How Parents Can Talk to Their Kids About Race and Racism

It can be uncomfortable to talk about race with anyone, let alone find a way to distill an explanation of race and our country’s racist heritage against black Indigenous Peoples (BIPOC) to a level that children can understand.

As a result, many families – especially white families – do not have conversations about race, and certainly not about racism and power, says Margaret Hagerman, Ph.D., author of White children: growing up privileged in a racially divided America. “The white children in my research get to know the race because of the interpretation of the models they observe according to their place of residence, their education, the media they consume, their peers and even their displacements “, she explains. Good Housekeeping. “The way parents choose to set up their children’s lives has serious consequences for the lessons that children interpret and the signals they get from this environment.”

It could come from the idea that race is too taboo to talk about. “We come from a true generation of colorblind people, where we weren’t supposed to talk about race and many of us – especially but not exclusively white people – didn’t talk about it as we grew up,” says Melissa Giraud, co -Founder of Embrace Race, an organization that seeks to support parents and guardians with the tools they need to raise thoughtful, informed and courageous children about the breed. “Many parents are still afraid to talk about it now because you might be called or say the wrong thing. It is really difficult for people. But it is important to realize that there are very persistent and destructive stories about what race means, and it’s our job as parents to counter them from the start and continue this discussion, with increasing nuances as they get older. ”

It is not realistic to raise children to be color blind.

In reality, children are not color blind. Often cited research indicates that at the age of 3 months, babies are already more comfortable with adults who have the same skin color as their parents. “Other studies show that by the age of 2 and 4, children can already internalize racial prejudice,” says Natalie Weder, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute. “As parents, we might like our child to be colorblind, but it’s not something that actually happens. Children notice it. If we don’t have these conversations with our children ourselves, they happen will happen and will happen in a way that we might not want. “

Sachi Feris is co-founder of Raising Race-Conscious Children, which organizes anti-racist workshops for parents. She says that one of the hypotheses against which workshops must reject is the idea that noticing and talking about race reinforces racism. In fact, the opposite is true: refusing to talk about it ultimately confirms the status quo. “Race was invented to empower some and less to empower others,” she said. “If we cannot talk about it, name it and honor the experience of oppression, discrimination and racism that people without white privileges have to face, we cannot go anywhere. We cannot advance ‘needle.”

Talking about racism, on the other hand, works to counter it. “We have learned that children who learn racism at an early age become more respectful, more aware and, in general, have less racial bias as they age,” says Dr. Weder.

Highlight the differences in skin tones in children from the start.

When the children are toddlers and preschoolers, you can show how the complexion varies by family members, or validate the differences your child notices between children’s skin tones at the playground. “At this age, racial and ethnic differences are neither bad nor good, they just are,” says Kim Parker, LCSW, author of East meets West: parenting the best of both worlds.

Toddlers naturally tend to point out differences, often aloud and in public. (“Mom, look! This person has poofy hair! I want to touch them!”) Although it is a good idea to teach children do not pointing or talking to people behind their backs – or touching someone without consent – the embarrassment you feel in these situations may cause you to react in ways that completely close the conversation. (“Hush! This is not good!”) This can send a message to children that there are negative feelings about the differences they have noticed.

While emphasizing that it is not polite to point or grasp, try to keep things positive. “It is not shameful when one child notes another’s skin color:” You are white. I’m black. Juan is brown. “Or” she has dark skin, and I have fair skin, “” says Dr. Parker. “However, be careful not to let your children get into the habit of labeling someone as” the Asian child “or” the black child “, as this can be dehumanizing.”

Instead, use it as an opening for more conversation when you get home. “This is a great opportunity to learn together,” said Candice Nicole Hargons, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma at the University of Kentucky. “If your little one says,” Look, this person has different hair, “say,” Yes, your hair is different from their hair – let’s learn new hair types and textures today. “”

It is also a good idea to build a library of children’s books with various main characters. “As you read together, say simple things like” look at this smart kid “or” look at this happy person “while showing pictures of BIPOC,” She adds. “Your language should actively challenge stereotypes about people from marginalized racial backgrounds, while simultaneously asserting that your child is unique.”

In addition to books, you can take your kids to different cultural events, buy dolls and toys that represent a variety of races, try foods from different communities, and talk about different people you admire from different backgrounds. “When you talk about heroes, mention the heroes from all the different communities,” says Dr. Weder. “There are so many amazing artists, writers, scientists and athletes.”

When children arrive in elementary school, appeal to their innate sense of fairness.

As children get older, it’s important not to just talk about race, but racism in particular. Put the ideas of combating racism in a context that children already understand. “A child in elementary school has a strong bias for” right “and” unfair “behavior,” says Shelli Dry, ODT, a pediatric therapist and director of clinical operations at Enable My Child. “To work to develop awareness of social injustice, parents can use this strong sense of fairness in their conversations with the child. Now is a good time to start working on an understanding of basic human rights. “

“At this age, it’s also important to talk about history,” says Dr. Weder. “Explain that racism didn’t just start yesterday and that it has lasted for hundreds of years. Expose them to books on racism and have open conversations.”

Explain to them that racism is not something that can be solved by being nice to everyone – that it is present in all facets of how we created our society. “Our conversations with children about race must go beyond kindness and talk about power,” says Giraud. “Who makes the rules? Are they fair to everyone or do they benefit some? What are we going to do about it? Kindness will not solve racism, so children need to understand that more action is needed to make a difference. ” “

Leave room for this to be a two-way discussion, says Giraud, because the kids are going to have a lot of questions. “With young people, it is important to ask a lot of questions and not to be too talkative,” she adds. “We have to realize that there are a lot of things in culture and that this is quite confusing, because race doesn’t actually make much sense. We have to keep asking our children questions to get down to their level to try to understand their logic and how they experience something. ”

As you get older, give them the tools to resist peer pressure.

Elementary students and older middle school students begin to develop different views from their parents, so they will begin to deal with these issues alone or with friends. “At the age of 12, children start to have very strong opinions,” says Dr. Weder. “This is an age when children start to become independent, and they might question the views and values ​​of their parents just to become more independent. And they are also strongly influenced by their peers. It is not so much what we say to our children at this age, but how we act. “

“They are now receiving messages from schools, peers, religious circles and the media on race,” says Dr. Hargons. “If their environment is predominantly white, they probably receive racist messages. Children try to integrate and social hierarchies begin to form. Some children use racism as a way to align with those they consider powerful. This is where you see bullying begin.“Show them that racist jokes are never funny or acceptable – and continue by not making racist comments yourself.

Encourage your children to intervene when they see injustices. “Teach them to speak – if they see something unfair, they have to act,” says Dr. Weder. “It is important that children of color are protected and also feel valued and proud in their community. We need to teach them that it is never acceptable to discriminate, and they practice that way so that it becomes just the way they live their lives. ” You can also ask the children to volunteer, raise funds and attend rallies or marches to combat injustice, if they have not already done so.

Supplement what they learn in school.

If school does not make the connection between children and the way racism in which they learn history affects the way we all live today, you can make those connections for them. “Teach them the history of racial oppression and how racism is greater than people with stereotypes or prejudices – it is a system of power and is embedded in our laws, institutions, policies, etc., “says Dr. Hagerman. “It could mean that parents need to do some learning in this area, and families can do this learning together.”

You may also need to go back and correct the record of how the school teaches history. (What is the school teaching on the first Thanksgiving, for example?). “For example, the Tulsa massacres and lynchings are important for understanding economic and social disparities. Discussing the resistance of white people to school desegregation is important for understanding educational disparities.” Help them understand how these events relate to what they see in the news.

Teach them to recognize their mistakes.

And take possession of yours too. “One of the most important things white parents can do is let your children know how to accept responsibility when they inevitably do or say something racist,” says Dr. Hargons. “Every privileged person will make oppressive mistakes throughout their life – white, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc. – and becoming anti-racist is a permanent journey. The key to this journey is knowing when you are wrong and looking to fix the harm, rather than minimizing, deflecting or defending yourself from the discomfort of knowing that you have done harm.

And now is the perfect time to start. “Now is not the time to be ashamed and let it paralyze you,” says Dr. Hargons. “Now is the time to express remorse and responsibility through action. It is a useful new energy that you can mobilize to transform your family, your community and the nation.”

More ways to start the conversation

  • Dr. Hargons is hosting a workshop on Cultivating an Anti-Racist Mindset on July 8 at 10 a.m.ET.
  • Raising Race Conscious Children is hosting its anti-racism workshop / webinar on July 5 at 8 p.m. ET, with follow-up on July 16. You can also read their list of “100 Race Sensitive Things You Can Tell Your Child Advance Racial Justice.” “
  • Embrace Race offers a series of webinars and action guides to talk to kids about the breed.
  • Sesame StreetCNN City Hall helps talk to children about racism.
  • “Beyond the golden rule” of Tolerance.org offers a guide to prevent and respond to prejudice.
  • The Conscious Kid offers children’s books, interviews and other essential talking points.
  • Good Housekeeping has a list of children’s books that can help start the conversation about the breed.
  • PBS has its own recommended reading list, as well as a resource center for middle and high school students.

    Parenting & Relationships Editor
    Marisa LaScala covers everything related to parenting, from the postpartum period to empty nests, for GoodHousekeeping.com; she previously wrote about motherhood for parents and the working mother.

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