I debated many days whether to share my thoughts on this topic. I considered whether sharing my point of view was important when there are other valuable resources available. But after giving it careful thought I decided that now is not the time to be silent. I choose to share to give insight into my experiences which might help someone else in their journey as an antiracist. I believe that a big part of making change for the future will rely on peoples' ability to empathize and learn from others' stories. To that end I hope more people are inspired to share their antiracist experiences so that we can make the necessary changes to make our world a better place. Below is a summary of the topics, tools, and resources my husband and I use to talk about race with our four year old.
The history of race and racism are complex and dynamic. Similarly there are a variety of ways to discuss race and racism with children. However, our priority at the moment is to provide a solid foundation that clearly labels and defines the most basic themes of race, racism, and antiracist behavior for our four year old. We also want to make this a conversation about the way we treat people, and how we stay safe as a family. Therefore the way we talk to our four year old about race is based on introductory and developmentally appropriate themes, involves conversations about how to be a good human being, and tells him what to do if he is ever confronted with racist behavior. The conversation will evolve and get more complex as our son gets older, but this is how we’ve initiated the conversation. Each introductory theme and point of conversation are discussed in depth below.
Theme 1: Humans are diverse, have different skin colors, & come from different countries & continents
Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but globes and maps are so much fun. If you are a parent and you don’t have one I would highly suggest purchasing one. They are perfect for all types of lessons from science to social studies to history. When we decided the time was right to talk to our son about race, my first thought was to use our globe as an introduction to the topic. We leave our globe out where he can reach it and reference it any time topics about people, places, or the Earth come up.
To me it simply made sense that our first point to make was to tell our son that people are diverse and look different because they come from different places. It might seem obvious to point out, but the more I learn about child development the more I find that starting at the most basic level of understanding is better than assuming a child knows or is already aware of something.
Alongside our globe we also looked at pictures from How People Live (a Dorling Kindersley book) to see the diversity of humanity. We read about different people and cultures and referred to the globe to point out where specific groups of people live. We pointed out similarities and differences and talked about the skin color of the different groups of people. We then talked about the different skin colors in our family to make it even more relevant to our son. We described and named the different shades of skin for each member in our family.
Theme 2: Sometimes skin color is called black or white. Mommy is black. Her ancestors were from Africa. Daddy is white. His ancestors were from Europe.
As we described each family member’s skin tone I pointed out that sometimes people who look like mommy are called black even though mommy’s skin is brown, and we pointed out that people who look like his dad are called white even though his dad’s skin is more of a pink/ beige color. From there we discussed why our skin was different. We talked about what an ancestor or descendant is, and explained that mommy’s ancestors are from Africa and daddy’s ancestors are from Europe. We pointed out each continent on the globe and looked at pictures of African and European people in How People Live. We talked about melanin and explained that people who live in sunny and hot places have more melanin in their skin, and therefore they are browner. Their melanin helps protect their bodies from the sun.
Theme 3: Our four year old is black & white. His ancestors were from Africa & Europe.
We then did a little review to make sure he was understanding all that had been discussed. We asked him where mommy’s ancestors were from and where daddy’s ancestors were from. We then asked him where his ancestors were from. He wasn’t quite sure so we explained that his ancestors are mommy and daddy’s ancestors. And that his ancestors and his sister’s ancestors are from Africa and Europe because he and his sister came from his mommy and daddy. We told him that sometimes people who have ancestors from two different continents are called mixed or biracial.
Theme 4: Sometimes black people are treated badly because they are black.
Next we explained that sometimes people are treated badly because their skin is black or brown like mommy’s skin. We discussed how recently a black man was killed by police because he had brown skin like mommy. We told him that he is safe with mommy and daddy, and that he doesn’t need to worry, but that people are rightfully sad, upset, and angry about the situation and so are we. And that we have to make sure we do our part to change things and make them better.
Theme 5: Treating people badly because of their skin color is wrong. What do you do if you or someone else is treated badly because of the color of their skin?
We then talked about right and wrong and how treating people badly because of their skin color is wrong. We explained that our family doesn’t treat people badly or say bad things about people because of their skin color, and that people should not treat us badly or speak badly about our skin color either. We then asked him what he should do if he is treated badly because of his skin color. We also discussed what he should do if he sees a peer or friend being treated badly because of the color of his/her skin. We explained that he should speak up and say that it is wrong. Then he should come tell us (his mom or dad) what happened, and we will help the person know that what they did was wrong.
To end things on a positive note we explained how much we loved him and his sister and made a point that all skin colors are beautiful. We told him that his skin color was beautiful, and to never forget or doubt that fact. We then had him recite the following positive affirmation- one that my parents taught me when I was little:
I am special, yes siree,
because there’s only one of me.
I can read, I can write, & I can add.
Being me makes me glad.
I love all the people I see,
but I’m glad there’s only one of me.
This is an Ongoing Conversation
This conversation we had with our son was the first of many. In order to raise truly empathetic and antiracist children my husband and I will be revisiting the topic of race and racism often. It definitely is not a one and done situation. It is a lifestyle that we have adopted for the betterment of our children’s future and hopefully for the future of humanity as a whole. As time goes on we will build on the knowledge my son (and eventually our daughter) has and make adjustments as he matures. Our goal is to live a life that is filled not just with words but with antiracist action that will dismantle white supremacy.
We are fortunate to live during a time when there are many resources available to parents about discussing racism. Below I will leave a list of resources that I have found helpful. If you’re not quite sure how to have this conversation with your child I hope this post will offer some ideas and encouragement for starting the conversation. Starting early is the best bet, but if your child is older and you haven’t discussed race and racism it is not too late. Start now and live a life that models the behavior you want your child to embody as an antiracist and empathetic human being.
Developmentally Appropriate Books About Race for Pre-k Children
Book titles from left to right: DK How People Live, I Like Myself Karen Beaumont, The Great Big Book of Families Mary Hoffman, 123 Sesame Street We’re Different, We’re the Same, And We’re All Wonderful!, Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families Robbie H. Harris, I Am Human A Book of Empathy Susan Verde
Online Resources About Racism for Parents with Pre-k Children