Race and Racism – A sensitive topic
Talking about race and racism can be a sensitive topic to get into, no matter who you talk with. Having the conversation about racism with young children can be quite daunting.
There is no “one way” to go about it. How you talk with your children will depend greatly on your own family situation and your cultural make up. However these are topics that if introduced early on can have a great affect on your children, and their cultural views.
Below we will go through some helpful hints on how to talk about race and racism in early childhood.
Talking to Kids about Race
I was slowly making my way through a popular European furniture store, admiring the different practical layouts of what the inside of my house could have looked had I the energy to build my own furniture.
My then 3-year-old son was surprisingly patient. I hadn’t really noticed that while I was engrossed in my minimalist daydreams, he was observing the other shoppers around us.
“Why does that lady have black skin?” he asked as he pointed unabashed at a woman struggling to keep her son walking as he repeatedly fell to the floor. “And why does she have a cover on her head?” I felt blood rushing to my cheeks.
“Shh. It’s rude to point!” I whispered embarrassed.
“But why does she have black skin?” he inquired again.
At the time, I had never thought of needing to teach my children about different ethnicities. I didn’t anticipate it happening before they started kindergarten.
I thought I had time. And honestly, I thought they would just know.
After all, their dad was a tall Caucasian man with light skin and blonde hair and I’m a short Filipino woman with brown skin and black hair. Our difference in physical appearance was clear and obvious. It never occurred to me that this was a topic to be had.
Since then, I had been actively engaging my children in racial conversations.
A neighbor once told me that her children, who were 9 and 4 at the time, had never noticed skin color before. She was quite proud of how she instilled in their minds that everyone is the same. “So, they won’t grow up racists,” she said.
I immediately pointed out how the “Colorblind” attitude is not beneficial to anyone. I lovingly explained that teaching her children that it is racist to recognize racial and ethnic differences is doing a disservice to society. Not to mention, this approach reinforces racist attitudes and assumptions.
In my quest to nurture my children to know and be proud of the fact that they are of two races, I have found myself in a similar pursuit to amicably educate parents on how to teach their own children about race.
How to talk to children about race
1. Learn the terminology
You can’t teach something you don’t understand. Though used interchangeably, there is a difference between race and ethnicity. Put most simply, race corresponds with biology, while ethnicity with culture.
While you’re at it, learn the difference between racism, prejudice, and discrimination. It is quite daunting to explain to a young audience the gravity of these words. But it’s essential they learn them correctly from the get-go.
2. Start the conversation
Don’t wait for your children to bring it up. A 2007 study revealed that nonwhite parents are three times more likely to talk about race than white parents.It can be uncomfortable; it can be unpleasant, and understandably so. But lean into your discomfort and talk to them about the different cultures around them.
Talk about what it means to be white or black or Jewish or Arab. Talk to them about why certain symbols cannot be used or how certain words cannot be said.
If you don’t start these conversations, they’ll hear it from others and draw their own conclusions; or worse, they’ll draw racist conclusions.
3. Read culturally diverse books
When you make it a part of your child rearing to expand your children’s library with ethnically and culturally diverse books, you’re making an effort to expand their knowledge about the world. It will encourage them to think critically and to ask questions, which can lead to honest conversations. Find an excellent list of diversity books for kids here:
4. Watch movies or shows about diversity
I’m not talking about movies or tv shows with all the characters being white except for one African American friend or an Asian sidekick.
In our home, we love Moana, Wonder, and Coco to name a few. If you have older children, you can watch Hidden Figures or Remember the Titans. Another good one is a French documentary called On the Way to School. It’s fundamental for children to see representation of those who are underprivileged and underserved across all media. Check this movie list for a few titles.
5. Cook ethnic food
Pick one night a week to make an ethnic meal. Your children can help. I understand the hesitation to make something you’ve never tried before especially when you don’t consider yourself a cook. But again, there are so many resources on our trusty internet. You can follow a recipe or watch a video of how it’s done, or both!
Filipinos love eating with their hands; so, when I make Filipino food, my husband and I make our children use their hands. When we’re having sushi or noodles, we ask them to use chopsticks. This simple integration in your everyday life can spark interest in learning more about different cultures.
A fantastic idea is an international cooking subscription: See our review of Eat2Explore which is fantastic for cooking as a family and getting the kids involved.
6. Be a good example
Refrain from using ethnic slurs or derogatory terms. Just don’t. If you do, then stop. Children are always listening, always watching. They know more than what we think they know. They’re like sponges and they just absorb information and process them so quickly in their little, bright minds. And they remember. Boy, oh boy, do they remember. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
If you can afford it, travel the world. There’s no better way to teach children about race than to be engulfed in that culture.
Use the public transportation in that country. Eat the local food. Talk to the locals. Walk. Hear the language. Listen to the different accents. Stay with a local family if possible. Give them the gift of experience.
Teach Kids about Diversity
Exposing the younger generation, no matter their race or background to people of other ethnicities is vital to breeding a world that is understanding, accepting, and respectful of everyone.
The world is vast and rich with culture. Children need to know this to embrace this. They need to know that a diverse world is normal and it’s normal to coexist with someone different than you.
It’s one thing to be tolerant. It’s better to be respectful and understanding of everyone.
Author: Regine Orme is mother of 3 raising multicultural kids. Originally from the Philippines, Regine moved to Norway with her family at 14 years old. She graduated with a BA in Psychology in Brigham Young University-Hawaii where she met her husband. They have been living in Washington, DC for the past 7 years.