Girl Scouts are taught to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong. Importantly, they’re taught to make the world a better place and be a sister to every Girl Scout. When the world is filled with racial injustices that sparks protest, grief, and unrest, it is imperative to engage in open and honest conversations with each other and our girls. Though it may be tempting to avoid the topics of race and racism, it plays a large role in unfair justice, health, and education systems that can negatively impact the lives of girls across the nation.
By allowing girls to process their emotions in a safe space, they will feel better equipped to find ways to take positive action – even if it begins right in her own community. For those who support a just and equal world for all girls, these conversations are a must. So, how do we get started?
It Starts With You!
By avoiding the topic altogether, your girl might believe that race and racism is a topic not to be discussed. However, choosing to talk to kids about racism and its damaging impacts is not a decision that a lot of families get to make. In fact, ignoring the topic leaves children exposed to bias from the things they see every day. For Black families and other families of color, it’s a necessary and sometimes life-saving conversation that starts at an early age.
If approaching these conversations makes you uncertain or uncomfortable, try calling up a friend or family member to practice what you’d like to say. Imagine questions your child might ask and think of the ways you’d like to respond. Simply asking your girl what she’s seen or heard and asking how she feels will set the foundation of a safe space. Start by understanding what they already know, reassure her that whatever she may be feeling is OK, and meet her with honesty.
Take a look at the books your girl reads, the shows she watches, and the toys she plays with. Do they feature diverse characters? If they do, are they in a lead role? Do they reflect stereotypes? Young children start to reflect the bias prevalent in their society at a very young age. In the U.S., that often means a bias towards whiteness.
Dr. Aisha White, Director of the P.R.I.D.E. Program within the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh, says that by age 2-and-a-half children can start developing and observing racial biases they see in the world around them. “Once they get to age 4 and 5, it’s a critical time when White children, for example, begin to exhibit obvious bias,” says Dr. White. “And Black children or children of color begin to feel discriminated against because of their skin color.”
Framing conversations on race and racism in the concept of “fairness” is a topic that kids can understand. When you witness exclusion or injustice based on race, ask your girl if she thinks that’s fair. Ask her how it makes her feel or how it would make her feel to be in that position.
For example, say you see a photo of a local government branch in the newspaper and they are all White. Pointing this out to your girl in the context of your recent conversations, you might ask, “Do you think racism makes it harder for Black people or other people of color to become important leaders? Is that fair?”
Although the saying “I don’t see color” might be coming from a place of good intentions, it implies that everyone has the same experiences and is treated the same in our society. Statistics and everyday discrimination faced by Black people and other communities of color show that this isn’t the case.
Instead, talk to your girl about how differences make us special, and how we can honor and celebrate the ways we all bring something unique to the world. Learn about a new culture together – what foods do they make? What language do they speak? What kind of music do they listen to? Practice empathizing and understanding the experiences of people from different backgrounds together.
Challenge Racism Together
Racism isn’t always violent or overt, it can occur in microaggressions, or the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person’s membership in a group that’s discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. Ask your girl what she hears at school or what she sees in your neighborhood. Children learn by seeing what’s around them and taking it in, which influences how they see race.
Grab a book or watch a show with diverse characters, and ask your girl what they would do if they saw characters in the book being made fun of, called names, or bullied. This can be an excellent exercise to teach children about standing up for their friends and classmates, and the power they hold as an individual.
Show your girl examples of people who’ve taken action against injustice, including famous figures from history and the many young female activists changing the world (like our National Gold Award Girl Scouts!). Girls will be empowered knowing we all share a role in helping create change.
Keep on Learning
One thing that can help many parents and caregivers is educating themselves to increase their understanding and comfort level. Encourage your girl to ask questions, but let her know that you might still be learning too. Seeing that grownups don’t always have all the answers and that sometimes it’s necessary to keep educating to figure out the best ways to help, will demonstrate that making impactful change takes patience and dedication.
Tell her about the ways you’re taking action, such as voting, donating, and researching. Write a letter together to local officials or your school board urging them to support anti-racist policies. Find a community group (or even work with your Girl Scout troop!) that is working for equality and find ways to get involved.
Change starts at the local level, and there are so many incredible ways that you and your girl can begin creating a better world together.