How To Talk To Your Kids About Race ft. Dr. Meaza Stewart-Morrison

This is a transcript of my recent Instagram TV chat with my aunt and friend Dr. Meaza Stewart-Morrison. This isn’t edited for conciseness or grammar because I’m lazy. (Gotta keep it real.) Watch the video here, and follow Meaza here

AYANA: I am so excited for this IGTV. Once I started getting messages from y’all, I got so many messages asking me about how to approach race with your kids and what to do if you’re an educator, and I honestly feel so unqualified that I didn’t really know what to do. Then I remembered that my aunt is SUPER qualified — like this is what she does with her life. So I’m so stoked that she was able to make some time to chat with us. But anyway, this is Meaza Stewart-Morrison. She is my dad’s sister, my aunt, and a good friend and I’m so excited.

MEAZA: Hi everybody. Thanks so much for having me on, Ayana. I’m Meaza. I am in Tampa, Florida. I have two little ones at home, age 6 and 8. Both are in our Hillsborough County public school system, and I have a stepson as well who is 20 who lives in Kansas. I’m so happy to be here and speaking on this topic that is very near and dear to my heart because I live it everyday.

AYANA: And HELLO. You forgot to tell everyone that you have a Ph.D. I’m not going to let you NOT brag about yourself.

MEAZA: I have my Doctorate in Education. My background has been secondary ed as well as adult ed. I have been on the corporate side of things and I’ve also worked at public schools, alternative schools, as well as higher ed universities as well. Education is in my blood and something that I’ve always loved. I loved the classroom. I love teaching and learning and I try to make everything an opportunity teaching and learning which I think we have here as well.

AYANA: So good. So we’re just going to dive in. I put that box up not knowing what to expect and I literally got well over a hundred questions. So unfortunately, because I don’t want to make a 10-hour video, and in respect of Meaza’s time, I just picked some of the most common themes, but I think that you guys will still learn a lot from this. This is a question that i got the most and it basically is just a lot of people are asking how to approach race with kids of all ages and also with young kids. So I just want to, like, from your perspective, both for white parents —let me just say non-Black parents and Black parents. How do you make it age-appropriate, and what are steps they can take, and is there an age that you think that this conversation needs to happen at.

MEAZA: Thank you. That’s a very very good question. I can see why that is probably the most asked question and the great thing that comes out of experiences like this is people start asking questions of how they can handle things. And that’s the only way that we’re all going to learn and grow and move together as one. Now as far as age-appropriate, I mean, I feel like parents know their kids and they know what level they can handle certain intense conversations because some of this does end up being very, very intense but really though approaching race with your kids. I don’t see that as too different than approaching other topics with your kids as well that are difficult to talk about. The first thing that we need to do as parents is we need to look at ourselves, so we need to know what are your implicit biases? What has been passed down to you from your parents?

So what are you still trying to learn? How do you feel about Black Lives Matter yourself? Before you even bring that to your child, what are you modeling daily and how diverse is your circle? So it doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal conversation, which, I think at the point where we are now that may need to be done initially, but the way we model and the way we live our life that is what is going to speak to them. It’s not going to be a 5-minute sit-down or hour-long sit-down and here are all the points and now I covered it and it’s done. It’s going to be, how are you living your life? Books are a great way to introduce different topics and discuss it with your kids. So I am a fan of that. We’re already reading to them at night and things
like that. So bring some books with different topics to the table. And also another thing too is that if you are surrounded by diversity, then that’s what you use.

My kids have friends of all cultural backgrounds, all races and we talk about it. I’ll say, “Oh, that’s the temple where so-and-so goes to church, you know, they don’t go to church like us. They go to a temple. They don’t celebrate this holiday. They celebrate this,” and we talk about it. “It’s fine, everybody’s different and unique” and that’s just kind of been my approach. I mean as early as 3 years old even, if we’re driving and I see something that maybe we don’t practice but somebody else may I’ll point it out and let them know other people do this. So just so they’re aware that people are different and they’re not expecting everybody to be the same. I mean, so my kids at home are 6 and 8 and I mean we obviously talk about the fact that they’re Black. They know that they’re Black.

They know that people are going to judge them based on their color. I tell them, you know, that restaurant — Grandpa was not able to eat there when he was young because Black people couldn’t eat there. So they know that stuff and you know, I’m not sure whether or not — another parent may think that that’s not age appropriate for 6 and 8 but at the end of the day as a mom, I just don’t know what age is appropriate to talk about people judging you or what age is it appropriate to talk about being under-represented or what age is it fine to say, you know, you’re living in fear. I feel like that stuff, we have to get in front of it early, and I am here to teach them life lessons and prepare them for the world.

So I feel as a Black mom I don’t really have an option to wait for an age. I integrated with them early. They know the struggles that they may face at the age of 6 and 8 and that’s what I’m here to do. So I feel like the time is now. We’re shaping them now, so My advice would be to challenge parents. Look at your story, identify anything that does not promote diversity and inclusion, talk to people who are different than you, be informed and then share what you learn with your kids we’re
shaping them now.

AYANA: Right and I have to be clear that I want this — you guys used to hearing my voice. I don’t have insight for this but I love what you said about Black parents not getting that choice because I mean the first time that I experienced what we now call a micro-aggression, I was literally in kindergarten and I was the new girl. My family moved in the middle of the school year and right before I got there. Another little Black girl who’d gone to the school before — her name was Kiera. And one of my friends told me, “We don’t like the name Ayana, so we’re going to call you Kiera.” And I remember my mom picking me up and seeing the little white kids, say, “Bye, Kiera!” And I don’t know if you’ve heard the story but then me saying, “BYE!” and my mom literally — one of my first memories is her saying, “What was that?” So I totally feel you that Black parents don’t have the choice. I’m gonna switch to my computer audio because I think my AirPods are dying.

MEAZA: And that’s kind of the thing with my little ones, too. You try to just get in front of it because it’s just something — unfortunately, it’s a matter of time.

AYANA: I mean, you’ve kind of addressed this already but I mean, have your kids had hard moments? Like are there areas that you’re seeing that you’re like, okay. I wish that THEIR parents were doing this better.

MEAZA: At 4 years old, my girl. She was in pre-k. She came home and she said that there was one other Black kid in the class and she said the teacher put the two of them together for something, and she grouped them together and I I try not to put my own thoughts or anything on the kids. Before I say anything, I will say, “So why do you think that happened?” I let them use their own mind, so I did ask. “Why do you think she did that?” And she said, “Oh, ’cause we’re both Black. We’re the two Black kids.” And I did — I went to the school obviously and talked to them. But I do think though that we have to realize that the kids are aware and they’re watching and so even with teachers in the classroom and things like that. You just have to be very mindful.

Even if you’re innocently doing something and it had nothing to do with race or anything like that. You have to be mindful of how someone else is going to interpret that. That is basic human decency. That goes beyond race, and you always
want to consider other people, but they have had those moments. Also with her at 3, she came and said, “You know, I am the only kid on the playground with an afro,” and so we had that discussion as early as 3 like, you know, no one said anything to her about it, but they recognize the differences and they just want to have that dialogue and that discussion. So I do think early on they do recognize that and there have been times when my kids where we’ve just sat down and and had those discussions.

AYANA: Awesome. And moving a little bit more into the current moment, because that is obviously what spurred all of this. How do we have these conversations after what happened to George Floyd without causing trauma? And I’m going to group two popular questions together. Is it okay to protest with your kids? A lot of people are saying that they want to go out and protest but they’re also afraid that their kids — because I mean, as we’ve seen all over the news and all over Twitter, things can get ugly very quickly and they don’t want their kids to experience police brutality firsthand. Just what are your thoughts as both a parent and an educator?

MEAZA:  I mean, as a parent, I feel like if I’m protesting I am protesting for my children’s future. So this is something that we are invested in as a family so I don’t I don’t see any issue with protesting with children. Obviously, you know, if it turns the wrong way or violent or anything like that, you don’t want your kids to be a part of that but I do feel like letting them see that you’re standing for something and talking to them about it and making them aware of the issues now, I think it’s great dialogue. My kids know what’s happening right now. They know what’s happening in the streets. They’re well informed with it, and I think that we do need to keep that dialogue going with them. So I don’t and I — the sad part is I know that there are age-appropriate things.

But at the same time, you know, the world is scary, so I don’t know how like — I don’t have like a set time where I’m going to rip off their rose-colored glasses and say hey, here’s the real world. I’ve kept you in this bubble for this long. So I do feel like, it’s just, the world IS scary. So some of the things that we talk to them about, some of the things may be scary to them and it is scary. It’s scary to me as an adult but that is the world that we live in right now. So, you know, good or bad, that is just the current state of things.

AYANA: Awesome. I have one more parenting question. And then I’m going to pivot a little bit more to the education side, but I got — and I know that we chatted about the questions beforehand and I think I forgot to include this one, but I got a lot of people who are saying that they have kids in their family or maybe like a best friend’s kids who they’re really worried about because they know the parents aren’t doing the work. Do you feel like there’s a way if you are not a kid’s parent — Is there a way to help them understand things and to help them understand racism and intersectionality without overstepping.

MEAZA: Yes, I do. I am a very very strong believer in parents and their kids and drawing those lines, so I would never pull someone’s kid aside and talk to them about something that their parents aren’t comfortable with, but I do feel like the knowledge and the time and the discussions that I’m having with my children will help to bridge that gap too because if I’m not speaking to the kid, my kid will be and they will be able so I definitely — which is another reason why I don’t really shelter my kids too much from it because I want them to be the voice and I want them to speak up and I want them to say, “Well this is wrong” and “you can’t do this” and “this is inappropriate.”

So I think sometimes as parents, our kids are going to be our best vessel going forward to push the message as well. So if we’re working with our kids and we’re educating them and they know that there’s people out there that are going to dislike you
forever because of the color of your skin. They’re going to fear you because of the color of your skin, and all of that other stuff. Hopefully through them, they will be able to educate.

AYANA: Awesome. Okay. So now from the education side, so many amazing questions it was so hard to narrow them down. But one question I got from a lot of teachers is — their eyes have been opened they want to help educate, but support from their administration and the curriculum –it feels like it’s lacking. And a comment that I got which I loved was, “How do I make time for this when it’s usually only discussed on MLK Day in my classroom?” What advice would you give to educators?

MEAZA: When I saw that, I was like I am so glad that teachers are asking these questions and trying to get in front of this because there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that our curriculum –Black history is definitely under-represented and it’s — at best, it’s watered down. It’s not really something that the schools have put a lot into. The MLK Day comment is spot-on with that but the good news is even without that you don’t have to have an extensive knowledge of Black history. You don’t have to have a robust Black history curriculum to be able to get a message across because really what we need to focus on is, if you walk into your classroom — what does that say about diversity?Does it represent diversity? Any child that comes in your classroom, Are they going to feel comfortable? Are they going to feel welcome? Are they going to feel seen when they walk into your classroom?

So my big thing with educators has always been classroom environment. And we create that environment and that is more important than what’s on the lesson. If the environment is right, then we create an environment that promotes diversity, that promotes love, support, that teaches students to speak up and do the right thing. They’re learning how to deal with these issues without us even teaching about Black history. So those are things that we can set in our classroom as far as the environment and the tone and making sure our classroom is modeling what we want to see in the world. Even when I’m teaching something as black-and-white as Excel. I always work in scenarios, group work, role-playing and those types of
things. So even if it is a lesson that isn’t directly tied to this, through your planning of the group project or your planning of the roles and scenarios you give to the students — those can try to represent different backgrounds and cultures too. Just to kind of work it throughout the day.

AYANA: Awesome. So another question that I got from a couple of people, and I think that it was mostly white parents who their white kids are dealing with problematic friends, you know their friends who are saying racist things, who are even using racial slurs. And so the kid is coming home and talking to their parents and saying I don’t know what to do. I mean so you’ve been obviously in the classroom, just what are your thoughts on how you can empower your child to handle that?

MEAZA: Yeah, and that is very unfortunate. And the thing is though, if you have a white child that’s going to the parents and telling them these things, that means the parents have clearly pointed out that this is not the behavior that we follow but at the same time, it has to go a step further because the Black kids can’t fight this alone. Black people cannot fight this alone. Everybody has to come together. We need people of all colors speaking up saying Black lives matter. This is inappropriate. We’re not going to speak this way. So I would say talk to your kids — which that must have already been happening — but take it a step further. Let them know to speak up. When they come and tell you someone at the school is behaving this way –white parent, please show up at the school for that other parent and for that student. If it’s a friend — white parent, please go to the other white parent and talk to them because Black people aren’t going to be able to reach everybody and get the message out and fight this fight alone.

So if you are in there and you recognize an issue, please. It takes a village, please speak up. Show up at that school. Show up at that parents and let that parent know — this is happening, and this is wrong, and encourage your child to continue to speak up. It’s great that they came to you and let you know but please continue to speak up and recognize that this is not appropriate behavior.

AYANA: I love that. I love it and I’m loving everything you’re saying. So I’m going to just going to wrap it up, but let me say that there were a lot of questions for book recommendations and curriculum recommendations both for educators and for kids. If you don’t know of any off the top of your head, that’s totally fine. So there’s that but I also wanted to ask you, especially in your conversations with your kids. Do you feel any sort of tension? This question came from a Black parent — about talking to your kids about police brutality, but also being kind of like, I don’t want them to be afraid if they ever need to go to an authority. I don’t want them to think that if they walk outside, they’re going to be shot and killed. How have you found that balance with young children?

MEAZA: I let my kids know that we respect our adults, but there are also — you can’t trust everybody. So just because someone is in a role and you expect them to be a certain way. They may not be appropriate because I think sometimes when we just tell kids, and this is for any adult in their life, if we expect them to just blindly follow then we can be putting them in positions where they are unsafe and they think that an adult is superior just because they are adults. So I do let my kids know that somebody could be in a role that is trusted, but they’re not trustworthy. But then there’s also a lot of people that are trustworthy so it’s just finding that balance. I think any adult in their life, though. I do let them know you can’t blindly trust just because they are an adult in your life. So it is a fine balance. They do know — I mean, my 8 year old and I discussed Floyd. My kids have seen stuff on TV at people’s house when the news is on and they’ve asked questions. That lesson is a lesson anywhere in life.

There’s people that can be trusted and then there’s going to be people that look like they should be trusted and they can’t and it’s just finding that balance, but I tell them all the time, you know, speak up let me know and we are here. You have people in your corner that are fighting to keep you safe.

AYANA: Amazing. All right. So do you have any books or curriculum right now? If not, I can make a list later.

MEAZA: Yeah, I can get that to you. That is something people have been emailing me asking me for and I think it’s just great. I’ve been getting so many messages of parents. Just trying to think of better ways to approach their kids and teachers asking for ways to adapt a curriculum and it’s really great that everybody is trying to come together and find resources. So I’ll get a list together and I’ll get it over to you.

AYANA: Amazing. All right, this was awesome. I know that you currently have like a private Instagram where you only share pictures of your kids, but I am determined — whether you make a new page —

MEAZA: I actually opened it up. I opened it.

AYANA: Okay. Everyone follow her, she is amazing and I hope that this is helpful. Alright, thank you so much. Bye!

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