When an article titled “You can’t ignore racism and raise anti-racist children. You have to tackle it head on“ popped up on my newsfeed, of course I read it. I loved it and shared it. As a woman of color, I engage in a lot of thought and conversation around race and when I see things like this, I am hopeful that others are thinking and feeling the same things too. You would be hard-pressed to deny that the conversation about race is happening everywhere and it is inevitably reaching our kids. This is a critical moment in our history, one that emulates the civil rights era of the 1950’s and 60’s when the world was watching and our families had to choose which side of the movement they were on and how they were going to explain it to their kids.
Those kids were our parents and the conversation has shifted in so many ways since then. One thing is for sure, the conversation is not over yet. It never will be and there’s a lot we can do as parents to keep it moving and really empower our kids to be present, to be aware and to do things differently that maybe our own parents were not able to do with us.
One of the most important parts of this article that I think is crucial to our conversations about race and ethnicity is taking the time to stop, reject and reflect on the fact that what our children are seeing, reading and/or hearing is not acceptable to their understanding about race. WE need to be the ones who are creating their frame of reference.
Research has consistently shown that proactively teaching your children (and white children especially) about racism – telling them that discrimination exists in the world – is far more effective than ignoring race and pretending as if the world is “colorblind.” As tempting as it is to think of even our young children as innocent, they are exposed to the same racism and biases that adults are in culture. The best thing that we can do for them as parents is to arm them with information about the reality of racism – historic and present – and teach them that it is unacceptable.
This is a great start to how we can change the way children learn about race, but I would say that it cannot just stop there. Here are a few more ideas on how we redirect and change the conversation about race with our kids so that they are better equipped to face and challenge racism as they grow.
When young children point out physical differences they see, do not change the subject or shut the conversation down.
Children are curious and they will want to talk about and understand the things they see, especially if they are things they don’t see every day. My own children, who are half Puerto Rican and half Mexican, have already asked about skin colors in our family, particularly why I’m very light skinned and why my husband is very dark-skinned. Your child will likely ask you why someone’s skin is a different color than theirs. In the past, our parents would have likely responded with “it’s not polite to stare” which sends the message that it’s not ok to be curious about differences they see. Instead, consider asking your child “Tell me what you see?” and be honest when you tell them that yes, people are born in all shades, shapes and abilities. If they are so curious that they want to touch the person they are asking about, remind them that it is not ok to touch someone without permission. This same approach can also be applied to a variety of topics, including teaching about personal space and consent as well as when kids begin to identify other differences in the people around them, such as disabilities, developmental differences or other physical attributes.
Be intentional about where you go and what you do with your kids.
It’s not enough for children to learn about other cultures on field trips to museums or in history books. It’s especially not enough in a heavily segregated city like Milwaukee. Be a part of their education and expose them to different neighborhoods, foods, and cultural activities and celebrations that are put on by the cultural groups they represent. Authenticity is the key here. Be intentional if you want kids to experience difference in a way that is meaningful to them.
Normalize difference at home.
Books, movies and toys representative of race, gender and abilities different than your own aren’t just for the children of those identities. They are for you and your children too! As thrilled as I am to see more kids of color in TV shows and in books for my children to identify with, I am even more excited that it’s available to everyone. When our toy chests are as diverse as our reality, then we empower our children to begin the work of rejecting old and dated thoughts on race.
We all know we are not inherently born with bias or hatred for other people based on their appearances alone. We learn these things over time and not always from just our parents, but we can have an impact over the arch of their childhood into their adult lives.
Let’s expand on the “it takes a village” approach and commit to fully engaging in intentional conversation and exposure to race and ethnicity. The really good news is that slowly but surely, a lot of what we see and hear is more inherently diverse than ever before. But we must ensure that we are celebrating, embracing and empathizing with different populations which is very different than simply stating that we are all the same human species and that our differences do not matter. They do. And it’s that subtle difference we can teach our children now that will completely change the landscape of their futures.
Our team asked our circles of friends for photos of their beautiful, COLORFUL, families. These are just a few of the photos we received and were given permission to share.