“WHITES ONLY” signs are no longer found in America, yet racism is still a problem here. Despite the progress this nation has made, there are (metaphorically) still people who would prefer that minorities sit in the back of the bus. It’s likely these behaviors don’t fall far from the tree, and parents have planted these ideologies into their heads. I recall many experiences with children saying things they did not realize were offensive—for example, a kindergartener once said to me that Tiana was the worst Disney princess because “her skin was black.”
The best way to increase racial tolerance is by teaching children how to behave in more accepting ways towards other races. As generations grow and change, it’s their responsibility to pass down teachings of racial tolerance. While some believe discussing race with children is uncomfortable, it is absolutely necessary.
Parents can raise their kids to be racist unintentionally by not addressing race with them at all. If parents put racism on the table as a topic of discussion, it will make kids more tolerant towards other races because it will make children comfortable about it.
Ruthie Vincil, a white mother of a young daughter, has been teaching her daughter about racism since she was four. Vincil realized that with her white privilege, she was responsible for informing her daughter about racism so she would not remain ignorant of her privilege. “Like the ocean’s undertow, racism is a strong force and it is easy to let it carry you,” Vincil said. “If I do not actively teach my children to be vigilant anti-racists, they will not be able to see racism until it is too difficult to get back to shore. In fact, they may not even be able to see shore at all.” Her discussion of race with her child prompted her daughter to become cautious of becoming racist herself.
Madeline Rogin, a kindergarten teacher at Prospect Sierra School, had difficulty teaching her students the full truth about Martin Luther King Jr. She shared that she rushed over parts about segregation out of discomfort towards explaining it to children. However, she realized she was being unfair by not teaching her students the full story of how he became so influential. “I learned that it is impossible to teach my daughter or my students about who Dr. King was without also telling the ugly truth about racism,” she said.
Speaking to children about racism could expand their acceptance towards others. There are many ways to help kids become racially tolerant. RaceConcious.org, a popular “resource for talking about race with young children,” suggests challenging stereotypes in front of kids: “Say ‘I don’t like this image’ when you see a stereotype reinforced. Using simple, concrete language, try to explain why.”
RaceConcious also recommends discussing fairness: “The concept of fairness is a daily part of a child’s life—so it is an accessible and natural way to frame conversations about equity with our youngest children (including toddlers!)” For more strategies for combating internalized racism in children, visit RaceConcious.org for tips. And remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”