I’ll never forget the day my oldest started at her new preschool. I was anxiously waiting for her class to be released out of the school doors, and I stood among a cluster of other parents. The door swung open, and the teacher dismissed the kids, one-by-one, to the adult waiting for them. A little boy rushed out and into his mother’s arms, exclaiming, “There’s a new kid in our class, and she is brown!” The mom’s eyes darted around and she was shushing her son. She didn’t know that the new brown kid was my black daughter. She quickly bent down, put her arm around her son’s shoulders, and ushered him into the parking lot. It was obvious that he caught her off-guard, and she was trying to escape as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, white parents tend to be very uncomfortable discussing race with their children. Rather than venture on a path they aren’t familiar with, they tend to opt for neutrality, generalities, or straight-up ignoring. None of these are helpful–and it’s become glaringly obvious in the past month, especially. My multiracial family of six bear some of the brunt of families who refuse to confront racism head-on. The parents don’t provide the racial literacy children need in order to become anti-racist. Luckily, there are things that parents can do to raise children who understand what it means to practice anti-racism.
I understand that it’s overwhelming to learn what anti-racism is, process that in your own adult mind, and then work to be actively anti-racist. This is a major undertaking, one that takes years, and in my opinion, should never end. However, just because you’re at the beginning of your anti-racism journey, doesn’t mean you can’t get started on teaching your kids. Please hear me. It’s okay to be learning alongside each other. You don’t have to get all your proverbial ducks in a row to dive on in.
I also want you to know that your children aren’t too young to learn about race. Parents often fear that by discussing racial differences and racism with their kids, parents are putting bad ideas into their kids’ heads. The reality is, kids will encounter situations involving racial diversity and racism. In fact, it’s very likely they already have—many times. They’ve already heard “all lives matter,” and “Black Lives Matter,” George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and words like “thug” and “protest” if they have any access to social conversations, the radio, or the internet. Isn’t our job as parents to prepare our children for what’s next and what may happen? Anti-racism education is part of our many parental responsibilities. It’s not going to magically fall into our kids’ laps. We have to be intentional. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Watch movies and shows about race and racism.
Watch movies together as a family. When focusing on Black people, suggestions include Ruby Bridges, Remember the Titans, Akeelah and the Bee, Hidden Figures, and 42. Do not limit your movies to plots about racial oppression. Allow your children access to resources in which Black people are the protagonists. Consider Spiderman Into the Spider-Verse, KC Undercover, Family Reunion, Black Panther, and Family Matters. Avoid movies that stereotype the kids of color, especially making them the “bad guy” or villain or the sidekick who holds up the main, white character. After you watch a show or movie, discuss it. What happened? Who were the main characters? What was going on during that time, historically speaking? How is that similar to what’s going on today?
Have a diverse group of friends.
This applies to the adults and the kids in a family. When a group of friends is racially diverse, everyone learns from one another–naturally. This isn’t to say that white people should burden people of color to educate them on race, answering all of their burning questions. I’m talking about having authentic relationships—intentionally. Interactions between kids of different races is a powerful teacher. And let me be clear. Having a Black, Asian, or Latinx friend doesn’t automatically make you anti-racist. Don’t use your friends of color as tokens. Also, evaluate your place of worship and where your kids take part in extracurriculars, if applicable.
Discuss race and racism terms.
Teach your children what different terms mean, giving them the language to have meaningful discussions, as well as recognize and call-out racism. For example, you can tell your children what anti-racism means. You an also teach them terms they may hear that aren’t appropriate—and why. For example, “black on black crime” is often a defensive clapback to police brutality against black people. “The race card” isn’t real. Rather, it is a term white people may use when they feel fragile about a situation involving a person of color. The n-word is also another racist term you absolutely must address with your children. You also can model for your kids how to be direct. Say their great uncle tells a racist joke. Directly call out that person by saying, “That was racist.” Don’t sugarcoat it, apologize, or say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but…” Call our racism without excuse.
Read books that teach kids about history and racial equity.
Purchase children’s books by people of color that feature people of color. Again, choose books where the person of color is the protagonist—and isn’t stereotyped. According to Lee & Low, a children’s book publisher, in 2017 only 7% of children’s books were authored by Latinx, Native, or Black authors. Thankfully, we are seeing an increase in people-of-color owned publishing companies, illustrators, authors, and stories—though there still aren’t enough. Be intentional about the books you choose to read to your children. Many classic books are problematic, including Dr. Seuss’ works, which often depicted Black and Asian people as animals.
Patron BIPOC-owned businesses as a family.
Understandably, there’s been a halt in family outings since the coronavirus pandemic hit. However, as businesses slowly begin to open back up, many offering curbside pickup or delivery, utilize your entertainment and food budget to support businesses owned by biracial, indigenous, people of color. Buy children’s books from a black-owned bookstore, pick up dinner from an Indian-owned restaurant, and purchase Father’s Day gifts from an Asian-owned online shop. Choose where to spend your money, and demonstrate to your children that what they buy, and from whom, matters.
A little effort can go a long way in educating your children, providing them with exposure to people who are different from them. Experience, I truly believe, is one of the best teachers. And remember, you are learning alongside your child, modeling for them that what they do, what they read and watch, whom they hang out with, and how they spend their money, is important.
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