Race and Racism

Race and Racism

(from “Teaching Tolerance” by Carolyn Hoyt, Child Magazine, December/January 2005)

Create situations where your child can meet people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and traditions. Meeting many new people will lead to questions and “teachable moments” and foster a better understanding of human [differences].

Talk to your child about your family history. Explain to your child where their grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents came from. If appropriate, talk about the relationship between ancestry and race. Explain that ancestry is an important factor in one’s physical appearance. If possible, differentiate between ancestry and “race.”

Recognize situations where bias or discrimination has occurred. It is important to point out intolerance when it happens, so your child understands the situation. Talk about how bias or discrimination and intolerance are hurtful to everyone. When discrimination or bias occurs it is important to recognize both your child’s feelings and the potential feelings of all individuals involved in the situation. After recognizing a situation in which discrimination has occurred, discuss ways that the situation could have been handled better.

Some Guidelines for Productive Family Discussions about Race (© 2007 American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.)

Having a conversation about the idea of race with young children can be challenging. Parents may find the following guidelines useful, as methods to foster productive discussions at home.

1. Do not be afraid of sensitive topics.
There are many topics, like race, that adults think are too sensitive to discuss. Children perceive their discomfort. Use conversations with your child to teach him/her to feel positive about talking about race and to become more comfortable doing so yourself. Race does not have to be a taboo topic.

2. Create an environment that allows free expression.
As a parent it is important to create an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing his/her ideas and confusions. Parents, too, should be comfortable in acknowledging their confusion and limits in knowledge about race and human variation. Parents may want to emphasize that all questions are good questions.

3. Provide short and accurate answers to your child.
Although race is a complex topic, use your wisdom and experience to provide simple answers to your child’s questions. In cases where a parent is unsure of the answer to a question, take the opportunity to search for the answer with your child.

While this piece was written following Michael Brown’s murder, the questions and issues it raises continue to be relevant.
10 Ways to be a White Ally: based on “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson,” by Janee Woods

1. Learn about the history of racial politics and racism in Ferguson and how it reflects the history of racial politics and racism in America. Michael Brown’s murder is not an isolated incident. Start to learn and talk about the interplay between housing discrimination, intergenerational poverty and racial profiling.

2. Reject the “He Was a Good Kid” narrative and lift up the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Michael Brown was a good kid, by accounts of those who knew him during his short life. But that’s not why his death is tragic. His death isn’t tragic because he was a sweet kid on his way to college next week. His death is tragic because he was a human being and his life mattered.

3. Use words that speak the truth about the disempowerment, oppression, disinvestment and racism that exist in our communities. Be mindful and socially aware with your language. Notice how news outlets are using words like riot and looting to describe the uprisings in Ferguson and across the country. Compare that to language the media uses after sporting events or protests in majority white communities.

4. Understand the modern forms of race oppression and how they are intertwined with policing, the courts and the prison system. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a good book to read to start getting informed.

5. Examine the interplay between poverty and racial equity. While combatting racism and championing economic justice should be deeply entwined, avoid using class issues to trump race issues and to avoid the racism conversation. While racism and class oppression are tangled together in this country, the fact remains that the number one predictor of prosperity and access to opportunity is race.

6. Diversify your media. Be intentional about looking for and paying close attention to diverse voices of color on TV, the internet and radio to help shape your awareness, understanding and thinking about political, economic and social issues. Seek out perspectives different from the ones you usually see and read.

7. Find support from fellow white allies. Challenge and encourage each other to dig deeper, even when it hurts and especially when you feel confused and angry and sad and hopeless, so that you can be more authentic in your shared journey with people of color to uphold and protect principles of antiracism and equity in our society. It is important to engage in conversations about race and racism with other white people and not to depend solely on black friends and the black community at large to lead this conversation.

8. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular. Let’s be realistic. If you start calling out all the racism you witness (and it will be a lot once you know what you’re looking at) some people might not want to hang out with you as much. That’s a risk you’ll need to accept. But think about it like this: staying silent when you witness oppression is the same as supporting oppression. So you can be the popular person who stands with the oppressor or you can be the (maybe) unpopular person who stands for equality and dignity for all people. Which person would you prefer to be?

9. Be proactive in your own community. As a white ally, you are not limited to being reactionary and only rising up to stand on the side of justice when black people are being subjected to violence very visibly and publicly. Moments of crisis do not need to be the catalyst—think about the communities of which you are a part, and what conversations you can help make happen.

10. If you are a person of faith, look to your scriptures or holy texts for guidance.  Read Rabbi Laufer’s sermon the week of the Ferguson grand jury decision and Rabbi Laufer’s High Holy Day Sermon from 5776.


Click HERE for more reading resources.


The  Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (S. 1659/H.R. 2867): On June 24, 2015, the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) (H.R. 2867 / S. 1659) was introduced in both the House and Senate. The Voting Rights Advancement Act has received broad and strong support from the civil rights community because it responds to the unique, modern-day challenges of voting discrimination. The Voting Rights Advancement Act recognizes that changing demographics require tools that protect voters nationwide—especially voters of color, voters who rely on languages other than English, and voters with disabilities.

Click HERE for more information.

Racial Justice Resources

We invite you to browse a library of additional resources on the topic of racial justice in the United States.

Here are some organizations doing great work on changing the conversation about race and racism in America:

1. BeChol Lashon: An organization dedicated to advocating for the growth and diversity of the Jewish people. Their website has wonderful resources for talking about race in the Jewish community. http://www.bechollashon.org/

2. Jewish Multiracial Network: JMN advances Jewish diversity through empowerment and community building with Jews of Color and Jewish multiracial families. http://www.jewishmultiracialnetwork.org/

3. NAACP: The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. This summer, over 200 Reform rabbis joined the NAACP in its 1002 mile “America’s Journey for Justice” from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C.–a landmark effort to highlight and address continuing racial justice issues. http://www.naacp.org/

4. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice: JFREJ works to pursue racial and economic justice in New York City by advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in peoples daily lives. Among the campaigns in which they are currently engaged, police accountability is a significant one, particularly in NYC. http://www.jfrej.org/

5. Southern Poverty Law Center: Known for their work with hate/extremist groups, SPLC also runs a program called Teaching Tolerance, which has equipped hundreds of thousands of educators with classroom tools and resources that reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and foster school equity. http://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/teaching-tolerance

6. Facing History: Facing History and Ourselves provides ideas, methods, and tools that support the practical needs, and the spirits, of educators worldwide who share the goal of creating a better, more informed, and more thoughtful society. Their blog has some great resources and articles to spark conversation. https://www.facinghistory.org/

7. Showing Up for Racial Justice: SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves White people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/about