Talking to Kids about Race
Current events are inspiring many of you to ask yourselves what you can do and how to raise and teach children to be anti-biased. A mother asked me for guidance on this the other day. She said that she had initially thought that her child was too young to have conversations about race, but has learned that not talking with children at a young age is part of the problem. This infographic illustrates this well:
Fortunately, recent research has brought a wave of information on effective ways to raise anti-biased children. My response to that mother was to suggest the following:
1) Have multiple perspectives in your video and book library and a variety of skin colors in your child's toybox.
Do an inventory of what you have in your home right now. Watch out for books where the characters are all animals. This avoids the problem of featuring people with different skin colors. Your child needs to see a variety of diverse people regularly in order to feel comfortable with seeing a variety of diverse people. Teddy bears and fuzzy dogs are great toys, but your child would benefit from playing with people, too. What color are the dolls and action figures in your home? Bring in a variety of these and then talk about these physical differences so your child can become literate about a variety of colors and ethnicities.
2) Talk deliberately about the physical differences in people that you see around you together.
Children stare when they are trying to make sense of something new. When you are out and about and you notice your children staring at people with a difference, talk openly about those differences instead of scolding or pretending to ignore it. “You are looking at a person with beautiful brown skin,” or “It looks like that person might have been burned in a fire.” “That person gets around in a wheelchair. Something happened to her legs.” When we scold children for staring, or act like it isn’t happening, you are communicating to the child and the person being stared at that something is wrong with them. Talking with your child not only helps them learn, it also makes the person you are talking about feel seen and important. If it seems appropriate, you might also say, “Maybe they are friendly. Let’s say hello and see."
3) Expose children to people who look different from them.
Take children to ethnic festivals. Invite a foreign exchange student to live in your home or visit your (online) classroom. Meet your neighbors and invite them for dinner. Travel. Go into Black barbershops and salons ask if they do White kids’ hair. (White people are conditioned not to talk about race, but Black people talk about race all of the time. Talking openly about race can help put your Black neighbors at ease.)
4) Help children understand their privileges and that these privileges are not a result of being better than the people who don't have them.
Some of you feel guilty that White children look up to police officers and consider them safe while Black families are warning their children about the dangers of police officers. We don’t need people who feel guilty about having privileges, we need people who seek ways to share their privilege with everyone. Recognizing privileges and realizing that they were never earned is the first step to becoming an ally. Everyone deserves privileges because they are human rights. Tell your children this.
5) When you get overwhelmed, remember this: You don’t have to worry that your children will be racist. You can assume that they already are. If you try to teach your children out of a fear of what they might become, your fear will taint your teaching and render you less effective. Know that we all swim in the same water here in the Western world and that children will benefit from any small efforts you make.
Also, we are tasked with raising anti-racist children, not non-racist children. It is impossible to be non-racist until we are. The main thing is to know that we will make mistakes, to be humble and open to learning, and to be courageous enough to teach when opportunities arise.
I would suggest that you have conversations about race that are short and frequent doses over time. For example, when you're buying a book, you can say, "I'm buying this book for you because I want you to understand that people with dark skin color...(finish sentence with things like "helped change the world for the better" or "are as important as white people" or "can make good friends for you," etc.) Simple blunt points that might seem obvious are often the most helpful for children.
Finally, you can stop worrying about whether you are doing enough. Actions born of fear are never as impactful as actions born of inspiration. Flip your script from fearing that you aren’t doing your part to feeling inspired to do whatever you can. We need fewer people who act out of pressure and more who are just willing to listen and be a part of the change.
Check out resources that can help make this easier:
Book launch, lecture: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/raising-antiracist-kids-ibram-x-kendi-with-derecka-purnell-tickets-107620969216
Article on how to talk to your kids about race: https://afineparent.com/category/positive-parenting-faq
Two teachers created this google room full of books, videos, podcasts: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1QiBQiSdb6m6DvezwCcQmKxCOtjcI0y9tRgsT4-g-1eA/mobilepresent?slide=id.p
Places to take your kids: https://intentionalist.com/
Teaching about privilege for parents: https://time.com/5362786/talking-racism-with-white-kids-not-enough/ and https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/54150/teaching-6-year-olds-about-privilege-and-power
Teaching about privilege for teachers: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2012/confronting-white-privilege
Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race
Pretty Good's "Your Kids Aren’t Too Young To Talk About Race Resource Roundup":