In this day and age, prejudice is ripe, so how do we raise children to be race-conscious?
Some people think that talking to children about race and racism will lead them to be more prejudice or notice the differences between people. The truth is, the opposite is true. Remaining silent on the topic of race isn’t helping our children. It isn’t moving the needle any closer to equality.
If adults are silent about race, they actually reinforce racial prejudice in children. From a young age, children notice patterns – who lives where; what homes they see; who is the most desirable character in a film; and so one – and they try to assign “rules” to explain what they see. So adults staying silent about these patterns and structural racism causes prejudice in kids. Young children infer that racial inequities they see are natural and justified.
What’s more, dismissing a child asking a question about someone’s skin colour, often teaches children that they are not supposed to talk about race. So despite having good intentions, we are actually teaching children that talking about racial issues, contributes to the development of racial bias.
Parents have similar goals when it comes to how their raise them to handle the issue of race. Firstly, we want to raise children who judge people based on behaviour, values and their likes and dislikes. Not the colour of their skin, or their origins. Secondly, we want to raise them to be able to call our racism. To be able to recognise prejudice around them. Lastly, we want our children to understand and see people as equals who need friendship, not as people who need saving.
So how exactly do we teach these lessons to our children?
Talk and learn about race, racism and racial inequity: If you can’t explain racial inequality to another adult, you will find it impossible to explain it to a child. So before you try and tell your child what it means, learn more about the concepts yourself. By talking about prejudice in your everyday life, your child will become more aware of the issues.
Ask questions: Instead of shutting down a statement your child makes that strikes you as racially biased, try to understand their thought process. Simply by asking “what makes you think that?” can give you a good perspective on their thoughts and ideas. Once you understand the thought process, you can work on changing their perspective.
Talk about fairness: You can harness their sense of just to explain racial patterns as being unfair. This will help your child to see what is right and wrong about prejudice. Kids are constantly noticing patterns in the world so use this as a way to help them think critically. Point out everyday things that you think are unfair and talk to them about why they are.
Empowerment: Actively seek out anti-racist role models in your community and in the broader society. Point out that there are people and organisations working to make a positive change everyday. Show children that they can help too.
Connect the past, present and future: Talk to children about civil rights heroes who fought hard to change things. Teach them that we are lucky that, although there is prejudice in the world, it ins’t like it used to be. It can be a great way for them to understand that people do work hard to make a change. Which will hopefully make them want to make a difference too.