As we were just getting used to the “new norm” of face masks, sanitizing everything, and coming to terms with quarantine and COVID-19, the world shifted its focus to another problem: systemic racism. The death of a man named George Floyd prompted mass protesting, some of which ended in rioting. This tragedy sent the world in a frenzied call for action, revolution, and rebellion. Brown and black people are righteously angry; they are living in fear and despair, uncertain of the future, petrified of everyday happenings, and terrified for their children. While Black Lives Matter crusade has been ongoing, the globe has now shined the spotlight on the movement, exposing the rampant racism that was always there but never acknowledged. We are now all forced to think: how do we teach our children about racism and how to overcome it?
There have been several studies on children, how they understand race, when they start to acknowledge race, and it is shown that children are more perceptive than they seem. At two years old, children notice, and are curious, about physical differences in others and themselves (Epstein, 2018). As time passes, their questions about race become more specific, detailed, and, at times, based on their own life experiences. This information negates statements that claim children are “color-bind”, that they are oblivious of race. Children are not only aware of their race: they realize the races of others and are able to identify with groups of people who look like themselves. To assume that children cannot make racial distinctions and to teach a social ideology that these so-called “color-blind” children will become unprejudiced adults is a major fallacy and needs immediate correction.
We need to explain that we are all different, in multiple ways, one being skin tone. Parents need to celebrate their child’s racial identity and emphasize that while we are all different shades, we are all the same. We need to explain to our kids that mistreatment to anyone is wrong and mistreatment to a specific group of people because they look different than ourselves is racism. Plain and simple.
In her book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, coauthor Julie Olsen Edwards explains that not only do children understand race at an early age, but they also recognize nonverbal cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, and changes in body language. This means if a child sees their parent being fearful around a certain type of person, acting rude to specific people, or locking their car doors when heading to certain places, they will associate that behavior with the people they are surrounded by. Children will observe these cues as appropriate behavior and will mimic it and thus continuing prejudice and ignorance. So, it is time to look at ourselves and ensure that we are being kind, empathetic, understanding, and compassionate to everyone. And it is time to call behavior which does the opposite by its name: racism.
Black parents face a unique hurdle: they have to explain to their children what racism is but they have to also teach them how to protect themselves, to not be afraid, and to be considerate to those who treat them otherwise. By explaining to our children what race is, by celebrating our uniqueness and individualism, and by explaining that everyone, no matter what, should be treated with humanity, kindness, love, and compassion, is our one way to break the cycle. The other way is to teach our children to be strong, voice their opinions, speak up on wrongdoings, and not tolerate injustice. I pray that these dark times are replaced with a brighter future with new laws that hold those with power accountable for unacceptable behavior, promote justice, and encourage others to love each other.
Children are our future, so let us arm them with the information and skills to turn this world into a place we can be proud of.
Derman-Sparks, L., Edwards, J. O., & National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Epstein, Rebecca S., “Discovering Countries and Their Cultures Through Movement: Fifth-Grade Students Developing Awareness and Empathy Toward Each Other” (2018). Master’s Theses. 67. https://digscholarship.unco.edu/theses/67