How To Explain White Privilege To Kids

It’s heartbreaking to see the continued racial inequality and injustices in our society. Educating our children about white privilege and how it affects others is a crucial step in creating a more equitable and compassionate future. Parents can start by learning how to explain white privilege to kids in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner.

When parents continue to explore and discuss difficult themes relating to racial inequity and the battle for justice with their children, they will inevitably find language that elicits a wide range of emotions and inquiries. For instance, “white privilege” is a word that has become more prevalent in contemporary discourse. However, the expression is frequently misconstrued.

A certified clinical psychologist in Plymouth, Minnesota, BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, Ph.D., notes, “White privilege is receiving unearned advantages, benefits, and rights that are given to white individuals merely because of the color of their skin.” She argues that this is a special form of privilege that people of color describe as the ability to exist in the world without having to consider what it means to be white.

Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya states, “Being white means that society attaches favorable characteristics to a person only based on the color of their skin.” “Likewise, society imparts negative characteristics to people of color. This process results in the provision of unfair advantages to white individuals because being white is associated with a perception of superiority over those who are not white.”

Discover why the phrase “white privilege” is frequently misunderstood and how white parents can discuss it with their children, according to Dr. Garrett-Akinsaya and other experts.

White Privilege Does Not Mean That Every White Individual Has an Easier Life

White privilege is commonly misunderstood to imply that being white automatically results in a life of ease and that success does not require effort. Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya argues that people may identify the phrase with financial prosperity or other sorts of privilege that they did not/did not have.

According to Erin Pahlke, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology whose research focuses on how youngsters establish their attitudes on race, “some white people dispute that benefits are unearned.” “Frequently, these individuals view their own success as the sole consequence of their own hard work and others’ difficulties as the result of insufficient effort. And other individuals erroneously assume they cannot be privileged because they have endured personal traumas.”

Rejection of white privilege may also originate from the notion that the United States runs as a meritocracy or a system in which individuals are rewarded only for their talent and effort, as opposed to their money and social position. Dr. Pahlke notes, “Some evidence reveals that white parents are more likely to tell their children that the United States is a meritocracy than Black parents.” Even for those who really think that the United States is a meritocracy, the concept of white privilege might be difficult to embrace.

The misconception of the phrase is pervasive. Results from the 2017 Pew Research Center survey show that 46% of white Americans believe their race gives them advantages, compared to 92% of black Americans and 65% of Hispanics.

Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya notes, “Since advantages are so structurally engrained, they are frequently unconscious and regarded as unremarkable.” The history of white privilege is rooted in racism and contributes to its perpetuation.

How to Explain White Privilege to Children

Young people must be taught the concept of white privilege to comprehend the historical reality of race in the United States, just as it is crucial to explain the difficulty with the phrase “all lives matter” and the problem with teaching color blindness.

“Scholars have written about how easy it is for white people to disregard racial privilege; the system is designed to allow everyone to claim innocence,” explains Dr. Pahlke. “Thus, it is essential to equip children from a young age with the knowledge and motivation to combat unjust systems.”

Students In Preschool and Elementary School

Dr. Pahlke suggests that young children read about the Civil Rights Movement and study historical individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There are other opportunities to identify evidence of white privilege in everyday life. If a news item regarding police violence against African-Americans is broadcast, Dr. Pahlke proposes discussing how white individuals have been recorded to be treated differently by law enforcement. “Show your 10-year-old a photograph of armed white demonstrators at the Michigan statehouse in May and have a discussion,” she says.

Abigail Gewirtz, Ph.D., adds that metaphors are also effective for younger children. Dr. Gerwitz urges parents in his book to say, “When people are in control of a garden, they plant the types of flowers that they enjoy the most, and they may avoid planting flowers that they dislike. This is how people demonstrate their privilege and bigotry. They only let the flowers that they prefer grow in their gardens, excluding all others. Individuals do this with others on occasion.”

Child psychiatrist Dr. Lea Lis suggests you get more to the point about how a Black person can be discriminated against and how they are not always paid the same as a white person for the same amount of work.

She continues, “Discuss how white people are not pulled over as frequently by police, has greater access to schools and education, and how some businesses stock things for white hair and skin tones exclusively.” She also suggests using media such as “Black Parents Explain How to Interact with the Police” from to demonstrate your message.

Middle School Students

Dr. Pahlke suggests that preteens should study the history of redlining in the United States and the Reconstruction era. She explains that teaching students about the history of racism in this nation, from 1619 to the present, will assist them in developing a framework for recognizing white privilege.

They can be exposed to examples of privilege on social media, such as dancer Allison Holker’s viral TikTok in which she and her Black husband perform Big Mamma’s “Check Your Privilege,” which includes statements such as “Put a finger down if you have been stopped or arrested by police without justification” and “Put a finger down if you have been bullied purely because of your race.”

Dr. Pahlke also suggests that families read Peggy McIntosh’s piece “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” from 1989. And for this age bracket, Dr. Josephs suggests The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

High School Students

By the time teens consider applying for their first job and preparing for the PSAT, they should be aware of the explicit and unconscious racial biases that continue to affect people’s access to occupational and educational possibilities.

She suggests discussing ongoing racial disadvantages embedded into our systems with children. Clarify that the disadvantages inherently imply that white people have been and continue to be privileged. According to empirical studies, white individuals focus almost exclusively on the disadvantages suffered by non-white persons and nearly never on the benefits that these disadvantages indicate. Hence, for instance, individuals may acknowledge racially biased hiring practices but disregard the benefits that these practices provide to white persons.

Dr. Garrett-Akinsanya suggests that you also ask adolescents to provide examples from their own lives, including school, job, and sports.

The better you can be with your explanation of the subject, the better. Talking to older children and teens about racism makes it easier for them to see problems. It gives them more motivation to try to make things better.

Ultimately, teaching children what white privilege truly entails would prevent them from growing up to disregard race as an issue and encourage them to be anti-racist in their behaviors.

Meaningful articles you might like: Assisting Children in Dealing with Their Emotions, Educating Children on the Subject of Race and Racism, Educating Your Children About Racism