What to Do When Slavery Lessons Put Black Kids on the Spot

Race Manners: Help them embrace this uncomfortable experience as the racial wake-up call it is. 

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“One thing I would emphasize to the teachers is that when we talk about African-American history, emphasize that this is all of our history, and it is important for all of us to know—white and black,” says Cunningham.  

The fact that I got your letter at the beginning of January versus the end of February means this is probably taken care of, but for what it’s worth, he also advises, “One thing that probably needs to happen is that the school needs to recognize that they shouldn’t just talk about it during Black History Month ... this is a part of our American history.”

One reader told me about a child in a situation similar to these kids’ being given the opportunity to stand up and address the class about how it feels to be scrutinized whenever race comes up. If this approach fits your young friends’ personalities, this could be a great option. Their classmates might have an age-related shortage of couth, but they do have the capacity for empathy.

The important thing for everyone to remember is that there’s a good chance that this experience is not just an uncomfortable or misunderstood moment to be overcome, but a memo that it’s time to deal with some inevitable issues. The thing about race, says Cunningham, is that “it’s visible, and you can’t control how people view you.” That in itself is a hard lesson, with relevance far beyond the classroom.

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

Previously in Race Manners: “4 Things to Tell Teens Who Joke About Race

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