It's a fantastic article about how children perceive race, how they form opinions about race, and how to change children's opinions about race. Probably the most ballyhooed fact in the article is that children as young as 6 months old judge others by skin color.
But the thing that struck me in the article, proven over and over in many of the studies discussed, is how important it is to speak to kids EXPLICITLY about race and racism. Nothing short of that makes an impression. Neither a multicultural curriculum, nor "background" diversity, nor aphorisms of color-blindness, nor silence about race, will lead a child to positive attitudes about race. Only explicit discussion of race and racism will do it.
And then the other side of the coin revealed in the article -- how reluctant parents are to talk to their children explicitly about race. Why? According to one article, some parents won't talk about race because they ascribe to the color-blind myth that silence about race equals acceptance of all races. For white parents with white children, the subject just doesn't come up because of the invisibility of white privilege. Some lack a sound understanding of what race means. Some believe that the work of the Civil Rights Movement has eradicated racism, so there's nothing to talk about. And the number one reason parents don't talk about race or racism with their children -- FEAR! That would be fear of saying the wrong thing, of course.
The MultiracialSky website has some tips, a starting point, for talking about race:
The key to talking with your child—or anyone—about race is the same key to discussing any complex subject: openness. Start an open dialog with your child about race early in their life. Make it a comfortable subject of conversation—for you, and for your child.I think it's important to give children this vocabulary. And I second the recommendation of The Colors of Us. But beyond vocabulary, how do we talk about racism, bias, stereotyping, bigotry?
Find descriptive words you are comfortable using. Check out the MultiracialSky Glossary for expanded definitions of 60 race-related terms, including 30 heritage-affirming words used today to describe people with a variety of racial and ethnic
Start with words describing color such as brown or tan, or the colors of foods. The Colors of Us [below] has wonderful descriptive color words.
Teach your children words they can use to identify themselves, and terms people with other heritages use to identify themselves. (Examples: multiracial, Amerasian, Latina.)
RACE AND ETHNICITY
Talk with your child about names for different racial and ethnic heritages. The descriptions and words you use may evolve and change over time, or as the socially predominant terms evolve. (Examples: African American, Black American, Native American, European American, Asian American, Mexican, White, Black, Cuban, Irish)
When talking about race in scientific terms, the fact remains that there is only one human race. This is a fact and statement we should equip our children with. However, especially as parents, we must also recognize that the societal construct of different and distinct races affects everyone.
Here are some general guidelines from CivilRights.org:
(Sounds like good advice for talking about adoption, too!) But beyond answering questions, what can we do?
1 Our own feelings about the questions children ask can have as much impact as the words we choose to answer them. We may have to conquer some hurdles of our own before we can discuss racism comfortably with our children.
2 In the long run, our most helpful responses are those that show respect for our children's curiosity and encourage them to keep actively grappling with our complicated world. One useful way of thinking about our children's difficult questions is to view them as "teachable moments."
3 Understanding as much as we can about what prompts our children's questions is a good beginning. The more we know about why our children ask particular questions, the more likely it will be that we will help them find meaningful answers.
4 "I don't know" or "Let me think about that for a while" are valid answers. Racism is a complicated and persistent problem. Sometimes we need time to clarify our own thoughts and feelings before we can be of help to our children. Sometimes children's concerns are pressing. Hurt feelings, anger, and worries all need immediate attention.
5 When our children ask hard questions, we are given an opportunity to glimpse how they experience the world. In turn, we can use these opportunities to sort through complicated or confusing issues together.
Here are som things we do, and I hope you'll share what you do, too. We do talk explicitly about racism, both historical racism and racism today. When you talk about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, explicitly define the problem of the day as racism. But history isn't enough, in my opinion. You have to talk about what happens in current events, too. Remember the news story this summer about the black kids who kicked out of a private pool? Great opportunity to talk about prejudice, and how the kids must have felt. Unfortunately, there are many such reported events that provide a springboard for discussion.
As usual, I love using books to start conversations -- yes, books with multicultural characters are important, but it's also important to look for books that talk explicitly about racism (like The Skin I'm In) or show characters dealing with racism (like Chinese Eyes. (even imperfect books can do this -- I don't much like the way the mom dealt with it, but the book gives a good description of a child's feelings when confronting the eye-pulling gesture that accompanies the "Chinese Eyes" chant)).
We also talk specifically about the kinds of stereotyping Asian-Americans face, some that my children have already faced -- "Chinese eyes," ching-chong speech, fake karate moves in front of them, racial slurs. We role-play responses, including telling a grownup about it.
I think CivilRights.org sums it up nicely:
We can choose to actively influence our children's attitudes. With our encouragement children will test and think through their beliefs about race, ethnicity, and religion. They are unlikely to ask the necessary hard questions without our help. It is up to us to take the initiative!I was reading a blog not too long ago where a person of color said that as white parents, we can't teach our minority children about racism. I agree, that not having the lived experience of the racism our children will face, we can't teach by example, by reference to our lives. But that's why I believe we have to substitute VERY EXPLICIT messages instead. It may not be an every-day topic of discussion, but it is, unfortunately, going to be a lifelong one.
Children care about justice, respect, and fairness. Squabbles about sharing, concerns about cliques, and problems with playmates -- the daily trials of childhood -- reflect their active interest in these social issues. So do the questions children ask, when they feel safe enough to ask them.
One important gift we can give ourc hildren is to create a family in which difficult issues like racism are openly discussed. By talking openly and listening without censure, we can learn about our children's concerns and help them find connections between larger social issues and their own life experiences.