Racism isn’t just a thing of adulthood. It’s a heavy topic that children won’t seem to grasp in its entirety, but they experience it nonetheless.
Racism is embedded in our everyday lives so much that it has become normalised. It’s in the judgmental stares, the offhanded jokes and comments about physical attributes, and other internalised prejudices about the little things.
Children have experienced being made fun of for the curliness of their hair, skin colour, accents, and even their noses.
One may think, “They’re just joking! It’s nothing serious.”
However, reinforcing such stereotypes only harms not just children but their entire ethnicity as well. Educating our children about racism and teaching them how NOT to be racist will help flourish a future of open-minded individuals and harmonious society.
Everything starts with childhood. Here is how to take this opportunity to approach the topic of racism with your children.
When Does Racism Happen?
Racism has existed for centuries and it has never waned.
The Black Lives Matter movement in America has sparked a huge conversation about racism in the country. The death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and many more were made by the hands of white police officers, prompting rallies and riots all over the nation. Another timely phenomenon is, of course, COVID-19 being hailed as the “Chinese Virus” by many people all over the internet.
Let’s not go too far and take a look at Singapore. With the rise of the pandemic, the racism in the country only amplified towards its essential foreign workers, many of which are from India and Bangladesh. Those who seem to be from mainland China also experience such discrimination with news reporting the origin of the virus coming from China.
Even before the pandemic, Singapore has already been experiencing racism. Indian employees face different attitudes from other people as compared to their Chinese peers. This is also present in some schools. Many young Singaporeans on social media has shared their stories regarding discrimination disguised as jokes and bullying.
With these happening all over the world simultaneously, it’s difficult to pay attention to what really matters. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them to our children. In fact, staying silent will only reinforce existing prejudices. As parents, it’s our responsibility to guide them in the right direction of being kind and unbiased.
How Do I Raise A Race-Conscious Child?
1.Unlearn Your Own Prejudices
First, unlearn your own prejudices. Before you teach your own child how to be respectful of others, you should first start within yourself and your own preconceived notions of the world. Especially for us growing up in a different generation, it may be difficult for us to embrace the changes the world has undergone.
Here are some ways you can unlearn racism:
- Expand your social circle to other ethnicities
- Question preconceived notions of race as you were growing up
- Always challenge what the media is showing you
- Watch shows outside mainstream media
- Read more books with diverse characters
- Educate yourself on the history of your peers and their race
It’s our time and responsibility to raise a generation of race-conscious citizens.
2. Expose Your Child To Diversity
This could be around your neighbourhood, close friends, other communities, and generally just outside of your bubble. Doing this will help your children acknowledge and value differences among people. While one may appear a different way, it doesn’t mean that they are less or more than other people.
Start your conversation early by exposing your child to diversity. Show them that there is so much more to the world outside their own. There is beauty in diversity and we are the first people to teach them that.
3. Challenge What The Media Shows You
One would think that with the presence of powerful representations of various ethnic backgrounds in the media, racism would be abolished. However, generations of prejudice are difficult to unlearn. Not everything the media shows you are as progressive as one might think. There will still be offhanded comments and reinforcing of stereotypes in the shows that we watch.
Take this time to talk to your children about what they see and hear on TV, and then challenge everything. Even if it’s something that you agree with, ask yourself and reflect on how you came to think that way.
Some questions you may ask include: “Why can’t Indian employees get promoted to the same positions as Chinese people?”, “Why are black people portrayed as aggressive in movies?” or “Do Asian people really behave that way?”
4. Ask Them Questions
Children have preconceived notions of race whether you like it or not. It could be from the media, the Internet, or their own social circle. Start with asking what they know or what they think about a piece of particular news they’ve heard on the TV or Internet. Doing so would allow you to help them make sense of what’s happening in their heads when faced with racism.
From there, you can start sharing your own views and beliefs. This is where you can provide context to their own perspectives i.e. why they think the way they do about certain people. Starting with their own thoughts helps level set the conversation both for you and your child.
5. Give Reasons, Not Rules
In line with the previous step, always explain and give context. Simply giving out rules like “Don’t laugh at that kid’s hair.” or “Don’t comment on their physical appearance” will only leave them clueless and frustrated.
In the context of racism, explain why you are having such conversations with them. With that, it will also help them develop critical thinking and empathy for others. Remember, a conversation is a two-way exchange. It’s not just about the adult giving orders to the child, but about understanding and having respect for each other’s emotions.
In A Nutshell…
Children are keen observers. They notice differences that may be difficult for them to comprehend. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help make sense of the world to them in the simplest way possible.
As they grow up, they will inevitably meet people of various ethnicities and backgrounds, which makes it all the more important to teach the value of diversity. There are many ways we, as parents, can help them be race-conscious, and you’ll find that many of which simply require basic empathy and respect.
We aren’t the only ones in the world. Let’s help each other out in creating a world of harmony and diversity by starting with ourselves and our children.