Explaining slavery to kids


AFABC staff
Focus on Adoption magazine

I am the Caucasian mother of a six-year-old African-American child. I am worried about explaining slavery to my daughter. Do you have any advice?

Be the first person to explain slavery to her—before the subject is covered at school and before her classmates bring the topic up. Use books to help tell the story. Before you tackle the topic, talk about the many achievements and contributions to the world by African-Americans (or African-Canadians). Then pick a time to talk about slavery when she isn’t tired or distracted. Cuddle up while you talk. Expect questions from her (maybe days later) and to go over this subject again and again. Unlike children in black families, who have grown up hearing stories about their ancestors and the challenges they faced, your daughter will need a more formal discussion and the subject will probably keep coming up. Don’t try to avoid the topic just because it’s a painful one to talk about and to hear. Learning about slavery will be more shocking to your daughter partly because the perpetrators of such evil were, like you, white. It is essential to acknowledge slavery as your own legacy—even if it’s an indirect one. Remember to explain to her that people of other races have also faced the devastating effects of racism and exploitation.

How to explain

In the book Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall, they suggest an explanation that goes something like this: When Europeans came to America, they needed workers but didn’t want to pay them, so they kidnapped people from Africa and bought them here as slaves. Though the slaves tried to escape, the Europeans had guns and would immediately kill anyone who fought back—man, woman, or child. Some slaves did escape, and some white people helped them. African-Americans survived slavery because they took care of each other and because they had tremendous strength and courage. You should be proud to be part of your heritage. That was long ago; you will never be a slave. Slavery is against the law.

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