The story for this case study comes from a segment of the popular radio program This American Life. In it, comedian W. Kamau Bell, the father of two young girls, wrestles with how—and how much—to explain to his daughter about racism. He shares about a painful experience at a coffee shop and the fall out in the community. He also shares the thoughts of Cliff Means (who began talking to his daughter about racism before she was five years old) about teaching your children about race and racism. As you listen, consider the experiences of racism by each “character.”
Listen to W. Kamau Bell’s story on this episode of This American Life. Take note of his various experiences as they relate to race and racism: as a father, a comedian, and a husband; at the coffee shop, at home, and at the community mediation. Take note also of Cliff Means thoughts and approaches to race and racism.
[If you have difficulty playing the segment, you can view a full transcript here. Scroll down until you see Act Two: If You See Racism, Say Racism.]
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What stuck out to you most in this segment? Was your thinking challenged in any way?
- Who do you most identify with in the segment? Why?
- Can you put yourself in Kamau’s “shoes”? How would you have reacted at the coffee shop? What do you think about the reactions of him and his wife?
- What has been your experience about “white space” and “black space,” as explained by Professor Nikki Jones? What are your thoughts on her analysis?
- What are your thoughts and opinions of Cliff Means’ way of teaching his daughter about the reality of racism? Would you do anything differently?
- Why do you think some, like Kamau, shy away from discussing the ugly realities of racism with their children? Do you think this is a good or harmful response? Do you relate?
- As a child, did your parents discuss or handle race and racism at all? How did they approach these topics? Reflecting back, do you think this approach was helpful or harmful to your growth, development, and perspectives?
- How can white parents teach their children about racism in a way that could lead to healthy changes and growth within our culture? What would this look like?
- Racism is an ugly and painful reality for many in the United States—and around the world. Finding a way to explain this to our children can be a great challenge. Kamau concludes that using life experiences and events to teach children as they grow must be a part of parenting.
- Kadijah Means says the focus needs to be on color competency—not color blindness—and on learning not to generalize people—particularly not based on the color of their skin. These are two good steps that must be taken to overcome racist tendencies and thoughts.
- Parents must find a clear and effective way to explain racism to their children. Putting our heads in the sand or not addressing this difficult issue head-on with our children will only continue to make this problem worse.
Diana Gruver© 2019 CYS