My children are multiracial, so discussing race is a given for me. As a Woman of Color who has experienced racism in my day-to-day life, it has become normal for me to have these conversations. But I recognize that for others—especially for white parents like my husband—it can be more difficult.
Though race is a common topic of conversation in my household, I’ve noticed my husband can have a tough time approaching the topic by himself. For example, he recently took our toddlers to the pharmacy while I was working. It was an ordinary errand, except for an incident that happened with our 3-year-old. “He kept staring at a Black man,” my husband exclaimed during dinner later that night. He was obviously uncomfortable and was glad he was able to side-track our toddler with talk about Toy Story, but I wished he had taken the moment to embrace the opportunity to have a conversation about race.
Our children are observing and absorbing the world around them all the time. Discussing race and our differences is essential to creating positive associations, combating stereotypes, and helping our kids navigate these important conversations throughout their lives. Here are 10 ways white parents can help raise anti-racist children.
1. Start Young
Encouraging conversations about race and ethnicity from a young age provides children with a model to discuss these uncomfortable conversations in-depth as they get older. It can be nerve-wracking, but one way we can help teach our children to respect and embrace other cultures is by talking with our families. This will begin normalizing tough conversations, and will teach our children to acknowledge the struggles of others and appreciate their differences.
2. Begin with Small Conversations
Having conversations about race can be overwhelming. Once we are focused on our anti-racist journey, it can seem imperative to engage in as many conversations about race as possible and include all of the information we have learned in every discussion.
But when we are raising anti-racist children, it is essential to explain things in easily-consumable bits of information. Remember to embrace questions and be honest if you don’t have all the answers.
3. Acknowledge White Privilege
Discussing white privilege is a major stepping stone in the process of teaching anti-racism. But first, we have to understand what it is. White privileges are societal privileges that benefit people with white or light skin that are beyond what non-white people are able to experience or benefit from.
There are inherent advantages, such as not fearing the police, having history lessons in school told from your race’s perspective, and finding children’s books that reflect your race. In 2016, a study found that only 22 percent of children’s book characters were People of Color. Once we are able to acknowledge certain privileges, we can seize more opportunities to create a just and inclusive world.
Read More: How to Talk to Kids About White Privilege
4. Curate Your Bookshelf to Prioritize #OwnVoices
If you haven’t heard the term before, #OwnVoices refers to books written by a person from the marginalized community that the book depicts. For example, Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas are #OwnVoice books.
You may be surprised by how many book covers in your home may look diverse, but are not written by People of Color, LGBTQ+, or persons with disabilities. There is a problem in the publishing community where white authors are still being prioritized, which is why your purchases of books make a difference. Every purchase of #OwnVoice books shows the publishing industry that people care about diversity, and your children are exposed to new perspectives and various worldviews. This allows children to find similarities between their cultures and celebrate differences.
5. Reject a Colorblind Mentality
Colorblindness is a type of racism that denies the subtle form of discrimination that has replaced overt racism. It is important for parents, particularly white parents, to embrace racial and ethnic differences. And this involves rejecting the idea of ignoring a person’s skin color. It’s natural for children to start noticing racial differences around three years old (like my own son at the pharmacy).
It is essential to use opportunities to normalize talking about differences and embracing the beauty of different cultures versus minimizing them or teaching children it is taboo, which can lead to a colorblind mentality.
6. Normalize Identifying as “White”
If you are unable to recognize that white is a racial identity, it can make it more difficult to see the privilege that comes with whiteness and how dominant it is in our society. When we discuss race, it is essential to use proper terminology.
BIPOC is commonly used to refer to Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color. Caucasians are typically referred to as white. However, in my experience, non-Persons of Color can sometimes get offended when they are referred to as “white people.”
Using a racial identity to categorize your race is not an insult, and is important to normalize. By not using “white” and only using BIPOC for People of Color, it suggests being white is the norm and anyone else is an outlier.
7. Expand Your Circle to Include More BIPOC
It is essential that you expose your children to a diverse group of people from a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, but how and who you choose to include matters. If your only Latinx friends happen to be your nanny, maid, or even a third cousin once-removed you see once a year, you are not exposing your children to enough diversity.
When your circle of close friends and family are primarily white, it can be easy to reinforce stereotypes. Be intentional about making your environment diverse. This can be a starting point for meaningful relationships with BIPOC who are other moms, doctors, teachers, etc. It allows your child to see diversity as a fact of life.
8. Own Your Emotions
It’s OK to be moved by discussions of race. It’s OK to even cry when discussing another heartbreaking death of a Black person by police. It is even OK to be angry that things like this are still happening.
The best thing you can do for your children is to model healthy coping mechanisms in order to use their anger and sadness in their anti-racist journey. By utilizing strong emotions as motivators, you can fuel your own child’s desire for justice.
9. Acknowledge Mistakes Along the Way
One of the most important things any parent can do is own-up and apologize for their mistakes. During this process, we all might stumble. Maybe we use the wrong terminology or handle a situation in a way we regret. By acknowledging mistakes along the way, it will show your children they can do the same and be less afraid to make the wrong step. Learning along the way is part of the process.
To avoid shame, employ a gentler, more factual approach to encourage our children to continue working on their own anti-racist journey. If our children are constantly being criticized for honest questions or missteps, they may become quickly discouraged from working on being actively anti-racist.
10. Remember Anti-Racist Learning Can Be Engaging
Every discussion doesn’t have to involve crying over a documentary or book. Anti-racism work can be fun and interactive. You can try sitting down as a family and coming up with educational ways to learn more about being anti-racist in your day-to-day life. If the process is fun, as well as informative, children are more likely to be encouraged to continue learning.
Here’s an activity to get your family talking about race:
- With your children, take every book you own and clear space to make piles for different categories.
- Make separate piles for books categorized by if the author is white, BIPOC, a person with disabilities, or LGBTQ+. You can also add a bonus category for books that have animals or inanimate objects as the main character.
- Count how many you have in each category and identify gaps where you can add more diversity to your bookshelf or make a list for the library.
This article was originally published on September 14, 2020 and has been updated for timelines.