Why I Talk with My Kids About Race

What do white folks mean when we say we “don’t see color” when it comes to race? Or when we tell our kids “we are all the same”?

I can recall these sorts of proclamations made by the adults in my life—parents, teachers, family friends—and how they quickly taught me to pretend not to see what I was really seeing about others, as well as what I was internalizing about my own whiteness. The silence around racial identities was not only confusing to me as a child (whose parents enthusiastically described things like the color of leaves on the trees), but it left me unequipped to navigate even the most basic conversations where racial identity came into play. I had been socialized to believe that naming race was racist, rather than a recognition of a defining aspect of someone’s experience in the world.

I think many people agree that the intention behind invisible-izing race is most often good. We desire to live in a society where people of different races and other (often intersecting) identities are treated equitably. But intentions aside, what are the impacts of erasing race when it comes to our kids?

By not naming race, not talking about the ways that race affords some people advantages while oppressing others, and not challenging the white-dominant narrative in our educational system, I’m failing to give my kids an accurate view of the world and an understanding of who has contributed to our society. I’m creating a disconnect between what Black, Latino, and indigenous folks have fought for historically, and the struggle for racial justice that continues today. I’m dismissing the advantages I hold as a white person and promoting a false narrative that success can simply be attributed to hard work. I’m failing to develop my children’s ability to recognize and challenge the ways that injustice shows up interpersonally and in our institutions. The list goes on because the impacts reach far and wide for all kids, which is why I choose to take a race-conscious approach with my children.

What are some of the ways our family makes this part of our daily lives?

Diversifying representation in books and toys (with a mindfulness to include books with diverse representation that are NOT only about injustice, but everyday narratives featuring people of color).
Talking about issues in the news. We’ve been harnessing the concept of fair/unfair to talk about Standing Rock and have found age-appropriate ways to discuss the history of Native American struggle and genocide, environmental racism, and capitalism.
Learning about melanin and why we all have different skin tones, as well as talking about our different hair textures.
Making connections to the food we eat (who harvests the food and who is actually making the most money from the food). Reading books like That’s Not Fair!/¡No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia have helped us have conversations about fair trade products, migrant workers, and fair wages, and to practice activism in terms of what companies we choose to support.

What ways are you bringing race-consciousness into your children’s lives? As we step outside of our comfort zones and develop new skills in an effort to name race and injustice, remember that we will make stumble and make mistakes, learn together with our kids, and keep going.

By Marissa Tafura, Empowering Kids

Following is a list of Reading for Racial Justice Resources to Promote Anti-Bias Across Identities

30 Asian & Asian-American Children’s Books

Spreadsheet of Books

10 Books That Empower Kids to Stand Up and Speak Out

Best Multicultural Books for Children

50 Indian Books Every Parent Must Read to Their Child

28 Books That Affirm Black Boys

Building a Diverse Anti-Bias Library for Young Children (multiple resources)

Children’s Books That Tackle Race & Ethnicity

Multicultural Book Lists for Children: 60+ Book Lists, including 10 Amazing Multicultural Picture Books About Helping Others, Multicultural Adoption Books for Kids,
Best World Religion Books for Kids

40 LGBTQ-Friendly Picture Books for Ages 0-5

Books Featuring Children of Color Where Race is Not the Point of the Story

Children’s Books Featuring Kids of Color Being Themselves. Because that’s enough.

Indigenous and First Nations Kids Books

Additional Resources

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Gifting Books to Children of Color

A Book Subscription Box Created for Black Children

Talking to Kids About Police Brutality: A Community Resource List

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