Talking to Kids about Race

Talking to kids about race can be a scary thing. Many of us were taught that we should not “see color” or talk about race because it makes some people uncomfortable. Research shows, however, that children as young as two are able to recognize race, and it’s vital that we begin embedding antiracism into their learning as soon as possible.

According to Talking to Kids About Race, both Black and White children at 30 months displayed a preference to friends of their same race. However, at 36 months, the responses of the Black children began to dramatically change.

“At 36 months, 86% of White children made same-race friend choices, but only 32% of black children did the same. This pattern continued when children were tested at ages 5 and 6. “It would appear that at 36 months of age, Black children become aware of status differences associated with each group.”

Talking to Kids About Race goes on to say that highly biased children have fewer people from diverse backgrounds in their environments, have more same-race friends, and that the children’s parents do not talk about race.

In Dr. Erin Winkler’s article “Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race” Winkler provides evidence that children as young as three group people by race and express bias toward children who look like them.

“Toddlers as young as two years use racial categories to reason about people’s behaviors (Hirschfeld, 2008), and numerous studies show that three- to five-year-olds not only categorize people by race, but express bias based on race (Aboud, 2008; Hirschfeld, 2008; Katz, 2003; Patterson & Bigler, 2006). In a yearlong study, Van Ausdale & Feagin (2001) found that three- to five-year-olds in a racially and ethnically diverse child care center used racial categories to identify themselves and others, to include or exclude children from activities, and to negotiate power in their own social/play networks.”

The bottom line is that it is imperative that we begin talking to our children about race. More than that, we should be teaching our child how to be antiracist. In his book, How to be an Antiracist, Ibram Kendi says:

“To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right -- inferior or superior -- with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do.”

Teaching our children to be antiracist may seem overwhelming. Where do you begin? Here are some resources to help you get started.

Children’s Books and Lists

Talking to Kids About Race: An Introductory Guide to Building Foundations for Racial Equity in Early Childhood by Anissa Eddie, et al
This book not only explains why it is important to build foundations for racial equity in early childhood, but it also tells readers how to begin.

Antiracist Baby Board Book by Ibram Kendi
Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby's nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.

(Purchase from We Are LIT - independent, multicultural bookshop in Grand Rapids, MI)

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for.

(Purchase from Detroit Book City - an independent bookstore that specializes and markets books, media, and events to the African-American consumer market.)

Semicolon Bookstores: For the Shawtys

A curated list of picture books that feature Black main characters and explore empowering storylines.

(Purchase from Semicolon Books - A Black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago, IL)

Children’s Lit by We Are LIT

Ignite the passion for reading by allowing children to see themselves through characters of a fun, vibrant story!
(Purchase from We Are LIT - independent, multicultural bookshop in Grand Rapids, MI)

20 Picture Books for 2020 by EmbraceRace

Anti-Racist Books for Babies and Toddlers by Baby List

It’s never too early to teach your children about race and racial bias. These books can help.

(All purchase links direct to independent Black-owned bookstores)

Articles and Websites

Talking to Young Children about Racism by PBS
Here are tips and resources to help you have a meaningful conversation with young children about race, racism, and being anti-racist.

16 Ways to Help Children Become Thoughtful, Informed, and BRAVE about Race by EmbraceRace
As adults in the lives of children, we play a crucial role in shaping how and what they learn about race. In this document are some starting points for raising children who can be the thoughtful, informed, and race- brave community members our multiracial democracy needs to thrive.

5 Anti-Racist Role Models Your Kid Should Know by Parents
Now more than ever, our kids are in need of examples to follow in the fight to combat racism. Here are anti-racist activists from the past and present worth teaching them.

Becoming Upended: Teaching and Learning about Race and Racism with Young Children and Their Families by The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Schools, in collaboration with families, have an important role to play in fostering young children’s positive racial identities.

Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race by Dr. Erin Winkler

In order to address issues of racial bias and prejudice with children and help them understand race and inequity in our society, caregivers must first be comfortable addressing these issues themselves.


'Raising White Kids' Author On How White Parents Can Talk About Race by NPR: All Things Considered
NPR's Michel Martin talks to Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, about how to talk with white kids about racially-charged events.

How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist? By NPR: Morning Edition
What does it mean to be anti-racist and how should adults talk to kids about race and racism? NPR's Noel King talks to children's author Renee Watson and anti-racism scholar Ibram Kendi.

Code Switch
What's CODE SWITCH? It's the fearless conversations about race that you've been waiting for! Hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on.

Yo, Is This Racist?
Every Wednesday, Ti, co-host Tawny Newsome, and their guests answer questions from fan-submitted voicemails and emails about whether or not something is, in fact, racist.

Books for Adults

Purchase these books from We Are LIT - an independent, multicultural bookshop in Grand Rapids, MI

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of anti-racism re-energizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal M. Fleming
A unique and irreverent take on everything that’s wrong with our “national conversation about race”—and what to do about it

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