December 1, 2020

It may be the end of a difficult year on many levels, but that does not mean that we should end discussions about highly charged topics, including race.

Article after article has been written to highlight the systematic racism and inequities that exist in our country. We also have seen the ugly side of injustice play out on the screens of our phones, tablets, and TVs. 

As parents, are you still talking to your child(ren) about race, taking advantage of every teachable moment possible? Or, have you put away the race talk, just as you did your Thanksgiving decorations?

Keeping Race at the Forefront 

Race talk, if parents want to teach their children about uniqueness, should remain at the forefront of parenting, not just when a racial issue is trending. Not that it should be discussed daily, but there are often opportunities to discuss, share stories, and model ways to treat all respectfully. It can start with something as simple as intentionally saying hello to people you encounter when grocery shopping, at the bank, or when walking in your neighborhood.   

Often society reminds individuals of race even if not as a conscious thought. For example, reading is a fundamental skill, but what if your child does not often see pictures of individuals that look like them depicted on the covers of books or magazines? This may deter them from having an interest in that book.  Ultimately, this could be the difference between whether a child acquires a love for reading or not.   

Implicit Bias 

Race is a concept that is learned and this learning begins at home. As early as three-months-old, babies show a preference for faces that are similar to their parents and other close relatives. This is called implicit bias; essentially, it is the unconscious bias that we all develop. This occurs because the child has not been exposed to other races and/or ethnicities.   

Explicit Bias 

By age 4, children can begin to show explicit bias with their teachers. Explicit biases are those that we are aware of. If a child’s teacher looks like them, the child is more likely to learn and to be more forgiving of faults than if the teacher were of another race or ethnicity.  

By the time a child is school aged, the explicit biases frame their world. This can be seen when children more often rate Black dolls negatively and white dolls positively, even if the child considers themself to be Black. This means that by the time a child of color is in school, they already have a negative outlook of themselves because of how society perceives people of color. 

Raising a Child Who Appreciates Differences  

Consider doing the following:  

  • Be intentional – expose your child to different races through books, stories, celebrations of cultures (Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month).   
  • Be respectful – talk about race differences and the contributions made to the world by ethnic groups.  When discussing, be mindful of tone and facial expressions.  Keep it positive! 
  • Be reflective – avoid making subtle assumptions about people, attempt to unlock any unconscious biases you may have yourself, and be willing to learn more about other races you may be unfamiliar with. 
  • Be mindful – think about your words and actions and the messages you convey. Your child is always watching you and learning from you how to interact with others. 

Model the Behavior You Expect to See 

Consciously thinking about the relevance of race talk and coupling it with purposeful actions could not only make a difference in how your child approaches differences, but also how you approach them.  

The authors are educators at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. X. Patrice Wright, M.Ed., teaches school readiness and classes for parents of teens. She facilitates Talking is Teaching, a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of every day talking, reading, and singing to children ages 0-3. Monet Somerville, MS, is pursuing her PhD in Developmental Psychology with a Concentration in Child and Adolescent Development. She is a licensed Trust Based Relational Intervention Practitioner. 

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