2020 was a year that profoundly changed me. Not only were we living through a global pandemic, but we were also seeing the start of one of the biggest civil rights movements since the 1960s. With the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, it sparked not only outrage in people, but a need to make positive changes and to work towards not only a better future but a better present for our children, and for us as well.
I wanted to use my voice and for change, and as the late Congressman John Lewis called it, “Good Trouble”.
I have such a passion for speaking out for social justice and most importantly I am a mother of three Black sons who I want to inherit a world better than the one that we currently have. I feel like many non-BIPOC parents have the desire for their children to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and it can often be overwhelming when you are figuring out exactly where to start and what to do.
The core of changing the state of racism in our society starts with being anti-racist, which is completely different from just not being racist. It is putting words into action, rather than simply using words with no action behind them.
Teaching your children to be anti-racist is actually very simple
We all know that children learn greatly by example and what they see their parents and caregivers doing. They model the behaviors and values that they see in the people that they trust the most. When we’re discussing big and hard topics with children, we tend to overcomplicate things out of fear. When we press forward, remove the fear from our responses, and dig deep within ourselves, we can find that the solution often is to just start.
5 ways to raise anti-racist children
You don’t have to have all the answers, or everything figured out; the most important thing is a willingness to learn and a willingness to start.
1. Talk to your children about race and racism in an age-appropriate way
As parents, it’s natural to want to shield our children from anything that is unpleasant or bad, and people often feel as though racism is too deep or too hard of a subject to take on with children. But as a Black mother, I don’t have the luxury of not teaching my children about racism, because they were born Black and into a world where they could experience it.
Part of the responsibility for non-BIPOC parents is to start the conversations early and open the dialogue. With young children, it can be as simple as talking about what is unfair, which is a concept that small children understand very easily. Talk to them about how racism is unfair. Let your kids ask questions and let them know that it’s something that can be discussed, and it’s not taboo.
2. Celebrate the differences that people have, rather than ignoring them
A lot of the time, people think that being ‘color-blind’ is an appropriate response to not being racist, but there are many reasons that it doesn’t promote being anti-racist. Color-blind ideology about how we are all the same may seem like it’s harmless, but in fact it doesn’t teach children to appreciate diversity.
Children can visibly see the differences in people, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s all about how a parent or caregiver chooses to frame those differences. Explain to your children that yes, people are all different and have different experiences and different lives and that’s what makes us all unique. What often gets lost is celebrating the differences and learning from each other.
3. Diversify books, toys, shows, and movies in your children’s lives
Representation is so important for BIPOC children; there’s nothing more special than a BIPOC child to be able to read stories with people that look like them, see themselves in shows and movies, and play with dolls that have their hair texture. Fighting for that sort of representation is something that we have been seeing more of, but also a constant work in progress.
On the flip side, it also needs to be normalized for non-BIPOC children to see people who do look different from them since they are used to seeing themselves represented in the media. It is really just as simple as buying a white child a Black doll, and normalizing having diversity in their lives. Children believe what they see and what they hear. Make it known to them that people that are different from them are worthy of respect and caring.
4. If your children witness racist behavior, speak with them about it
Truly one of the most important things you can do to raise your children to be anti-racist is to be the example that they can look up to so they can model your actions and behavior. There can be times when even the people closest to you will uphold ideas that are rooted in racism and white supremacy. It is so incredibly important to speak up and speak out about it.
Letting things like that slide lets your children think that somehow it’s okay. It’s not even about trying to change other people’s views or ways of thinking; it’s about showing your children that you will not entertain racist behavior or actions in your life or their lives.
5. Teach them about Black joy and not just about Black pain
Part of being anti-racist is also teaching your children about Black people in the world that are accomplishing extraordinary things! Don’t just teach them about the injustices and hardships. Teach them about Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who helped send astronauts to the moon. Teach them about Misty Copeland, who was the first African-American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Teach them about Shirley Chisholm, the first black Congresswoman and also the first Black woman to run for the Democratic Presidential Nomination.
Teach them that there is beauty in diversity and in our differences too.
Read also: 16 Children’s Books About Diversity