensing that it was better to have lighter skin, that's sort of implied in his question, the way he phrased it. Even if it had just been a straight-up, "[unintelligible 00:23:45] and you're drinking chocolate milk. I think that's why your skin is brown." It wasn't intended to be hurtful, and I don't think Jonathan was hurt, but he was puzzled when he came home. I think that it's important for us to answer children's questions so that they don't carry around these perceptions.
Tim Allen: Yes. I always say to myself, kids have the purest expression of what's starting to formulate. They'll ask the purest questions, they'll make the purest statements, and sometimes as parents, we can conflate intent on top of that and that's our conversation when they just don't understand or they've had experiences that have exposed them to having a train of thought or thinking, right?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. I do want to add though, it is important to say that even young children, two-year-olds and three-year-olds, can express prejudices. I don't think that was what was Tommy's motive in that conversation, but you can hear a three-year-old say, "You can't play with us because you are--" fill in the blank.
You can hear kids exclude and express prejudicial attitudes, particularly if they are in an environment where those attitudes are being expressed by the adults around them. In my book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, one of the things I talk about in the chapter on Young Children is that the smog that we are breathing, the smog of stereotypes, the smog of prejudicial attitudes is around us all the time, and we should not assume that kids don't pick those things up. They do and they start to pick them up at a very early age.
Tim Allen: Talking to the parents who have adolescents and teens, and maybe not even adolescents and teens, I'd love to hear your higher-level thinking than mine on this [chuckles] which is microaggressions. Microaggressions start to formulate, and microaggressions, as you say it, in isolation can seem trivial, but compounded, really starts to create a narrative in children's minds. Do you mind talking about what microaggressions are for the parents who don't know what that is and what we can do to really ensure we're disrupting those within our kids from early ages and also adolescence?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Sure. Microaggressions can be-- they're defined as slights, small insults. It's not the racial slur or the active, intentional hurt, but they are the daily interactions that can cause discomfort. It's because they are so frequent and you don't know when they're going to occur that they can keep you in a state of stress. This is why microaggressions have been shown to contribute to high blood pressure and general psychological distress for people who have experienced them frequently.
I'm going to give a common one that perhaps a multiracial child might experience. "Can I touch your hair?" or, "What are you?" People will ask if someone appears racially ambiguous. Having someone constantly ask you, "What are you?" that's a microaggression. Asking someone to touch you like you're in a petting zoo, that's a microaggression. Asian Americans sometimes experience microaggressions when people ask, "Where are you from?" "I'm from Tulsa, Oklahoma." "No, really? Where are you from?"
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: What they mean is, what is your ancestry, or someone who, again, this is an example that Asian-Americans often report, "You speak English so well. Where did you learn to speak so well?" Because people assume that the face is a foreign face and doesn't necessarily match what they're thinking of as someone who is "American," a real American, so to speak. Those are just two small examples.
A common one that Black people experience is when someone says, "You're so articulate." That is intended to be a compliment, but implied is the assumption that you wouldn't be, that you would not be able to speak in a particular way.
Tim Allen: One of the questions from our parents was, they have a son who's 10 and is struggling to understand because they don't subscribe to being colorblind, they're having these active conversations, but they don't understand that their child doesn't understand why Black people are being treated unfairly. They go to, "Slavery was ended." It's just like they don't understand all the other unpacked aspects of it. Do you mind sharing just part of the conversation to have with a teenager or someone who's grappling with that inside of their school?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Sure. One of the things that question reflects to me is the lack of historical knowledge. If someone thinks that slavery ended and then it was over, they have obviously missed what happened during reconstruction and following reconstruction, the implementation of what were referred to as the Black codes, Jim Crow in the south, the continuing segregation as people migrated from the south to the north, the redlining of communities.
There's so much information that is absent. Anyone who says, "Slavery was 400 years ago. Why are we still talking about this?" has missed about 400 years of history. The good news is, there are resources. If you don't know that history, there are videos you can watch, there are books intended for young adults that you can read. The gap can be filled in and parents and children can fill in that historical knowledge gap together and talk about-- We really need to understand why these things are still occurring, why they never stopped, they just took different forms.
I remember when my children were much younger, we're in different generations here, but when the documentary Eyes on the Prize about the civil rights movement was on PBS, and watching that with them, and of course, those documentaries are still available and can be found online at various streaming services that provide them, but there are lots of ways to fill in those gaps. That's what a question like that requires, some additional historical information.
Tim Allen: Another question came in from a parent, and she's Black with Caribbean heritage. She has two children, eight and six. She's had conversations with the older child, the eight-year-old child, but the six-year-old child, she hasn't quite exposed. There's a differential in the conversation really happening. Do you encourage families to have the conversation together? You've always said if the age of the kid is an age-appropriate, but when you start to have kids that are closer in age, do you recommend having those conversations together as a family? Would you mind giving me a little bit of advice on that?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. In this particular case, and parents are going to know their own children better than any person, so I'm going to give advice saying use your own judgment here, but I could imagine with a six-year-old and an eight-year-old, that there are books you might be able to read together. For example, there's a wonderful book called Something Happened in Our Town, which is about a shooting of a Black person by a police officer, written by three psychologists.
It is described as being intended for children between the ages of four and eight. A parent might get that book, Something Happened in Our Town, and sit and read the book together with the six-year-old and the eight-year-old. The eight-year-old might ask more sophisticated questions than the six-year-old, but it would be possible to have a dialogue about that issue jointly. Now, let's imagine those children were four and six.
Again, the four-year-old would be on the young end of that, but if they are two and four, probably, that's not going to work. Or 8 and 10, the 10-year-old is going to be ready for some things that they could read perhaps on their own that maybe the eight-year-old doesn't have the reading level yet for it. That two-year gap is going to vary depending on where children are developmentally. The difference between a six and eight-year-old, not that big. Between an 8 and 10-year-old, maybe bigger.
Tim Allen: Resource appropriate, right? Find the resources that are appropriate so the age group have those conversations. I wanted to say as I've been thinking about it, you've put a number of resources out there, the PBS documentary, books. We are going to compile that list, put it on our Twitter so everyone has access to that list. I would like to also say, is there any other resources you highly recommend for parents to seek out?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Yes. One of the places that I often refer people to is called socialjusticebooks.org because they have a curated list of books and they're organized by topic and age appropriateness. For a parent who's wondering, "What's the best topic on the civil rights movement for my four-year-old?" you can look that up and they've got a list of books that are organized around that age. What about my young adults? What can I look for there? Another resource is Common Sense Media, which has also curated list of books but also documentaries, videos, other resources as well.
Tim Allen: I mentioned at the beginning, at the top of this, you've been doing this for years. You've been having these conversations, you've been educating, talked about how-- the book came out 23 years ago, how in 23 years, we're having the same conversation. I just want to check in with you, where are your thoughts about the current moment? Do you feel like this is different? Do you feel like there is change? How do we really instill that in our kids so that it is sustainable change, not just a momentary part of change?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: I think that it is a different moment in this sense. When I see the protests that have been happening around the country, one of the things that's striking to me is the significant presence of White people. That is different.
If I look back on other protests, even the Civil Rights era, there were certainly White people who were involved in the civil rights movement and we know that, but in the level of the size of the crowds and the multiracial nature of the protest has been striking to me, which does suggest-- and the polls that we hear about, something like 75% or 80% of people polled right now in June 2020 are saying that they support the concept of Black Lives Matter or the Black Lives Matter Movement.
If we were having this conversation in September 2015 during the Ferguson uprisings, that was not the case. We do see a shift in attitudes. Certainly, I think it is possible to build on the momentum that we're experiencing right now, but I think it's important to understand that it is not like flicking a light switch. It requires effort and commitment over a long period of time. When we talk about sustainability, we have to talk to ourselves about our own sustained efforts. I have to make a sustained effort. You have to make a sustained effort. It's not going to just happen because we all decided it should.
Tim Allen: There was one topic that came up again and again in the parents' questions that I wanted to ask about, which is explaining White privilege, White privilege to your White children. I'll speak from experience, having a number of these conversations, there's a lot of confusion with what privilege is. It could be conflated into, "I didn't earn this, I didn't work hard." I know it's such a meaty topic, but do you mind taking a few moments of unpacking it and talking to us about how we could talk about White privilege with our children?
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: I've been thinking about this conversation with a young child. This is my analogy. We're going to try this out. First of all, we should understand that when people talk about privilege, what they're talking about are the benefits that come from an unfair system. If we understand racism as a system of unfairness that is in place giving benefits to one group of people and systematically disadvantaging another group of people, if we want to talk about the privilege, the concept of privilege are the benefits that come to that group that is receiving those benefits.
When we talk about White privilege, we're not talking about White ease. We're not talking about White affluence. We're talking about the fact that you don't get followed around in the store when you go shopping. We're talking about the fact that if a police officer arrests you, he doesn't throw you on the ground and kneel on your neck. Another phrase that I've heard recently used is White immunity, that there are things that don't happen simply because you're White that regularly happen to people of color, particularly Black people in a context of anti-Black racism.
How would you talk about that to a young child? Here's an example that I think I would try out if I were having this conversation right now with a young child. I would say, "Let's imagine you came home from school with your brother every day. Every day, I gave him two cookies, and every day, I only gave you one. You would think that was unfair, but we might say that he's got the privilege of getting two cookies, and you don't have that privilege. You're just getting one.
Now, let's imagine that he came home from school before you, and I gave him his cookies before you got home. He might not know that you're only getting one cookie. He knows he's getting two, but he doesn't know you're only getting one because he's not there to see it. If you came home and looked through the window and saw me giving him two cookies and you were only getting one, you would know you are getting the short end of the stick because you saw it.
You saw him get the two cookies. You didn't see you get just one but you saw him get two. You would feel like that was unfair. Let's imagine that he did something wrong. Let's imagine he broke some toys or did something bad and I punished him. Let's say you did something bad but I gave you a worst punishment. Let's say you did the very same thing and I made you clean up the mess and told you you couldn't have dessert tonight, but when he did it, I just told him to say sorry and go on about his business.
I didn't make him clean up. He was being treated differently. You would think that was unfair. When we talk about racism, what we're talking about is a group of people getting more cookies, getting more benefits. They don't always know they're getting more, but they're getting more just because of the way the system operates. We're also talking about sometimes getting more punishment, being treated differently by the police even when they have done the same thing that somebody else might have done, being treated more harshly.
Tim Allen: Wow. The cookie analogy, the looking through the window, it gets me. Now, I want to run off with my five-year-old and start having these conversations again. Thank you. That's incredible.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: What I want to say, and I think that listeners will need to understand, that children, particularly young children, don't get abstract concepts, but they do get concrete experiences. They know that if you've given out cookies, everybody should be getting the same. They understand that, right?
Tim Allen: That's right.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: They understand that. We have to translate these ideas into very concrete examples that they can understand.
Tim Allen: This has been an absolute pleasure. I want to just say thank you. Thank you on behalf of all of the parents, all of the caregivers. Thank you on behalf of myself and Care.com. Also, just thank you for doing the work. Thank you for being there and being a voice through the years. It's been an honor. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Thank you for having me tonight. I appreciate it.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.
Emily Paisner: Wait. Before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.