With A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez
Trying to approach the topic of race and racism with your kids can potentially feel awkward, and as parents, we may worry we’ll say the wrong thing. It’s possible too, that we may want to protect our kids from feeling angry or guilty. But it’s essential to work through that discomfort and speak honestly with our kids about racial inequity. We need to acknowledge it in order to encourage our kids to be inclusive, and to proactively move towards change. We interviewed journalist, human rights activist and Black mother A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez to hear her thoughts on how to raise anti-racist kids.
5 Ways to Raise Anti-Racist Kids
- Talk About Racism Early On
- Be Honest About Racial Issues
- Don’t be Colour-blind
- Be an Anti-Racist Role Model
- Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
1. Talk About Racism Early On
There’s no changing the fact that kids notice differences. They are real, and need to be addressed with young kids. Teach kids to notice and appreciate what different cultures offer, and to see the beauty and richness of diversity. Raise kids to see differences as normal and wonderful, but also be open to questions that might feel taboo compared to how you were raised. In order to fight racial inequity head on, we must first and foremost, address it.
Talk through scenarios your kids might face in real life, and help them brainstorm how to manage some potentially challenging situations by discussing various approaches. A useful part of this process includes reflecting on your own biases and how they impact your mindset and behaviour. This can be painful, but noticing your own prejudices can open your eyes to how to make positive changes.
Accept that you’re going to make mistakes in the process, and so will your kids. Share your mistakes and make it clear that being anti-racist is a process, and let your kids know that there are bound to be missteps sometimes. The key here is to make sure your family conversations about racism are open and ongoing, so your kids feel they can bring it up whenever they need to. Offer a trusted space for your kids to come to you with any questions and concerns they might have, so they know that race and racism is a topic worthy of exploration and improvement.
2. Be Honest About Racial Issues
Some parents may want to preserve their children’s innocence, but it’s important to remember that Black children have never had a period of innocence. Don’t entirely shield your kids from current affairs, but do translate the news into a way that makes sense to young kids. You can help kids navigate distressing emotions by engaging with them on a relatable level. Ask them what they do when they feel like something is unfair?
When explaining the recent protests around racism, it’s crucial to acknowledge that white privilege is real. This is something white families in particular have a responsibility to discuss, and it’s a critical step in raising anti-racist kids. Start with the wider structure of this, and explain to kids that racial oppression is bigger than people having narrow views. It’s part of a larger system of power that has been woven into laws and institutions. You can explain to kids that white privilege doesn’t mean white people never have struggles, but it means they have advantages simply because of skin colour.
Books about racial injustice can be a great tool to spark the conversation. Starting young and helping kids consider how others might be held back or assisted merely by the colour of their skin can help them develop social skills like empathy, compassion and critical thinking.
3. Don’t be Colour Blind
Two of the worst things to do is pretending problems that aren’t addressed will go away, and avoiding the conversation altogether by going the colour blind route. If you claim not to see colour, then it means there are no opportunities for conversations about colour. Although it may in theory seem like an acceptable approach, being colourblind creates a society that denies negative racial experiences and invalidates perspectives of people of colour.
Additionally, the colourblind approach teaches kids that race shouldn’t be acknowledged or discussed, which makes it difficult for kids to ask natural questions. Acting as if we don’t notice differences doesn’t promote equality, and kids should know how our differences can create barriers so that we can all find ways to dismantle them. The bottom line is, silence about race actually can reinforce racism.
4. Be an Anti-Racist Role Model
Kids will take your lead and are always keen observers of what parents do. Actions speak louder than words, so commit to choosing anti-racist behaviours. You can do this in a few ways:
Buy books for your kids that highlight people of colour who exhibit positive characteristics like kindness, courageousness, and integrity. Make sure your kids are exposed to positive depictions of Black characters in TV shows and films, too. All of these forms of entertainment have a huge impact on the way young kids form opinions about themselves and others.
Model different ways you and your family can support people who may experience discrimination and racism. Remember that facilitating change is not always going to be glamorous or Twitter-worthy. Don’t necessarily look to do things that are on the front lines. Instead, role model generosity and understanding by offering to provide help in ways that are more behind the scenes. For example, some Black activist parents may need childcare in order to participate in important events. If you have the opportunity to help in that way, offer your time. Babysitting may not seem like a note-worthy action, but it is a real need in the Black activist community, and can make a tangible difference.
You can also join an anti-racist organisation and volunteer your services. See what skill set you might be able to provide, such as website design or marketing. But don’t worry if you don’t feel qualified – you can also help by signing petitions or writing letters to politicians to address certain issues, like halting the sale of rubber bullets and tear gas, which have been used on protestors. Involve your kids in every way you can, like asking them to write letters too, or paint signs for an upcoming event. Explain to your kids that giving time and assistance to the Black Lives Matter movement, even in quieter ways, can help to fight racism.
5. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
As you carry out both the research and introspective work, it may feel uneasy and awkward. Raising anti-racist kids is a process that won’t always feel smooth, and may at times lead to nervousness. But it’s imperative to educate ourselves and turn the focus on our own behaviour and how we can be proactive instead of reactive to difference. Although difficult, this self discovery must start at home before it can be transformed into a meaningful outward shift.
Let your kids know that mistakes are inevitable, and we all need to admit when we get it wrong. This will empower them with the resilience required to make real change. Remember too that earning the trust of a community who has been marginalised is going to take effort. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, and everyone needs to do the work.
Speaking with A. Rochaun gave us more insight into the struggles the Black community continues to face, and helped us to better understand the ways in which we can promote inclusivity in ourselves, our families, and our communities. Educating ourselves about something painful can feel uncomfortable, but we must not let fear be an obstacle. Parents should admit to not having all the answers, and recognise that raising socially conscious, anti-racist kids is going to require time and dedication. In order to move forward, we have to step out of our comfort zones, and accept that sometimes leaning into discomfort is the only way to grow.
Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is an award-winning writer, speaker, and activist working to amplify Black women’s voices in the mainstream dialogue, especially within conversations on health and parenting. She is also the founder of the #FreeBlackmotherhood movement.