By: Andrea Dillon
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A lot of families are currently struggling with how to talk to kids about racism. It is difficult to find the right words to say and find the correct ways to say them. You might be asking yourself what resources are available to help you express what is happening in the world and how can you model and teach anti-racism to your children? We can help. Let’s explore some conversation starters and resources to help you tackle this urgent and essential topic with your children.
Why do you need to talk about race?
Children recognize physical differences at a very young age. Studies have even shown that children as young as three can start to have racial biases.
This video by The Atlantic can help you understand why starting at a young age is important and easier than you might think.
With younger children talk about differences. Don’t ignore different races, but discuss them in ways that make it easier for your children to understand. Keep your answers simple and honest. Let your children ask questions and explore the topic with you as their guide.
Tips To Help You Start the Conversation About Race
- Find books with diverse characters and discuss them.
- Play apps and games together with diverse characters.
- Discuss the characters in shows and movies.
- Explore similarities and differences through play.
What is Racism?
For children school-age and older, is it time to discuss racism. To start, you must first understand what racism is.
Racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
This definition can be hard to convey to younger school-age children. Take advantage of books and videos to help. (Jump link to book and video section)
While discussing racism remember these 6 tips:
- Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. Make sure your child knows that you too are learning and that we all must continue to learn, do better, and be better.
- Don’t have one talk and expect that to be enough. This will be ongoing as your child grows, learns, and views more of the events in the world.
- Guide your children to see the flaws and harm in racist thinking.
- Be ready for a conversation about current events regarding racism and the feelings that might come up with that.
- Watch for devaluing language while having your conversation (and in everyday life). Words matter, so practice your vocabulary and guide your children to focus on the words they use.
- Don’t be afraid to explore the history of racism in America together.
Ways To Combat Racism
You have already started the most crucial step to combating racism, KNOWLEDGE! How else can you help your children grow to push back on racism,
- Listen to others: Seek out stories about the lives of others to help you understand.
- Model it: Your language, attitude, and action teach the most. Work on learning more yourself and that will go a long way.
- Stand up for injustice: Encourage your children to speak up when they see racism happening.
- Encourage Activism: Try to take part in activism in your area.
Resources To Help You Talk To Your Kids About Racism
As your children get older and start to understand more about race and racism, you will want to continue learning and expand on the information. Use resources to help you gain more knowledge and improve the conversation.
Books About Racism
Books are wonderful learning tools and there are plenty out there to help you teach your child about racism and to learn more yourself.
Books About Racism For Kids
These books are for children preschool to later elementary age.
Skin Again by Bell Hooks
“Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much–what’s most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free.”
Let’s Talk About Race by Karen Katz
“Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades. Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people.”
Race Cars by Jenny Devenny
“Race Cars is a children’s book about white privilege. It was created to serve as a springboard for parents and educators to facilitate tough conversations with their kids about race, privilege and oppression. Race Cars tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules while entering the same race.”
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham
“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness is a picture book about racism and racial justice, inviting white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice.”
Civil Rights Then and Now: A Timeline of the Fight for Equality in America by Kristina Brooke Daniele
“Take a crash course in the social justice issues that keep the United States from realizing its promise of equality! This civil rights book for kids is simultaneously a guide for parents and educators who worry about broaching the topics of racism, discrimination, and prejudice.”
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
“Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.”
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano PhD and Ann Hazzard PhD
“Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives.”
Books About Racism For Tweens/Teens
These books for middle school children and older.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
“In this New York Times bestselling novel, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
“The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.”
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.”
Making It Right: Building Peace, Settling Conflict by Marilee Peters (Author)
“Making It Right relates true stories of young people who are working in innovative ways to further peaceful resolution of conflict and to heal past wounds. The book begins with individual injustices, such as bullying, and works up to collective ones, like wars. Each chapter begins with a dramatic fictional account, making the topic engaging and relevant for kids.”
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
“Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.”
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson
“Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried.”
Books About Racism For Adult
These books are for high school seniors and up.
The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences by Carolyn Helsel and Y. Joy Harris-Smith
“Learn the language of diversity and raise kids who respect differences and honor similarities. The ABCs of Diversity equips parents, teachers, and community leaders to have intergenerational and intercultural conversations about the differences between us. In addition to discussions of race, intercultural dialogue involves understanding our differences related to political affiliation, gender, class, religion, ability, nationality, and sexual orientation.”
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
“In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a “gorgeous, gutting…generous” (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.”
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
“Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism – and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes listeners through a widening circle of antiracist ideas – from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities – that will help listeners see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.”
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad and Robin J DiAngelo
“Updated and expanded from the original workbook (downloaded by nearly 100,000 people), this critical text helps you take the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and further resources, giving you the language to understand racism, and to dismantle your own biases, whether you are using the book on your own, with a book club, or looking to start family activism in your own home.”
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy–from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans–has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair–and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?”
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.”
Videos/Film About Racism
Films and videos have a way of capturing our attention and helping us understand the world around us. These books and videos can help you and your children learn more about race, racism, and anti-racism.
- Sesame Street: We’re Different, We’re the Same | Read Along Series
- Being Black in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ Great Big Story
- Sesame Street/CNN Town Hall Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism
- Prejudice and Discrimination: Crash Course Psychology
- Discrimination: Crash Course Philosophy
- Systemic Racism Explained
- TED Talk: The symbols of systemic racism — and how to take away their power | Paul Rucker
- A Ballerina’s Tale (Unrated) – “A rare, behind-the-scenes look at the struggles and triumphs in the career of Misty Copeland, the first African-American named principal dancer of the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.”
- Hidden Figures (PG) – “An incredible & inspiring untold true story about three women at NASA who were instrumental in one of history’s greatest operations – the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.”
- The Hate U Give (PG-13) – Based on the best selling book. “A teen witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a trigger-happy cop and must decide whether to testify or not.”
- Just Mercy (Rated PG-13) – “A powerful true story that follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his battle for justice as he defends a man sentenced to death despite evidence proving his innocence.”
- Selma (Rated PG-13) – “From the Oscar-winning producers of 12 Years a Slave and acclaimed director Ava DuVernay comes the true story of courage and hope that changed the world forever.”
- Marshall (Rated PG-13) – “Based on a true story, MARSHALL follows future Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, as he defends a black man from sexual assault charges against his white employer.”
- The Uncomfortable Truth (13+) – “When the son of Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, dives into the 400 year history of institutional racism in America he is confronted with the shocking reality that his family helped start it all from the very beginning. A comprehensive and insightful exploration of the origins and history of racism in America told through a very personal and honest story.”
Podcasts About Racism
These podcasts are to help you, as a parent, learn and grow. The concepts and information in these podcasts can help you navigate the tough conversations with your children.
- Talking Race With Young Children Episode (NPR)
- Seeing White Series (Scene On Radio)
- Wait, Is My Toddler Racist? Episode (Your Parenting Mojo)
- Code Switch Podcast (NPR)
- The Nod Podcast (Grimlet)
- Throughline Podcast (NPR)
Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence
Resources to help you further the conversation from Tolerance.org
PBS LearningMedia Resources: Race, Racism, Protests, Civil Rights and More
Free to use lessons from PBS LearningMedia.
Resources For Talking About Race, Racism AND Radical Violence With Kids
Educational list compiled by the Center for Racial Justice in Education.
Remember that conversations like this are never easy. Talking to kids about racism takes honestly and, at times, admitting our own flaws. Keep the dialog open with your children as you all keep learning and you will help to create a relationship that can make the world a better place for everyone.