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Crime & Justice

How white parents talk with their black and biracial sons about race




Michael Fitzgerald with his two teenage sons.
Michael Fitzgerald with his two teenage sons.
Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald with his two teenage sons.
Angie Sanders with her son and husband
Angie Sanders
Michael Fitzgerald with his two teenage sons.
Allison Moore and her son Matthew.
Allison Moore


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Last week on The Brood, parents of color discussed how they have "the talk" with their children about interacting with police. This week, we hear from white parents on how they approach "the talk" and the role of race with their black and biracial sons.  

Discussing recent events and the topic of race is a daunting task for any parent but it may be especially tough for parents who are a different race than their children.

Three white parents who are raising black and biracial children talked with Take Two’s Alex Cohen about how their mixed race families are talking about current events and the role of race.

Guests:

Interview highlights

On the role of race in preparing to be a parent

Angie Sanders

My son is biracial. My son presents White. That gives us an extra element. Out in the world, especially in the black community where people of black decent know and notice it, people of white decent don’t really. There’s so much to consider as a parent. And now with what’s going on in the news it’s; what do we say, what do we not say, how do we say it? We did actually have a big discussion about it. That’s actually a fortunate thing in adoption, you get to discuss what you’re open to, what to have in your home, and to open your minds and hearts as a family. In adoption, there’s these little boxes you have to mark, so we were open to any ethnicity. We knew we had to educate ourselves to be prepared for it but then when it happens you’re still never prepared for it out in the world.

Allison Moore

It was three days after we adopted Matthew, we adopted Matthew at three weeks, my late husband and I, he’s passed away, were out at a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Matthew is very clearly African-American and I am very clearly White, and someone said to me, ‘where’d you steal that baby from?’ So, from the very get go, I knew we are a very conspicuous family and that’s been one of the very great things about moving to Los Angeles for us. We were living in Minneapolis when we adopted Matthew. Since we moved to Los Angeles, it’s not like people don’t stop and comment or that’s not to say that racism doesn’t happen in L.A., it certainly does, and I’ve experienced it. We are so much less conspicuous here. There are so many more biracial families, integrated families, adoptive families. We don’t even get noticed half the time which is a relief.

Michael Fitzgerald

We are believers that people are generally going to be good people and that while we talked about some of the things my wife [who is African-American] went through growing up, I also grew up in a community that was diverse, that had its share of racial tension but also a lot of interracial harmony. We talked about our respective experiences growing up in the Midwest and the North East and what we were hoping for our children. By and large we had faith that people in our society were moving towards a place that would be better for our children. There was some concern expressed particularly by my father; ‘you got to think about where you’re going to live, you’re not going to just be able to move wherever you want because there are going to be places in this country that are not going to be friendly towards you.’ So that was probably the most blunt conversation that took place before we were married or very early on in our marriage. 

On talking to kids about race and policing in light of recent events

Allison Moore

We started talking about race probably when Matthew was fourteen months old. You could see by things that he would do or words that he was using that he noticed that we were different. One of the first things kids, even just visually, is contrast. One of the benefits of being an adoptive parent is that you are given some resources ahead of time to say, you’re going to have to learn to give your child a vocabulary to talk about this stuff. You can’t wait for them to bring it up, you’re going to have to be the one who brings it up to give them permission to talk about it, to give them permission to ask questions, and race was no different for us. So I would say that by the time Matthew was 4 we probably had a thousand 30 second conversations about race because that’s how long most of your conversations with your children are when they are 2 or 3 or 4. 

On resources for mixed race parents

Angie Sanders

When we were waiting to get matched for an adoption, my husband and I started an adoptive parents and family support group just to get extra support. Now, we have over two hundred and thirty families that are members. We meet once a month and the kids play together so these are children who are being raised together, have grown up together, all different ages, all different colors and that’s a positive thing for them.

One of the resources that is so easy for us to use as parents, whether you’re a white parent, a mixed race family, or a black parent, is children’s books. There are so many wonderful children’s books out there. One is called “The Skin I Live In.” There is also “All the Children of the World,” it’s almost a little science book with real pictures and images that just tell what melanin is and how we actually get our skin.

On talking to your child about interacting with law enforcement as a white parent

Michael Fitzgerald

My younger son is actually 6’ 3” so he’s a very large black male or others will perceive him as that. I don’t think he thinks of himself as one thing or another. We don’t talk a lot about what they’re going to run into with police. I don’t want my kids to be paranoid. I think parent of kids of any race need to be concerned a, especially their male sons, and their interactions with authority figures like police because if your default is confrontation, if your default is challenging, particularly in a time when there is a great deal of uncertainty about who might be literally gunning for you if you are wearing a blue uniform, you’re going to be a little more stressed than most of us. What I try to do with my kids when we talk about this, is to just say, do not add stress to this person’s life even if they are challenging you in a way that seems aggressive or confrontational, please try not to respond like that. Understand that this is not about you and just be aware of the bigger picture and not just your interaction with this individual. 

Responses have been edited for clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.