5 Tips for Talking to Children About Race

How do you explain the nuanced world of prejudice and institutionalized racism to a child whose brain is still developing? (iStock)

Last week, two outside investigators concluded that Cleveland police Officer Tim Loehmann acted reasonably when he shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black, in November 2014. Rice’s story is relevant to all children, regardless of their skin color, and it’s an important one to tell. But how? How do you explain the nuanced world of prejudice and institutionalized racism to a child whose brain is still developing?

On the most recent episode of So Well Spoken, we tackled issues of race and ethnicity in the home as experienced by multiracial and multiethnic families.

Beth Hall, the executive director of PACT, an adoption service that serves children of color, says it’s imperative for parents to get over their fears of talking about race.

Hall who identifies as white, has two daughters who are Latina and African-American. She makes it a point to talk to her daughters about racism and white privilege.

“We probably all have talked to our kids about sex and sexuality at some point because we want them to be prepared,” she says. “We need to apply those standards to race.”

No matter if your family is one race, multiethnic or biracial, here are a few key takeaways from this week’s conversation.

The colorblind approach does not work

Hall grew up in Oakland. “The notion was that you are being less racist or appropriately racial if you don’t talk about race,” she says. “I see it as a white notion.”

Some parents might feel the urge to shield their children from the injustices of the world by taking a colorblind approach and not teaching them to acknowledge different races and ethnicities. Instead of teaching kids not to see race, the colorblind approach ends up teaching them not to talk about race.

Initiate the conversation

Children recognize race within their first year of life.

By early childhood, ages 2 and 3, “They’re learning their colors and shapes and learning to categorize, and yet we don’t want to talk about race,” Hall says. “A categorization that is happening every day on the street.”

We teach our children to use their words and recognize what’s fair and what’s not, so we need to give them the words to discuss race in the community and how the world actually works.

Help your kids identify where they belong

Celebrate your family’s culture and diversity, especially if it is multifaceted.

Issues surrounding identity are belonging issues, says Hall: “Kids are really sensitive to where they belong.” She advises parents to be careful about inviting children to make their own choices about identity.

“What we have to do as parents then is create an atmosphere in our home where we’re saying, ‘You could choose to identify as black/African American, you could choose to identify as Filipino, you could choose to identify as other or American,’ ” she says.

Change up the space

Madeline Rogin called in to share how she moved her biracial daughters to a dance class run by black women, so that they could identify with other black girls and women.

If you are not the same race or ethnicity as your child, be sure to offer them space to explore their identity and tell them why. By doing this, you are sending the message: You have my permission and my encouragement to connect with other people who are living your experience, says Hall. “That’s a beautiful affirmation, I think.”

Hall says transracial adoption requires commitment to racial exploration, particularly on the part of white parents, “We are likely to presume our privilege as ‘normal’ and not recognize the way the world is racialized. We have to partner with people of color who can help our children.” (Note: Hall says 95 percent of her placements these days are with parents of color.)

Read books

Did you know Taye Diggs just wrote a book for his son that is unique to the experience of biracial children? One way to propel the conversation about identity is to have your child engage with books featuring a diverse range of characters .

5 Tips for Talking to Children About Race 9 February,2016Adizah Eghan


Adizah Eghan

Adizah Eghan is a reporter at KQED News and a writer for KQED Arts. She caught the radio bug as an intern for PRI’s The World and landed in KQED’s newsroom after a stint teaching English in India. She covers culture, the arts, and global music in the Bay Area. This is where she tweets: @Adizah_E

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