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Talking to Children about Racism


March 25, 2023


Some people are more concerned with “being called a racist” rather than acknowledging that they might have biases, according to Dr. Tyrone Black, the Associate Head of School at Tabor Academy.

This was one of many eye-opening messages delivered Tuesday night by a panel hosted by Tri-Town Against Racism. The conversation at Tabor Academy was the fourth in a series giving strategies to adults and educators on how to teach young people of all ages how to deal with biases against marginalized groups.

The guest panel featured Black, Kate Excellent, a licensed independent clinical social worker and Dr. Elizabeth O’Shaughnessey, a pediatric neuropsychologist.

TTAR has worked for three years toward creating a more inclusive environment within Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett.

The panel answered a series of questions ranging from how to talk to youngsters about police brutality against people of color to talking to prekindergarten students about a transgender person they might know.

The panel even touched upon the growing use of the “n” word and how young people hear it within popular music and use it as a term of endearment.

Black, who is African American and has southern roots, said more youngsters and educators should delve into the history of the word. He said it was meant to marginalize a group of people, especially in the American south, and keep them ignorant.

Black said some people use the word with an “a” instead of “er” at the end as a way of taking back the word and using it to praise African Americans.

“There is a significant disconnect with our young people and history, as if they could rewrite history,” Black said.

Black said his children know the origins of the word and do not use it within his household. He and other panelists said that the use of these words and uncomfortable conversations should begin with just that – a necessary but uncomfortable conversation.

Excellent urged the group gathered on Tuesday to acknowledge four words that begin with the letter A – awareness, acknowledge, action and accountability.

Excellent said parents and educators should teach children to be aware of their own race and background; acknowledge that there is a history of systematic racism against nonwhite races, an action plan for how to handle it and accountability for owning up to mistakes and past biases.

Black said he once asked white students to reflect on where they would like to eat on a certain day and what barber they would like to visit. This simple but eye-opening experience helped him teach his students that certain ethnic groups do not have the privilege to choose.

Black, who attended an ethnically white college, said he learned that many of his college peers were privileged and could choose where to eat or where to get their hair groomed. Black did not have that same experience growing up.

Panelists said some adults claim to be color blind and such a move is not helpful toward inclusion and battling systematic racism.

“The idea that ‘I don’t see color’ is very invalidating,” said Excellent, also the mother of a black child.

Panelists agreed that such a mentality is a way of dismissing the issue.


O’Shaughnessey talked about implicit biases among adults – or a bias that happens unintentionally. Excellent said kids start forming preferences as young as six months old, and Black added that adults need to be cognizant of their actions.

“They don’t do what we say, they do what we do,” Black said.

Black said he gives his children white and black dolls at an early age to show them that there are different races. Black also said that when parents give dolls to young girls and trucks to young boys, they should explain that tradition.

That conversation alone could help raise awareness early on about inclusion of transgender and LGBTQ issues.

In general, education and conversations are the best allies toward battling systematic discrimination against marginalized groups.

As far as police brutality toward black people, Black mentioned that parents and educators should acknowledge that police take an oath to serve and protect. Black said youngsters should learn that it’s not the police uniform but the person in it who decides to be corrupt or racist.

O’Shaughnessey said such corruption can be found in all professions and all walks of life, and children should learn that lesson early.

After the formal question-and-answer period, many educators and concerned community members asked the panel how schools should handle these issues.

Black said one of the first steps should be a closed-door session with educators who agree not to judge each other, acknowledge their own biases and set out to correct them for their students.

“Have a genuine conversation (and say) this is a judge-free zone. This is about the kids,” Black said.


Jeffrey D. Wagner


Photo by Maggie Howland


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