With race and racism being routinely discussed in politics, popular media, comedy shows, and the news, it’s hard not to hear about these topics on a daily basis. Guess who else is hearing about race and racism? Your children.
Despite the efforts of some politicians, younger generations are more aware and conversant on racial issues than any previous generation. Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of millennials say that systemic racism is fairly or very widespread throughout society. The question for parents to consider is where they are in the conversation with their children. Whether or not you discuss these critical issues with your kids, they will learn from social media, friends, and elsewhere.
Here at Booksio, we encourage you to engage with your children – even at a young age – about the world they see around them, how racism plays an active role in shaping our society, and what they can do to combat its effects.
Here are a few simple steps to consider:
First, get the facts for yourself
If you haven’t learned about our country’s history or contemporary racial issues, start by taking yourself back to school. Even reading a couple of high-quality, well-reviewed books – especially by Black authors! – can help grow your critical understanding of the issues and empathy. Our February 1 Black History blog entry (LINK) or our Featured Cause page (LINK) are great places to start!
Speak in simple terms
Particularly with younger children, it’s important to avoid complex, graduate level language. This doesn’t mean avoiding difficult topics – it means keeping your language clear and age-appropriate. Even young children are seeing and experiencing racism all around them, so it's imperative to talk in a way that gives them moral clarity. Pragya Agarwal’s book We Wish We Knew What To Say gives scenarios, questions, thought starters, resources and advice in an accessible manner on how to tackle tricky conversations around race and racism with confidence and awareness.
Clarify your family’s values
Kids are learning about value systems all around them, good and bad. If they’re not learning about what you as a family stand for, where else might they be getting messages? With just a few clicks on TikTok, your child can be exposed to racist and White Nationalist content very quickly. Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Young Readers’ Edition is a great way to start working together as a family to develop what it means to be anti-racist.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
Your kids are going to ask tough questions – you know that! So, be prepared to explore your own feelings and personal struggles with them as you talk through race and racism that’s present throughout your lived experience. We all have feelings and books like Marc Brackett’s Permission To Feel help us to process them. It’s healthy and appropriate for children to see that even adults have to work through challenging feelings.
Use books to foster conversation
Books provide “mirrors, windows, and maps” reflecting children's own identity. Reading allows children to take a few steps in someone else's shoes, showing children the range of possibilities for their place in the world. Avoid books that exploit stereotypes, and instead consider books that:
- Have a main character who is a person of color.
- Challenge myths or stereotypes. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, about a Black father doing his daughter's hair, for example.
- Normalize daily life among all racial identities. Corduroy by Don Freeman, about a Black mother and child going shopping, for example.
- Help children develop empathy and understand multiple perspectives. Stand in My Shoes by Bob Sornson is a good choice.
- Are written or illustrated by racial/ethnic minorities.
- Present characters facing real-life experiences with which children can relate. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a classic!)
The conversation about race and racism is ongoing. This is not a “one and done” situation! As your children grow, their understanding of the issues will evolve over time. One day, they will surprise you with their unique and nuanced perspectives.
Until then, keep doing the good work of raising young people who will make a better world for all of us.