Talking to your child about racism
Talking about race and racism can feel uncomfortable, and it can feel tempting to avoid the conversation with your child in favor of simply leading by example: showing kindness and empathy to all. However, many families who regularly confront racism do not have the option of whether or not to talk to their children about race. That’s why it is important to bring up the topic with your family in a meaningful way, especially if you benefit from the privilege of not representing a racially or ethnically minoritized group.
Tips for Teaching and Talking to Kids about Race
This guide comes from EmbraceRace, a multiracial community dedicated to sharing and developing best practices for raising and caring for kids, all kids, in the context of race. “These tips are designed to help parents of all backgrounds talk to and guide their children about race early and often by lifting up age-appropriate activities that can be incorporated easily into your daily life. We hope these tips provide some much needed support for families committed to building tolerance, racial equity, and a social culture where all kids and families can thrive!”
1) Start Early.
- By 6 months of age babies are noticing racial differences; by age 4, children have begun to show signs of racial bias.
- Let your child know that it’s perfectly okay to notice skin color and talk about race. Start talking about what racial differences mean and don’t mean.
2) Encourage your Child.
Encourage your child to ask questions, share observations and experiences, and be respectfully curious about race.
- Expose your child to different cultural opportunities – photographs, films, books, or cultural events, for example – and discuss the experience afterwards.
- You don’t have to be an expert on race to talk with our child. Be honest about what you don’t know and work with your child to find accurate information.
3) Be Mindful.
What kids hear from us is less important than what they see us do.
- You are a role model to your child. What you say is important, but what you do – the diversity of your friendship circle, for example – is likely to have a bigger impact.
- If your child doesn’t attend a diverse school, consider enrolling her in after-school or weekend activities such as sports leagues that are diverse if you’re able. Choose books and toys that include persons of different races and ethnicities. Visit museums with exhibits about a range of cultures and religions.
4) Face and Know your own Bias.
Let your child see you acknowledge and face your own biases.
- We’re less likely to pass on the biases we identify and work to overcome.
- Give your child an example of a bias, racial or otherwise, that you hold or have held. Share with your child things you do to confront and overcome that bias.
5) Know and Love who you are.
- Talk about the histories and experiences of the racial, ethnic, and cultural groups you and your family identify with. Talk about their contributions and acknowledge the less flattering parts of those histories as well.
- Tell stories about the challenges your family (your child’s parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and great grandparents, others) has faced and overcome.
6) Develop Racial Cultural Literacy.
Develop racial cultural literacy by learning about and respecting others.
- Study and talk about the histories and experiences of groups we call African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and whites, among others.
- Be sure your child understands that every racial and ethnic group includes people who believe different things and behave in different ways . There is as much diversity within racial groups as across them.
7) Be Honest.
Be honest with your child, in age-appropriate ways, about bigotry and oppression.
- Children are amazing at noticing patterns, including racial patterns (who lives in their neighborhood versus their friends’ neighborhoods, for example). Help them make sense of those patterns, and recognize that bigotry and oppression are sometimes a big part of those explanations.
- Be sure your child knows that the struggle for racial fairness is still happening and that your family can take part in that struggle.
8) Tell Stories.
“Lift up the freedom fighters “: Tell stories of resistance and resilience.
- Every big story of racial oppression is also a story about people fighting back and “speaking truth to power.” Teach your child those parts of the story too.
- Include women, children and young adults among the “freedom fighters” in the stories you tell. A story about racial struggle in which all the heroes are men wrongly leaves many people out.
9) Be Active.
Be active – don’t be a “bystander” on race.
- Help your child understand what it means to be, and how to be, a change agent.
- Whenever possible, connect the conversations you’re having to the change you and your child want to see, and to ways to bring about that change.
10) Plan for a Marathon, Not a Sprint.
- It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure” or “Let’s come back to that later, okay?” But then do come back to it.
- Make race talks with your child routine. Race is a topic you should plan to revisit again and again in many different ways overtime.
Here is an overview of the steps you can take, as a parent, to begin (and maintain) a conversation about race with your child
Consider the mental and emotional health of our youth, our colleagues, and ourselves.
Violence has an impact on all of us—especially on our mental health. The protests that have gripped our city and nation reflect the hurt, anger, and pain of generations of racial trauma. Emotional responses may manifest in different ways, including anger, irritability, grief, and hopelessness. We should be aware of signs of trauma or distress not only for our youth, but also for ourselves and our colleagues.
How can I support young people through this trauma?
This brief statement from Mental Health America calls attention to the impact of violence (including witnessing violent events in media reports) on our mental health, and especially the mental health of marginalized communities. The statement also contains links with additional information and resources.
How White Parents Can Talk About Race
NPR’s Michel Martin talks to Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, about how to talk with white kids about racially-charged events; listen to their conversation here.