Why is it important for white parents to talk about racism?

We also can't expect the recipients of racism and other prejudices to bear the burden of constantly speaking out against these behaviors and structures.
We also can't expect the recipients of racism and other prejudices to bear the burden of constantly speaking out against these behaviors and structures.

"I was at an expo once and my youngest was taking my phone out of my pocket as a game and the person at the stall commented, as a joke. He said: 'You see, it's in their DNA.'"

This was dad Tom Jordi's first encounter with the kind of casual racism that black South African children face every day. As a white parent to one biological child, and three adopted black children, he says he has since witnessed many comments and remarks that have left him speechless. 

He told Parent24 that this particular incident "actually left me stunned, unable to respond", and added that "it is usually one of those things where a couple of hours later it comes to me, and I wish I had had the words" to respond appropriately. 

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This isn't Jordi's only experience with this kind of racial bias.

"My son was asked if he stole his toy after he had walked out of a shop. He came to me and explained what happened, and I went back and confronted the guys who had asked, who sheepishly apologised," Jordi said.

'We all have implicit biases'

"I have been fortunate and partly because people don't ask dads as much I think, to not have had many ignorant comments," he adds, explaining that he has had some people ask if the child is his, in front of him, to which he says he answers 'yes' quite sternly.

"Even though it's not meant to offend, it is inappropriate and can upset the child," he says.

Jordi says he thinks we should just take a moment and increase the sensitivity of our comments and not simply hide behind the general excuse of "I am not racist" or "I didn't mean it".

"There is a great need to accept that we all have implicit biases, regardless of race, gender, culture and so on," he tells us.

Recent events - from the murder of George Floyd in the US to the uncovering of racism in schools in South Africa - show that it is clear we all need help in this area.

'There is a responsibility on us'

We asked Jordi why he thinks it's important for white parents to talk about racism and in short, he replied that "when we are made aware, we accept this, learn and do better." 

"There is a responsibility on us as white parents to raise children who are anti-racist. Part of this process is equipping our children with the ability to see different forms of racism, blatant and more hidden expressions, and give them tools to call it out." 

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"We also can't expect the recipients of racism and other prejudices to bear the burden of constantly speaking out against these behaviours and structures, especially if the privileged have been beneficiaries in one way or another of these systems." 

"As white parents of a mixed-race family, it is important to talk about racism so that we normalise the discussion and create an atmosphere where our kids feel comfortable to speak out against it." 

Explain difficult realities in age-appropriate ways

We also asked him how, as a parent, he suggested parents explain racism and police brutality to children of various ages. 

Jordi told us that it was important to explain these difficult realities in age-appropriate ways, taking advantage of situations that may be experienced and drawing on real-life events, but explaining them in a way that embraces the truth while being sensitive to the specific child's ability to process the details. 

"We have tried at different ages to explain words used and treatment of different people by sharing how people have a history of often fearing differences, highlighting insecurities and expressing this in ways that often made one group feel less valuable than another." 

"As they get older, there will naturally be more discussions and topics and experiences they are made aware of, and we take the time to openly and honestly talk through the realities that many people experience," he said. 

Push through uncomfortable conversations

But importantly, we can't shy away from the conversation simply because we might find it uncomfortable.

"If we want things to change," Jordi says, "we will need to push through uncomfortable conversations so that our kids handle this topic better than has been done in previous generations." 

ALSO READ | Why is it important for black parents to talk about racism?

He also shared some local resources that could assist white families to educate their relatives.

"One of the greatest books from a South African perspective is Nought for your Comfort by Trevor Huddleston," he suggests.

Mamphela Ramphele wrote Laying Ghosts to Rest and Conversations with my sons and daughters, and Nene Molefe has also written a great resource entitled A journey of diversity and inclusion in South Africa.

Born in Chains by Clinton Chauke, Jordi says, is another great read that gives context to lives lived by many born-frees, which is an invaluable perspective for white families to better understand the experience of many young people who have not grown up in an environment of privilege, but now have to grapple with the freedom of a democratic South Africa which is not as wonderful as it was made out to be.

Jordi recommends further resources, which are not South African but are still valuable. They include:

13th: From Slave to criminal with one amendment, a documentary on slavery in America and Just Mercy, a 2019 American legal drama. 

Find children's books on the topic of race and celebrating black culture here:

Parent24/Storytime

Start a Conversation About Race

Celebrate Black Culture

You can listen to Jordi and his wife as they discuss their experience of raising a mixed race family in their podcast here.

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