INSIDE: Practical strategies to help you teach your kids about racism and why it’s crucial that you do!
I’m a white mum of three. My family and I live a fairly sheltered life in a quiet Sussex village, where it’s pretty rare even to see many people of colour.
But in recent times, I’ve watched events unfold on the media about the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and felt compelled to play my part in educating my kids about racism.
If I’m honest, the prospect of tackling these issues has made me nervous. This has been for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve felt completely unprepared due to my lack of education on the subject. And secondly, I’ve been worried about what to say. What if I mess it up and use the wrong words by mistake?
Maybe you’re the same? The idea of explaining racial hatred, why it exists and how to combat it can be daunting, especially if this is something you haven’t experienced yourself.
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I decided that the only way forward was for me to get educated. So, I’ve spent some time researching what black influencers such as Janaya Khan, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Rachel E Cargle, to name but a few, have to say.
I’ve listened to interviews, podcasts and read about the experiences and opinions of a host of black people. I’ve strived to understand how we can best teach our kids about racism, so that we can finally bring about some fundamental change in our society. Below is a summary of the best advice I came across. I found it helpful, and I hope you do too.
Table of Contents
- Be reflective before you begin
- Use your judgement and follow your instincts
- Recognise and celebrate differences
- Start teaching about justice from a young age
- Explain white privilege
- Notice racism and talk about it
- Get educated about racism
- Don’t make race a taboo subject
- Set an example – make a stand against racism
- Discuss racism in the media
- Final thoughts
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Be reflective before you begin
Racism permeates every aspect of our society. It affects all of us, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Dr Beverly Daniel Tatum describes it as being like ‘smog’, which we breathe in, so it ultimately affects us all.
It’s important to realise that you can be a good person who has also absorbed some racist ideas. It’s ok to admit the biases and prejudices you may hold. Being prepared to address these doesn’t make you bad; it means that you have the courage to be honest and do what is needed to change. Only then can you teach your kids on this subject with integrity.
Use your judgment and follow your instincts.
You may be wondering when to start teaching your kids about racism. In my opinion, it’s never too early to begin instilling a sense of justice, fairness and equality in our children.
But always remember that you understand your kids better than anyone. You know how much information they can handle. Follow your instincts, and decide when the time feels right to address the more challenging aspects of racism, such as police brutality.
Recognise and celebrate differences
Find ways to introduce your kids to a range of cultures and people of different ethnicities. Interactions such as these are the best way to break down prejudices. Experiment with food from various countries and actively look for books and films that portray people of colour in a positive light. Talk openly with your kids, acknowledging both the similarities and differences of people from around the world.
Start teaching about justice from a young age
When your kids are toddlers, start talking about what it means to be kind and unkind, what’s fair and unfair. Children’s concept of ‘fairness’ can be used to explain racism. Help them to realise that it’s unfair and how we need to work together to ensure that people of all races are treated kindly and equally.
It’s natural to be concerned about exposing young kids to difficult issues. But studies have shown that children as young as five can begin to show signs of racial bias, so it’s crucial to start addressing issues around inclusion when they are young.
Explain white privilege
As white people, we have ‘white privilege’. This doesn’t mean that life is always easy for us, but it does mean that we have some advantages in life just because we are white; benefits that people of colour don’t have.
It’s therefore essential to explore this concept with your kids. So, get them to reflect on white privilege and think about how this could impact the lives of people with colour. Ask them how their lives may be different due to the fact that they are white.
Notice racism and talk about it
It’s easy not to notice the things that don’t affect us. As white people, we don’t question half of what we see in the world around us. Politics, business, advertising and most of what we are exposed to on screen are dominated by white faces.
But we don’t notice; not because we don’t care but because we relate to it, and so don’t even realise it’s happening. We need to recognise how little we would identify with all this if we were black.
We must start paying attention and challenge the status quo. When you realise that all the heroes in a film, book or latest drama are white, say so. Ask your kids what they think about that and talk about the roles that people of colour have by comparison.
But remember it’s never too late to start a conversation, and you don’t have to get things right the first time. Don’t get hung up on saying the wrong thing; just talk.
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Get educated about racism
When you become aware of an issue that the black community find offensive, but where you don’t understand the background, get informed. Do you know why the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, caused such outrage, causing people to tear it down and throw it in the harbour?
If not, do your research to understand the history that underpins it and explain this to your kids. And don’t just do this on a superficial level. It’s not enough to know that he was a slave trader, put it down to history and move on.
Find out what it was like for the people he captured. What were their lives like, and how were they treated? How did this impact them, their families, communities and generations to come?
Empathise, be compassionate and try to understand the deep-rooted hurt caused and which remains today. Teaching your kids to think in this way will help shape a new generation whose views and attitudes will be very different from those that came before them.
Explore the past together so that both you and your children can make sense of the present. Research events such as the Civil Rights Movement in America or the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Use this to teach your kids how people can come together to make a stand against inequality.
If your kids ask you a question about racism, to which you don’t have an answer, it’s fine to admit that you don’t know. But don’t just leave it at that. Research it together and discuss the issues. This will help both you and your family to develop your knowledge and understanding.
Don’t make race a taboo subject
If your child passes a comment on a person’s skin colour, there is no need to feel embarrassed. Don’t treat it as a taboo subject or try to silence your child. They are just curious. Instead, use it as an opportunity to talk.
Set an example – make a stand against discrimination
If you hear someone say something racist, then it’s crucial to speak up and challenge it. This can be difficult, especially with family or friends, but keeping quiet is just not good enough.
Kids model their behaviour on what they see. If you actively challenge racism when you encounter it, your kids will learn to do the same. So, take every opportunity to stand up for everybody’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Discuss racism in the media
Your kids may be getting most of their information from the internet and social media. When they mention racist posts, use these as opportunities to have open and honest discussions about diversity and inclusion. Ask their opinions to establish what they think and offer them different perspectives to expand their understanding. Encourage them to think about online activism as a way of responding to racial issues.
Difficult as this subject may be to teach to our kids, it’s crucial that we do so. Remaining passively silent is just adding to the problem.
I hope these ideas help you to educate your kids about racism in a meaningful and productive way. If you need further help, Wish We Knew What to Say: Talking With Children About Race by Dr Pragya Agarwal is a great book that will equip you for those vital conversations with your kids.
I’d love to hear about your experiences of teaching your kids about racism and discrimination. Please share your thoughts or any further suggestions on this topic in the comments below.
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Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuhn says
Yes it’s a difficult subject. If we could just treat people as people, regardless of creed or culture…….but sadly that seems to be lost. You are right, kids model what they see and hear, so it’s up to us to be a GOOD example!