This post is a transcript of our conversation with Dr. Traci Baxley on the topic of Social Justice Parenting, where we share a very vulnerable conversation talking about how to address race with our kids, how to engage in Social Justice parenting, and how we can all practice more of Social Justice parenting.
This podcast episode is a conversation I was so excited to have with Dr. Traci Baxley. She was actually introduced to us by Sara Dean of The Shameless Mom Academy podcast (shout out to Sara). We’re so grateful because Traci has written this amazing book called Social Justice Parenting. And it’s all about how to raise kids to be compassionate, anti-racist, and justice-minded. And the conversation we get into is very, very, I want to say vulnerable, I was able to talk with her about a lot of things. I think many people have these insecurities about talking about race, especially white people because we were never told how to talk about race. We were told in our generation- I feel like we were told to ignore color. And that doesn’t really help. So Traci has some great strategies, things that I actually used on my own kids right away, which I’ll tell you about after the interview.
Dr. Traci Baxley is a professor, consultant, parenting coach, speaker, mother to five biracial children, and the creator of the social justice parenting program. And author, as we said before of Social Justice Parenting: How to Raise Compassionate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World. She has been an educator for over 30 years with degrees in child development, elementary education, and curriculum and instruction. So Traci, can you tell us a little bit about you and your story?
Yeah, so I am a mother of five. That is my biggest role. And I am married to my fourth-grade friend. We’ve been together for 23years/25 years dating. I grew up and a very when I was young and a very maybe, like, insulated black community. And when I was in fourth grade, the summer for third and fourth grade we moved to a city where I was the only black child and I had to kind of learn what that felt like and what that looked like in finding my place where I belong and all of that and I think those experiences as a young child has kind of created this personal me always feels like they have To find belonging for everybody. And so I think those experiences led to my desire to be an educator, and always drifting toward those children who looked like they were left out in some way and finding space for them. And so it’s a natural progression to the work that I’m doing now with supporting parents and creating safe spaces for their children, and finding and raising children with lots of compassion, and lots of ways to create a longing in the world. So I think the story that I’m telling really is a progression that really has kind of brought me to the space where I am right now.
I love how early childhood experiences so impact us as adults and inform the work we do and the desire to do the work we do. And reading in your book about your experiences as a teacher and the stuff that you did for the “bad kids”. And we talked earlier about how those “bad kids” aren’t bad necessarily, but they just need that love. And they need that belonging that you talked about. It just seems so counterintuitive to me. I mean, it’s like thinking about your own child, right? When somebody describes your child as badly behaved or badly mannered, you typically take that personally, because you know that your kid is a good kid deep down. And just because you see another child that misbehaves or whatever, thinking that they’re doing it because they want to have people yell at them, they want to be in trouble. Like, there’s something else, there’s some other need that they need to have been met. And just pausing, taking a moment, and showing that child that compassion that you would want someone to show your own child, right, right, there’s always something at the root of those kinds of behaviors that we see when children are acting out. And this again, it’s about taking the time to kind of unravel and unpack what those things are. So that you can get at the core of who the child really is. And that was something that was very important to me, as a teacher. And also, you know, as a parent, I try to bring those same qualities and skills and passions, as I’m raising my own children. So in your book, Traci, Social Justice Parenting, you talk about this difference between raising a good person and being a “good person”, and someone who is “pro-justice”, and many parents raise good kids. But what’s the distinguishing thing between raising a “good kid” and a kid who is “pro-justice”?
Yeah, this is a question that comes up a lot, because I have many clients that come to me, mostly moms, mostly white moms, who want to start raising their children to be anti-racist, or to be more proactive, and a lot of their partners are not really understanding what they want, and what their needs are because they think just, we’re raising good people. That’s all that counts. That’s what we need to be doing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with raising good people. I mean, it’s teaching your children to be nice to others and to treat others fairly. But I also think that raising good people is kind of like the safe route. And I think in some ways, it aligns with what I consider fair-based parenting. And I think the difference between really being a good person and being a pro-justice is really the action piece. So being a good person is a little bit passive. Being pro-justice requires you to be more knowledgeable about the realities of what’s going on in the world. It makes you have to think more about how your family is impacted by the things that have gone on in the world. It is raising children who are empathetic, who are courageous, and who are active. I think, generally raising people, teaches children to do no harm, right? But raising pro-justice children is raising children to intercede when harm is being done. So these are your allies, your activists, your agitators, your anti-racist, these are the people who are going to really be changemakers in the world. And those are the people that I want to raise. Those are the children who we are thinking about raising when we start talking about social justice parenting.
I think that’s a really, really good point. Because I know that when I’m teaching my children, let’s just pick a really easy topic that so many of us are talking about these days like a bully, right? When I teach my children, you’re nice to others. You don’t call other people names. You’re not a bully. What does a bully look like? And like we talked about those kinds of things. I don’t think I’ve ever really said to them, and this is what you do when you see somebody bullying somebody else, or ask them that question. What do you do when you see somebody bullying someone else? Like I think that’s a really, really important point. Like we’ve told them all like don’t do this. Don’t be that way. But how are we really taking the time to show them? Like how do you help someone that’s going through that situation? How do you stand up? What are the words you say? What are the actions you take, other than go tell an adult? Okay, that’s a fair point, oh, the actions you take. But I also, there’s only so much lip service we can give to our kids and telling them what to do. Like, we have to show it ourselves, right? what we’re doing. And a lot of us as parents, like, I’m speaking from my perspective as a white woman. And we talked about this before the interview, I’ve been really uncomfortable talking about race, and especially last summer, like, I felt like my eyes were kind of opened up as to how uncomfortable race as an issue to me as a white woman was because we were told, like I was told like you don’t see color, right? You don’t notice race? And that, like, as you mentioned in your book, can you talk a little bit about how you don’t see color comments as harmful?
Yeah, I think one of the scenarios I gave in my book was when I was going to like this woman wellness retreat. And I’m always a little bit skeptical, skeptical, but mindful when I go into spaces, because I’m traditionally the only black person in there. And so at the end of this retreat, I, you know, we went around the room talking about, you know, one thing that we thought about, or that moved us some way during the retreat, and I just was offering gratitude about feeling safe in the space and comfortable in the space. And as a black woman, how I always am a little bit on edge, when I first start in spaces like that. And then the woman next to me said, Oh, my gosh, I never realized you’re black until you said it. And so, you know, obviously, with the work that I do, I immediately wanted to go and correct that for her. But I didn’t know whether it was really the place or space. So when we came back the next month, I said, You know, I know when you say that your intentions are good. But when you deny seeing me, you also deny my story, my lived experiences, the things that are challenging for me as a black woman in this society, and I need you to see me because not seeing me means you’re not ready to deal with all of the issues that comes along with me in my black and my brown skin. So I think well, we are colorblind, it’s not acknowledging that there are some inequities in the world that we have to address. It feels like you’re silencing or you are denying people their real, lived experiences. So we want to raise children who see color, and know that there are differences, we want them to celebrate those differences. And we also want them to grow up being people who are going to change the practices that we have right now when it comes to race. And if we don’t start talking about that, and unpacking that for our children, they will grow up the same way we did, right, not talking about race. And if we want to get past this idea of racism, and treating people unfairly, it has to be something that we start to talk about.
When I read that in your book. And we’re talking about another book as well, just the whole act of seeing, seeing people’s color, noticing the color of skin saying somebody has beautiful brown skin when you’re asked by your child because as, like, society, the way we’ve gone is like it’s improper to point out differences and other people. Right? And that’s not helping us at all.
Yeah, acting like we don’t see it doesn’t help anything, doesn’t help you process it, doesn’t help you address it in any way. Right? And then what it does is brings about this anxiety and fear in our children, because their natural curiosity is to ask the questions they see. I mean, we know that they see. So when we tell our kids, we don’t see color, it’s like how I do see their color, you know. And so what we’re doing is silencing that curiosity in them so that they’re not asking the questions to figure out the answers and, and kids, their natural way of figuring things out, is asking questions, right? They want to know questions, and they want things to be right. And if we are always asking them to be quiet, to not ask the questions, to tell them what they see is not what they see, what is that teaching our children about how they’re growing up, what’s important to talk about, what’s important to ignore. Because I know with my own, like fears that the thing that has stopped me thus far is I’m always worried about offending somebody. Because that is how I was raised. And that’s something that I think a lot of people feel and it’s something that we need to really push through and make those kinds of mistakes along the way to figure out A better way of doing things. I feel like that really brings up what you were talking about about the whole fear-based parenting. Oh, as a white mom, I am afraid of saying something that’s going to be offensive to somebody else. And so that makes me act like it doesn’t exist. And that doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t teach my children the skills that they need going forward to do better to be better.
Yes. And I think fear-based parenting, I think the only way to do this thing wrong is to not do it at all. Everybody’s gonna make mistakes, everybody’s gonna not have the right answers. Listen, I’m still learning too. But if we are going to really kind of raise children who see the world differently, who stand up for others who are more inclusive, we got to start having those conversations. Because that fear, drives us to try to control and control things in a way that we really are denying is a lot of opportunities to grow. And so if we can step outside of that fear, stop protecting, start preparing our kids for the real world more then they will have anxiety and the stress around the idea of race.
You had a great story in the book about a situation you had at a boot camp, and how you could have really used an ally during that time. Can you share that story?
Yes, so I was in a boot camp with this ex-marine and we went like two or three times a week really over the course of the summer. And we had all gotten very close, and really kind of knew each other well by the end. And it was my girlfriend and me who were the only black women in the group. And then the last session when we were like finishing up and cleaning up the expo rain, who ran the camp, asked his children to pick up all the equipment and start putting in the bag and the daughter got up and start doing the work and the son slowly got up and you know, dragging his feet and walking very slowly to help her and she said to him stop walking like a digger. Yeah, so there was this complete silence, of course, and that all eyes turned to my girlfriend and me, and the short story is nobody said a word. Nobody spoke up. Nobody defended us. Nobody did anything. And we eventually had the conversation with the X-ray, and about what that meant, what that felt like, and what it’s doing to his children, whatever. But the allyship wasn’t there. And these are people that we had grown to like a lot and felt very comfortable with. Again, that’s a good example of raising good people and raising pro-justice people. Right? They were all good people. I mean, I cared about them. But when it was time to stand up and do the hard thing, nobody did that. And so we want to raise our children who in a moment like that, they know how to stand up for other people.
What would have been, like, a good ally response in that situation? What would you have liked to see those people in the class do, like address the kid or?
Well, they could have addressed us first to say, I’m sorry, they said that. I stand with you. That’s not how we all feel. They could have said something to the expiry, like, we have to teach our children better, or I will make sure my kids never have this idea about who black people are. So there could have been a few different things. But saying nothing was again, to me, that’s the only way to do it wrong. Even if you said, I know this is wrong. But I don’t know what to say. Even that would have been appropriate, right? Because now I know you’re open to learning and growing, but that you felt something wasn’t right enough for you to speak up.
It’s great to hear that because, in those kinds of situations, I would have probably felt I would have been stunned and not know what to say. And just knowing that all I had to say was I’m stunned and I don’t know what to say to this comment. It gives me an opening to then help a situation. Yeah. Yeah, I read that story. And I’m like, I don’t know what I would have done during that if I was in that class with you. But I’m glad to hear your story so that I know how to act differently when that situation presents itself.
Yes, and I will say that I deal with allyship it’s, you should always be in a state of feeling uncomfortable. Like it should never feel easy. When it starts to feel easy, it means that you have grown and it’s time to do more growing. So don’t let that fear of being uncomfortable stop you from growing. Because that’s all part of the allyship I make when I’m an allyship with groups like the LGBTQ community, I don’t always know what to say, I’m a little uncomfortable that I’m not using the right words or that I’m not saying the right thing. But I’m not gonna let it stop me from being active or being an ally in certain situations. So I think we all are growing and learning and trying to do the right thing. But I think doing nothing is probably the only way to do it wrong.
Yes, doing nothing is the only way to do it wrong. I mean, I have to admit to everyone who’s listening, I am uncomfortable in this conversation right now, because I’m not used to openly discussing race or anything, but it’s just a matter of pushing through.
But you know what JoAnn, I think that’s an okay place to be. And I think that’s a place that you start with your children. You know, I didn’t grow up talking about race in my house, with grandma and grandpa, right. But I realize now I need to do things differently with you. I’m a little uncomfortable because it’s something new to me. So I would like for us to grow together and learn together to do this better for people who are different from us. So I think you use that in a way that really supports the growth of your children in this space as well.
I’m gonna have that conversation with my kids on the drive home today, actually. Well, I think it’s a really good point you made too Traci, talking about how I’m a little bit uncomfortable. I didn’t talk about it this way with grandma and grandpa, because you’re not saying that. Grandma, grandpa- weren’t bad people, you’re reinforcing the whole, like, we’re all good people. We just didn’t know better. And now that we know better, we’re going to try to do better. And we’re going to just continue trying to grow on that.
And kind of reinforcing that thing that we’re always talking about No Guilt Mom, that we’re all human. We all make mistakes, and we’re all learning. So acknowledging that we’re all trying to do better. We’re all trying to get better at this going forward. Just being honest, right?
Yes, being vulnerable, open and honest, that is so important because it teaches our children to do the same, right? And we’re gonna want them to be open and honest as they grow up, especially when they’re teenagers. You want to be able to establish a safe space when they get older. It starts with you being open and honest, when they’re younger so that they see the process of what that looks like, what that feels like, and that you are that place that they can go to to be open and honest too.
Well, Traci, this conversation has gone by way too fast. For me. It’s been wonderful, wonderful talking to you. What is something that you’re excited about that you have coming up?
I think just all of the things going on with the book, I’m able to help more families. It’s very exciting to me that so many families are ready to be in the space but they are raising anti-racist children. They’re raising children who are pro-social justice. So the more that I can support families, I think it’s very exciting to me.
Resources We Shared:
Cozi Family Organizer App FREE Family Organization App that includes customizable calendars, shopping lists, dinner recipes, and MORE!
Patient Parenting Challenge The Patient Parent Challenge is a FREE event consisting of five days of simple strategies that you can start using immediately in your parenting to communicate your needs, recognize your triggers, and know what to do when your kids don’t listen to you the first time.
The best mom is a happy mom. To better take care of you, download our No Guilt Mom mindset here . These reminders will help you second guess less, and feel more confidence every day in your parenting.
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