It’s never too early to address race and antiracism with young children. Experts say that racial bias can start as young as 6 months, and parents’ actions and conversations can have a big impact.
But for parents of kids who are too young to communicate or understand much more than when to eat, drink, sleep, what’s the best way to start the conversation?
Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, writer, activist and anti-racism educator, says a parent’s actions can speak as loud as their words.
Here are 5 ways to infuse anti-racism into your child’s daily life.
1. Invest in continuous unlearning and learning for yourself.
Antiracism involves learning and action in support of all communities that have been historically and are currently marginalized. Raising antiracist kids means first understanding the role race, racism and antiracism play in our society and in our lives. It’s important to be a continuous student when it comes to antiracism. It is also completely okay to let one’s child know when you need to do more research and come back to them.
2. Be intentional about who is in your community.
“People tend to spend time with others they have the most in common with,” says St. Bernard-Jacobs. For families of color in this white-centered society, infusing antiracism is a natural part of equipping kids with the necessary tools to exist in a multiracial world. But if one’s family is all white, as well as parent friends, playdates, neighbors and school teachers, those children are seeing an existence that does not reflect the reality of the global majority.
One recent study suggested that 90% of the people that infants usually interact with are people of their own race, and that reducing or mitigating bias in those early months can be done if the parents’ circles are representative of the wide range of identities in our communities.
3. Start age-appropriate conversations.
Many kids are ready to talk about race long before their parents think they are, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. Kids have the capacity to process social and racial dynamics much earlier than age 5. That may not mean sitting a toddler down and talking about systemic racism or white supremacy, she says, it can be about drawing their attention to what they see: “Do you notice the color of the doll’s skin in comparison to yours?”
Parents can also center social justice and equity by talking about fairness, which is something that children start to understand from young; that’s a great jumping off point for a bigger conversation about justice.
4. Be deliberate about the items in your home.
Choose books and other media that represent people from a variety of backgrounds. While this includes books about heroes or historical figures from the global majority, it also means finding books that feature characters of color in everyday settings. (There’s a great list for Black History Month here!) “For kids of color, it’s reaffirming to see people that look like who they are,” says St. Bernard-Jacobs, and for white children, it equips them with the tools to be changemakers. Use the same strategy for dolls, toys and even art supplies.
5. Continue to learn, and evolve your conversations with your child.
This is not a one-and-done conversation. “The conversations you have with your child are going to be different as they age and as you learn more,” says St. Bernard-Jacobs. “Pull away from the idea that what you say or do has to be perfect. It’s going to be messy. But you’re modeling for them what it means to have humility.” Stick with it, even when the conversation is hard.
Want to hear more from Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs? Check out our webinar “Talking about Race with Young Children.”