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Explore additional resources, reading material and tips to help support your next conversation.
Why do humans have different skin colors? Here’s a resource from the National Museum of Natural History that breaks it down.
Do children this young really notice these differences? Yes! To learn more, check out some of the research on young children and race. This study from the American Psychological Association is a great place to start.
How do I talk to my children about differences in skin color? There are lots of fantastic skin color activities available online. For example, explore some of these resources compiled by Welcoming Schools.
Many of us have been socialized to avoid and/or shut down conversations about race. But research shows that racial “colorblindness” is an ineffective strategy for addressing racism. What should we do instead? How can I become a race-conscious parent, caregiver or educator?
Here are some resources to get you started:
Most people in the United States lead racially segregated lives. Even those of us who have racially diverse families and live in racial diverse communities often participate in segregated schools and social networks. As grown-ups, we have the power to make sure our lives reflect our values. Take some time to reflect and take stock. Audit your life. How often do your children see Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in positions of leadership? How many books in your home or classroom feature Black, Indigenous, and other people of color as main characters? How about in the toys and media your child consumes?
It’s our job to equip children with language to accurately and appropriately describe themselves and others. One factor that can make this challenging is the fact that racial vocabulary is not fixed. Because race is a social construct, racial categories (and the language we use to describe them) change across space and time. For example, take a look at the different ways racial groups have been categorized in the U.S. Census over time. Another example is the recent emergence of the term BIPOC. Another challenge is our lack of clarity about the differences between race, ethnicity, and nationality.
Racial identity development is a complex and ongoing process. Our racial identities are both externally imposed (how others perceive us) and internally constructed (how we come to understand ourselves in relationship to our context). They are deeply personal, and also very much collective. Racial identities are about who we are as individuals in relationship to the social groups we are members of. For most of us, we need to engage in our own racial identity development in order to be able to support young children in theirs. Here are some resources for helping you and your child develop positive racial identities:
Let’s Talk About Race: Racial Identity Development from the National Museum of African American History & Culture
Understanding Racial-Ethnic Identity Development with Dr. Sandra “Chap” Chapman
STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICE
It’s important that we recognize that young children are already experiencing and perpetuating racism well before they enter Kindergarten. We’ve included several examples in the book in the hopes that they can be used to launch conversations about the ways that your children see and experience interpersonal and institutional racism in their own lives.
Research shows that Black children are suspended and expelled from preschools at much higher rates than their peers. These statistics are connected to evidence that preschool teachers, like most grown-ups in the United States, hold implicit racial biases and stereotypes against children of color. For example, Black children are often perceived as older and less innocent than their peers.
And it turns out that young children hold implicit racial biases too. A recent study found that, similar to us grown-ups, toddlers can be hypocritical. They care about fairness, but are also self-interested and use race to make decisions about who they want to play with. From Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s foundational research to more recent research, evidence consistently shows that children are not “colorblind.”
We also know that there is systemic racism in the children’s book industry. For example, in 2018, despite the fact that white children made up only 50% of the total child population in the United States, 77% of books published that year featured a white character or an animal as the central character.
You may have learned that “race is a social construct,” but what does that really mean? And how do you explain it? Race is an idea that emerged in modern times, and that has no basis in biology or science. Racial categories were invented to advantage white people and to justify slavery, colonialism, and genocide. There are still many people who don’t know or understand this history. To talk about race and racism with young children, it’s important to start or continue the work of understanding it yourself so you are comfortable breaking it down.
To learn more about the invention of racial categories and their history in the United States, here are a few recommended resources to get you started:
Historical Foundations of Race (website) from the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Invention of Race (podcast episode) by NPR’s Throughline
The Myth of Race, Debunked in 3 minutes (video) by Vox
Seeing White (podcast series) by Seen On Radio
Race: The Power of an Illusion (documentary and website) from California Newsreel
You have permission to talk to young children not just about diversity and differences, but also about injustice. Young children are already seeing, being impacted by, and perpetuating racism. As the grown-ups in their lives, we should not avoid topics that are confusing, scary, or sad. We need to help them understand and navigate those topics and feelings. Learn how to explain racism in your own words. This will help you find the right words to explain it to young children, and follow their lead when they have questions. Call out racism as it manifests in your own lives and continue to discuss this openly with your children. This will help them do the same as they grow.
Young children can understand, name, and address structural racism, but only if we are able to support them in that process. What does it mean that racism is a system of power? How do we talk about white privilege in a way that a three-year-old might be able to understand? Why do most of the books available define racism interpersonally? To learn more about what systemic racism is and how it manifests historically and today, here are a few recommended resources for grown ups to get you started:
EMPOWERMENT AND ACTIVISM
Young children learn more by watching what you do than from what you say about your beliefs. Racism is baked into the culture of the United States. In order to undo this system, we must actively participate in anti- racist efforts. There are so many different ways to get involved! Brainstorm ideas together, and start small in your community. Here are some ideas on ways to empower activism in young children:
Get inspired: Learn about the role of children in social movements historically and today. Make sure that in addition to highlighting individual activists like Marley Dias, Naomi Wadler, Malala Yousafzai, and Greta Thunberg, explore the stories of young people who use collective power to make a difference. Research the Birmingham Children’s March, or for a contemporary example, google Nolan Davis or check out the work of organizations like the Philly Children’s Movement. Some books we love include:
Get engaged: Wherever you live, there is probably a group of people already working together to advance racial justice and advocate for anti-racist policy changes. Find them and get involved! If you’re not sure where to start, consider getting involved in Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizing and activism or join a local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). If you’re an educator, it’s the perfect time to start planning for next year’s Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. One great way to get started is to make some time to learn together about the 13 principles that ground our current movement for racial justice and then take action to advance the BREATHE Act with your family or community.
Keep the conversation going! We hope this book inspires ongoing conversations about race, racism, and social justice. Here are some other children’s books to continue these important conversations. And here’s a list kid’s books about indigenous cultures written by indigenous authors.