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Addressing Race And Racism With Non-Black Children

We know it might not be easy but it can (and should) be done

Issues of race and racism can sometimes make for uncomfortable conversations. And in an ideal world, there would be no need for such discussions.

The bad news? We don't live in an ideal world. The good news? Parents of young, non-black children have the opportunity to raise a new generation; one that is more understanding, empathetic and respectful towards people of colour. Here are five suggestions of how to do just that:

1. Diversify their book collection

It sounds simple, but there is much truth in the statement, ‘representation matters’. While the expression is often used to highlight the significance of people of colour seeing reflections of themselves on screen, on stage, in books, et al, it’s equally important for non-black people – particularly non-black children – to see these varied representations too. Ensuring that non-black children have access to books that reflect black characters, helps them to see and understand black identity, thereby allowing them to view diversity as a normal part of life.

2. Don't affiliate the word 'black' with ‘bad'

Terms like ‘black sheep’, ‘black mark’ and ‘black day’ have long been used in the English language, and each phrase represents something/someone negative or ‘bad’. While some would argue that they are innocent idioms with no racial connotations, it’s surely not hard to see why associating ‘black’ with ‘bad’ in the language you use is not a wise idea if you’re trying to teach and encourage racial equality. Avoid using such terms and, moreover, be mindful of any imagery your children consume, which could indirectly suggest to them that black is associated with something bad.

3. Don't encourage your child to be 'colour blind’

Teaching children to ’not see colour’ is not only unhelpful to racial progress, it’s utterly futile. Clearly, a child can see if someone’s skin colour, hair type or facial features are different to their own and there’s nothing wrong with that. By encouraging a white child to ’not see’ that their black friend is black, it implies that there’s something wrong with blackness.

Rather, if a child notes that their black friend has a different skin colour to them, reaffirm their observation and use it as an opportunity to celebrate the differences that make us all special. Children seeing their black friends’ blackness is not a problem. The problem comes if they start making negative associations with blackness. The best way to counter that is by celebrating black identity when your children observe it, rather than encouraging them to pretend they can’t see it.

4. Don't silence their curiosity

By shutting down any questions your child has about race, it could give the impression that it's a 'bad' conversation to have. It's not. Discussing race in a respectful way is a healthy and positive thing to do, in order to allow children to understand and appreciate diversity.

Of course, if your child has picked up language that is inappropriate or unacceptable, call it out as such and explain why it is wrong. Give historical context if your child is old enough to understand it, and/or explain that it is wrong to say X because it is an unkind/hurtful/offensive thing to say to a person of colour, or at all.

But if they simply note that their black friend has a different skin colour or a different hair type to them, use that as an opportunity to talk to them about the various differences that make us all unique.

5. Make it accessible and authentic for your child

You know your child better than anyone else, so make teachable moments relatable for them. If they like painting, encourage them to paint pictures that reflect people of different races. If they enjoy reading, give them books that reflect black characters.

If they enjoy playing with dolls, make the effort to ensure they have dolls in a variety of skin tones. If they spend much of their time watching programmes on phones/tablets, introduce them to shows that feature black characters. Whatever you do, try to do it in a way that allows your child to see your actions as natural and authentic, rather than forced and confusing.

Every child is different and obviously, there is no definitive guide to raising racially progressive children. But finding ways to encourage children to see that diversity is something to be celebrated, is definitely a good start.

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