Our Anti-racist Future: Talking to Kids About Race, Racism and Inequality
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, sparked worldwide protests aimed at combating police misconduct and brutality, particularly the brutality perpetrated against Black people. These protests have also opened our eyes to the injustices that systemic racism consistently and disproportionately perpetuates against people of color in the United States — and the fact that this form of racism needs to be dismantled.
As many white people are learning for the first time, it’s not enough to "not be racist" or to not acknowledge the role race plays in how people are treated on every level of society. It’s essential to work to become actively anti-racist, to "examine the power imbalances between racialized people and non-racialized/white people" and engage in the process of "identifying, challenging and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism." This must be done so we can create a society that offers equal opportunities and treatment to everyone.
When police brutality, issues of racial injustice and the necessary work of the Black Lives Matter movement are highlighted so prominently in the news, adults aren’t the only ones taking notice. Seeing protests on TV or overhearing conversations about race can raise lots of questions in kids’ minds — questions that they may or may not voice. In working to be anti-racist, it’s essential to initiate conversations about race with children and answer these questions. No matter how uncomfortable the topic may feel or what it forces us to confront, learning how to talk to kids about race, racism and inclusion is what needs to happen to shape young minds and ultimately steer kids towards anti-racist behavior — making the world a better place in the process.
General Tips for Talking to Kids About Race
Talking about race can be sensitive and overwhelming and confusing. And that’s all the more reason why we need to do it. Issues involving race are complex and can bring up new and uncomfortable questions and emotions, but it’s our job to lean into that discomfort, to navigate those questions, not avoid them. Taking family and other dynamics into account, remember that there’s no cut and dry way to navigate talking to kids about race — but some ways to go about it are more effective than others. It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers but will pursue them. Allow these tips to guide the process, keeping in mind that it’s a learning experience for everyone.
Addressing Race and Value Judgments
We all "become raced" during our lives, meaning we form ideas about race that typically reflect the underlying ideas our society as a whole holds about it — often that white people are superior to people of color and thus more deserving of opportunities and privileges. This is systemic racism at work in the United States, but early intervention via efforts to raise anti-racist kids is one way to begin combatting these effects of racist biases we internalize.
Showing the Harm of Racist Ideas
Teaching children about the reasons why stereotypes aren’t true is one element of the equation, but it’s also important to take this a step further and show kids how prejudice is harmful. Doing so helps them develop a deeper understanding of the realities and impact of racism — that it causes intense and unnecessary suffering for people.
Effective Resources for Teaching Kids About Race
Talking about race with a child isn’t a one-and-done proposition — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important and necessary to be open for ongoing dialogue, to continue asking and answering questions to the best of your ability and to provide resources that educate kids long after an initial conversation.