Panel Discusses How to Talk to Children about Racist Language

The Schools Committee hosted Talking to Children about Race: Language Matters with communications expert and educator, Ayesha Gallion, Dara Gronau, prinicipal at Maplewood Middle School, and a panel of Columbia High School students: Sakinah Daniels, Abygail Metellus, Ben Morris, and Jordan Muhammad. They spoke honestly about the use of racial slurs used by teens both as in-group language and as insult.

Ms. Gallion started the presentation and discussion by asking the audience if their children share their experiences with them; if they heard language from kids that they disapprove of; if they worry about the influence of media, peers, and other sources that they no longer control for their middle-schoolers? She then asked the panel of Columbia high School students to share their experiences and opinions about everything from use of the ‘N’-word to code-switching, to cultural appropriation. She first asked if they preferred to “short-hand” triggering words or 

they used them as spoken. Here are some of the take-aways from the panelists:
• Teaching white kids not to use the n word is a baseline. Teach them also about covert language that is racist
• Give kids history and context for deeper understanding
• Some black kids are accustomed to using the ‘N’ word in in-group settings. There was not full agreement on whether this is okay or not.
• All agreed that white kids adopting Black culture is problematic. Appreciation and appropriation are different.
• Use logic and compassion to help kids work through what is offensive language.
• Help kids develop empathy and also the sensitivity to know that what they hear among peers, in media, in music may not be appropriate for conversation
• Be intentional as up standers, empower your kids to be up standers, and call out racist language when you hear it
• Give people space to express their experience of racism (and don’t center yourself in that conversation)
• Behavior matters too: white kids often know how to steer clear of racist language, but not in their actions

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