Race can be a difficult conversation for many adults and educators, but recent events in the United States underscore the importance of having such a discussion. For many people growing up, race may be considered an impolite conversation topic, but in light of hot topics like police brutality and systemic racism, it must be confronted in order to make way for a better future. These discussions pertain not only to adults but to children as well. It is not enough to be simply not racist – to promote equity, one must strive to be actively anti-racist. In a recent town hall hosted by the International Literacy Association, educators and activists shared their tips on teaching anti-racism to children.
Learn and Reflect
In order for adults to engage kids in learning about race and racism, they need to understand those topics themselves. Noni Thomas López, head of school at the Gordon School in Rhode Island, pointed out that an important first step in anti-racist work includes studying how Black people have been excluded from opportunities throughout American history. In conjunction with hard history topics, it is also important to share with children other themes like Black joy, resilience, and love. While caregivers and teachers study history in preparation to discuss these ideas with students, activists encouraged them to examine their biases and how those affect their interactions.
Talk About Race Early and Often
According to author and educator Tiffany Jewell, no child is too young to learn about systemic racism, given that it is handled in developmentally appropriate ways. Kids will point out skin color, much to the discomfort of adults, but this is a natural part of processing the world for them. This itself is benign, however, problems can arise when those differences are paired with negative associations. Children absorb information like sponges, and this can include negative attitudes such as implicit bias. If caregivers don’t actively counter those messages, then they can stick.
Addressing systemic racism will be uncomfortable for many adults, especially those accustomed to the idea of “color blindness,” the false paradigm of “not seeing color.” Part of this process involves sitting with that discomfort to demonstrate the importance of these issues and model a willingness to make mistakes.