Teaching kids about Racism and Equality
I have often wondered if introducing topics like racism too early can be harmful. When it comes to talking about something as complex and emotional as racism with my four year old, I begin to feel anxious. However, I can see despite only being 4 years old, she is already noticing race and different cultures at preschool. Being of Indian origin and living in a European society, my daughter is one of the few children of colour in her class. She is beginning to understand she has a ‘different colour’ to most of her friends. Hence why I think making an early introduction to racism and interracial equality is so important from an early age. Just the other day my daughter’s pre school teacher notified me that at lunchtime that particular day in school, Ariana (my daughter) was asking why everyone else was eating different food to her. We are Hindus of Indian Origin and for religious reasons we do not eat beef. She had so many questions as to why her plate was different to all of her friends and why she could not eat beef. It was at that moment I realised that I am doing the right thing starting these kinds of conversations early. Of course, she is too little to understand the reasons behind it but just knowing that each person is unique, has a unique upbringing and a culture of its own - that is a good start for me.
If we keep silent because we are worried it is too heavy a topic to discuss with our small children, it actually reinforces it. I believe we need to start while they are young so that we can raise a generation of conscious humans.
Here are some of the things I do to raise awareness with my children about interracial equality (mostly with my daughter, my son is still a little too young to understand the concept):
I believe that the earlier you can introduce your child to different races and cultures, the better the chances of them building empathy, compassion, and embracing all types of cultures.
One book I love is ‘Anti-Racist Baby’ (written by Ibram X. Kendi) as it helps my daughter to understand that there are different races and the need to stand up for those who need support. It is all explained and drawn in a kid friendly and age appropriate way for children 3+.
Another book I just bought that is great that for celebrating racial diversity is ‘Lovely’ (written by Jess Hong). It is more suitable for ages 4+ but I definitely think you can begin to read it to your younger children because it has cheerful and quirky cartoonish illustrations, showing a diverse range of people not only with different skin tones but also different features for example a sharp punk rock granny in a spiky jean jacket, or a child with one blue and one brown eye. It aims to celebrate not just interracial differences but also diversity between ages, occupations and abilities. For me this book really addresses a wide variety of areas when trying to explain to my daughter that we are all different but all beautiful in our own unique ways.
Finally another go to book for me about being bullied for being different is 'Sulwe' (written by Lupita Nyongo’o). It is a gorgeous story about loving ourselves just as we are. My daughter particularly loves this one.
Make a donation to a cause
This is something that I have only just started doing. I have begun explaining to my daughter about how we give money to help those in need. She doesn’t really understand or need to understand the complexities behind it but just the fact that she sees mama taking action for a cause that means something, is important to me, and I hope it helps her to understand that we all have the ability to help others through action.
Educate yourself first
Before delving into making your kids understand racial equalities, make sure that you are confident and comfortable to discuss the topic first, that way your enthusiasm and knowledge will further help them understand its importance. Support local small businesses which are run by minority communities. Here in Spain we have a lot of Latino-run coffee shops and small grocery stores. I try to go to these store so that I can support their small business.
And just in general, listen without ego and defensiveness to people of color. Truly listen. Don’t be silent about that racist joke. Silence is support.
The goal here isn’t to fully teach your young child about systematic oppression at bedtime. It is about starting the conversation with your child. It's about raising consciously aware and compassionate children, through having those conversations about race early on, so that they can understand that race plays an important role in every society and should always be celebrated positively. That way, the lessons we are all still learning will be easier to understand as they grow, having been engrained from early on.