All parents need to talk about racism with their kids, says Professor Kent
George Floyd’s murder “was just another reminder we’re not living in a post-racial society,” says Assistant Professor Pettis Kent.
In the Q Talks Podcast episode “Race and Parenting,” he discussed with host Rick Sindt his personal experiences as a Black man in nurturing and isolating environments and as a parent of a Black teenage boy.
1. Understand the feeling of isolation felt by many people of color
Kent stresses the importance of being inclusive of Black colleagues and peers. “As [Black people] continue to ascend in whatever your vocation…there tends to be fewer and fewer people who look like you,” he says. “This dynamic breeds a level of isolation. It definitely has an impact on us, and it definitely had an impact on me.”
Kent continues, “Whether I was at Procter & Gamble those 12 years or after that at University of Minnesota getting my PhD, I was always one of a few number of Black people.
“You almost feel like you’re living two separate lives. You have this life you live at work and in school, in front of people who may not look like you, and then you have this other life you live with your family and friends and your organizations you’re a part of outside of school or work. It’s a shame that people don’t feel they can bring their full self to work or to school.”
2. Intentionally create welcoming environments for people of color
Kent offered several suggestions for reducing the isolation felt by people of color, starting with simple check ins.
“Check on your Black coworker and Black classmate if you have a relationship,” he says. “I’ve had professors check in on me and that means a lot…. Just to let them know they’re not alone is important. We want to feel like we’re part of this community.”
He also encourages corporations and school to create affinity groups for people of color and to provide opportunities for Black people to create strong support networks. “Without that network, you could fall through the cracks and not be successful,” he says.
Kent himself considers psychological safety, or ways to create an environment that makes all people feel mentally safe, in the classes he teaches.
3. Talk about racism with your kids
Kent believes teaching children about how race operates in our country today is vital for dismantling racist structures. “Let’s at least honor where we are. Until you honor where you are, you can’t then say ‘okay how do we improve it.’”
He starts with a history lesson, including “how it’s been for Black people since they arrived in 1619 and how it’s been for these 401 years, how slavery by another name has been continuing since 1863. It’s gotten better but we still have a long way to go. Without giving that texture to our kids, we’re really doing them a disservice.”
Kent encourages all parents to have this conversation with their children.
4. Talk about how Black people are policed in America vs. others
Since his son was nine, Kent has been having “the talk” with him—that is, how to interact with the police as a Black person.
“I wouldn’t be a good parent if I wasn’t having these discussions and it’s an ongoing exchange,” he says. George Floyd’s murder “was another opportunity to remind him that it’s not the same. He has white friends and Black friends, and I had to help him understand that the way the system is currently, he’s not looked at the same as his white friends unfortunately.”
“I would rather, and I would hope most parents would rather, have their kids hear the truth from them than to have to go out and find out the truth from somewhere else,” he says. “So I’d rather give the whole truth to my son, and I would recommend any parent, Black or white, do the same.”
Kent is cautiously optimistic about the future. “I hope that [the attention on racial justice] can transition from a moment to a movement.”