Aside from those openly racist white supremacists and KKK members in Charlottesville, Virginia (and other places), I think that most people would vehemently report that they are NOT teaching their children to be racist. In fact, they would probably say that they are teaching their children to be open and accepting of all cultures and races and to treat everyone equally.
However, the message might not be getting through.
This research from the Journal of Family Issues (2016) shows that about 70% of Caucasian families take a “color-blind or color-mute” approach to teaching about race. That means that we pretend that no one notices that we have different skin colors and don’t talk about it unless it’s brought up.
Wonder how often it’s brought up? Not often.
In many households, a discussion about race or even descriptions about race is considered rude, taboo, or just uncouth.
A few months ago, I asked my children (age 2 and 3) if they were white or black. People said, “Why would you ask that?”
I was curious to learn what they understood about race. (The answer: basically nothing).
But, in many homes, that response “why would you talk about that?” is evidence of the color blind mentality.
Teaching children that “everyone is the same” negates the experience of those who do not feel that equal protection under the law includes them.
Instead, talk to your children about the fact that different people in this country EXPERIENCE the world differently. Have discussions about what that experience is like and how it is different from yours. Talk about the history that includes treating people badly.
A few months ago, my family took a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas. We visited Little Rock Central High School. It is a beautiful school!
My 3 year old daughter asked, “Why are we here?”
I told her that not that long ago, there was a big fight at that school about who should be allowed to go to school there. And that the police had to come in to make sure that everyone could get in.
But, I didn’t talk about race. I could have easily said that not that long ago, there was a big fight at that school because white people didn’t think black people should be allowed to go there. And the police had to come in to make sure that black people could get in.
I messed that one up.
Do any of the books or toys that your children reflect people or cultures different than your own?
Mother Jones reported on the lack of diversity in books and the fact that when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at 3,200 children’s books published in the United States last year, it found that only 14 percent had black, Latino, Asian, or Native American main characters.
Do any of the books in your home reflect cultures other than your own? I can think of one book that we received as part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (in Tennessee, all children can receive one free book per month until they turn five).
And that’s probably the only one we have.
I’ve missed another opportunity.
If you are looking for a place to obtain books that do have diverse characters, my friend is an ambassador for Barefoot Books. You can hear her explain about a great book to start with in this interview.
And, if you are interested in purchasing books, use code WELCOME to save 20%. If you shop through this link, any rewards I receive will be used to purchase books and give back to local communities.
But, I’m not here to sell books. Just to point out that even when you try to have a diverse home, it can be difficult to find books that have characters of different backgrounds. And if you are not actively looking, you may not even notice how hard it is.
I need to do better. The only way to get better at something is to actively start working on getting better.
Other people are doing a better job and have some suggestions on how to talk about race with your children?
Here’s a link to 100 Things to Say to Your Child To Advance Racial Justice from RaceConscious.org.
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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