Why, When, & How:
TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT ANTIRACISM
What is antiracism?
An antiracist person is someone who actively opposes racially oppressive beliefs, attitudes, and practices; antiracism refers to acts that directly oppose systems of racial oppression.
Cool, but I'm not racist, so my kids aren't racists. Why do I need to talk to my kids about antiracism?
As was said on the page explaining antiracism, practicing antiracism is about more than just "not being racist". Practicing antiracism or being an antiracist requires a commitment to actively opposing racially oppressive beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws, policies, etc.
As a parent, caregiver, or human being who is occasionally/frequently in proximity of non-adult humans, being antiracist also requires a commitment to teaching the kids and teens in our lives to:
See and celebrate the diversity of races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, abilities, etc.
Acknowledge that some beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws, policies, etc. are racist or rooted in problematic and oppressive ideologies
Identify racist/biased beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws, policies, etc.
Teach how to oppose and disrupt racist/biased beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws, policies, etc.
When and how do I talk to my kids about antiracism?
Talking to kids and teens about literally anything can be awkward. Luckily, teaching kids and teens about being antiracist doesn't have to be any more awkward than other conversations.
Find out more by clicking on the age ranges below:
*Disclosure: The links below will open a new page. If you choose to purchase a book(s) through these links, I may earn a small commission.
The Bottom Line:
Kids are always watching you. Sorry if that's creepy, it's the truth. From infancy through teenagerdom, you (and the other adults in their lives) are modeling beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors they will incorporate into their own lives.
You can't be with your kiddos all the time, so it's important to give them the skills they'll need to be fully capable, responsible humans in the world — at recess or in college.
NOT talking to kids about race, racism, or other forms of oppression is as strong a statement as talking to them about it. Kids are incredibly intelligent people that are too often underestimated or dismissed. They are always watching and absorbing and interpreting; it's better to be intentional about what we are teaching them.
With intentional and constant effort, you can help your kids and teens practice antiracism.
Infants begin smiling at faces around 2-months, and can have strong (to put it mildly) reactions to strangers or being separated from their caregivers around 9-months. Infants are super learners! Between birth and their 1st birthday, infants develop the capacity to recognize and remember faces, show curiosity in people/places/things, begin making their preferences known, and many more cool things.
You can "teach" infants about antiracism by providing ample opportunities for them to see diverse people in different contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. It's less about teaching antiracism, and more about modeling antiracist behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and language for your little human. Add board and picture books with diverse characters doing fun AND routine things— like getting ready for bed— to your book hoard.
Check our some of my favorite diverse and inclusive board books below. Don't forget to take a peak at the picture books too!
1-3 Years Old
Toddlers have a bad reputation. They're rapidly developing language and mobility skills, copying the behaviors of everyone around them, and loudly pointing out differences they notice in others. Teachable moments were invented for toddlers, as they respond best to immediate feedback.
You can teach toddlers about antiracism by providing ample opportunities for them to see diverse people in different contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. Toddlers are actively absorbing everything everyone around them is doing and saying, and will appreciate simple explanations about the things going on around them. Reinforce that differences are normal and positive things we should celebrate, and help them see similarities! Board and picture books with diverse characters showing a range of emotions, in a lots of different contexts, are great during this period.
Don't forget to take a peak at the board books too!
4-10 Years Old
At the lower end of this range, kids are beginning to enter school, maybe for the first time. Across this age range, kids gain more independence, and are beginning to read on their own. Kids typically have some freedom to make choices, from the books they want to read, to the people they choose to be their friends. Finally, in this range, kids begin to self-segregate based on racial/ethnic group.
You can teach kids in this age range about antiracism by providing them with picture books, early reader books, and middle grade books that discuss the historical context for our racialized society. Although you can read these books to younger children, they will likely understand less of the content, but the exposure is still great. It's still important to provide opportunities for kids in the 4-10 year old range to see and interact with diverse people in varying contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. Again, teachable moments, are key to reinforcing that our differences are both normal and positive, while also helping kids identify similarities. Kids during this range may be more aware of current events, and can benefit from reminders not to make generalizations about racial/ethnic groups.
11 Years Old & Older
By 11 years old, most kids are entering or about to enter middle school, which may dramatically increase or decreased the diversity of the student population at their schools. Kids are also entering adolescence, when they'll experience the magic of puberty, identity development, and a host of other unpleasant, but necessary biological and cognitive processes. Despite how it may seem, adolescents have a better capacity for abstract thought and understanding complex concepts. They are also more interested in participating in "grown-up" conversations about current events. They always have a take...
You can teach older kids and teens about antiracism by providing them with media that depicts a diverse range of real and fictional characters. Kids and teens can also be given books about antiracism, as well as more advanced and nuanced books discussing the social and historical context for our racialize society. It's important to have conversations with them about past and current events, as well as getting their opinions on racism and antiracism in their own lives
Please note: The difference between middle grade and young adult (YA) books is not the reading level, but the content. YA books discuss topics that are interesting to teens and young adults, and may contain mature themes or content.