Health

Here’s How To Raise Race-Conscious Children

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Teaching kids not to “see” race actually isn’t the best approach for raising anti-racist children.

Adults often think they should avoid talking with young children about race or racism because doing so would cause them to notice race or make them racist. In fact, the opposite is true.

When adults are silent about race or use “colorblind” rhetoric, they actually reinforce racial prejudice in children1. Starting at a very young age, children see patterns — who seems to live where; what kinds of homes they see as they ride or walk through different neighborhoods; who is the most desirable character in the movies they watch; who seems to have particular jobs or roles at the doctor’s office, at school, at the grocery store; and so on — and try to assign “rules” to explain what they see. Adults’ silence about these patterns and the structural racism that causes them, combined with the false but ubiquitous “American Dream” narrative that everyone can achieve anything they want through hard work, results in children concluding that the patterns they see “must have been caused by meaningful inherent differences between groups” 2. In other words, young children infer that the racial inequities they see are natural and justified.

Zachary Gibson / BuzzFeed

What’s more, adult behavior — for example, saying “That’s not nice” or “We don’t talk about people,” when a child asks a question about someone’s skin color — often teaches children that they are never supposed to talk about race, leaving them to draw conclusions on their own. So despite good intentions, when we fail to talk openly with our children about racial inequity in our society, we are in fact contributing to the development of their racial biases, which studies show are in place by ages 3-53.

Zachary Gibson / BuzzFeed

So, what should you do? How do we talk with children about complex things like systemic racism and societal inequity? The particulars will vary by your child’s age, racial identity, and social context (and I’ve included links to resources that speak to specific situations at the end of this article), but there are several things all adults can do.

So, what should you do? How do we talk with children about complex things like systemic racism and societal inequity? The particulars will vary by your child's age, racial identity, and social context (and I've included links to resources that speak to specific situations at the end of this article), but there are several things all adults can do.

Zachary Gibson / BuzzFeed

First, get comfortable talking and learning about race, racism, and racial inequity, period.

First, get comfortable talking and learning about race, racism, and racial inequity, period.

If you cannot explain to another adult why these patterns of racialized inequity exist and persist, it is going to be impossible to explain to a four-year-old in an age-appropriate manner. There are indeed age-appropriate ways to explain structural racism and implicit bias to young children, but first adults have to fully understand these concepts themselves. If you were not taught these things, it’s certainly not your fault, but it is your responsibility to do the work to learn more now. If you are not used to thinking and talking about these things in your everyday life, make a concerted effort to do so.

Zachary Gibson / BuzzFeed


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