2020 has been another pivotal year in bringing attention to racial injustices across the United States. For a few months, social media sites were flooded with posts about systemic racism, privilege, and images of protests and activism across the country. As the year carried on, the excitement and motivation of being a part of change seemed to dwindle with them.
There may be people who want to continue their support, but are unsure how best to do so. For parents, especially White parents, the best way to support marginalized groups is to talk to our children about race and racial justice.
For too long, many people have taken the “colorblind” approach to race and ethnicity because it is easy and doesn’t force us to have difficult conversations. It is easy to tell others to treat everyone equally and skin color isn’t important. The problem with this mantra is that many groups of people have been treated not only unequally, but in heinous manners, since the establishment of the United States.
Another issue with viewing everyone as the same is that we are ignoring the variety of cultures that exist. As one of my new favorite quotes from the Trolls World Tour movie states, “We are not all the same. Denying our differences is denying the truth of who we are.” We must acknowledge our differences and value those differences. So how do we do this in our own homes?
The following suggestions and resources can help you begin to talk about race and racial justice:
1. Examine your children’s book collection and add more books with People of Color.
Take the time to explore the books in your home. How many books have Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, and Middle Eastern people? When I looked at my children’s collection, most of them were actually of animal characters. I realized that I actually had very few books with people, and of those books, there were almost none with People of Color (POC). It is important that we have a variety of books that accurately represent the population of our country and world. Louse Derman-Sparks has great suggestions on how to avoid stereotypes and tokenism in choosing books.
2. Watch movies and shows that center People of Color.
Incorporate movies and TV shows with POC as the leads and make up a large percentage of characters. Try to avoid shows that use stereotypes or show POC as villains. PBS has done a great job of creating more shows that are culturally and racially diverse.
3. Talk about the lack of representation in books and movies/TV shows.
The reality is that most children’s books, movies, and TV shows that exist have White main characters with a majority of the characters as White. We don’t have to stop watching these shows or reading these books to be more inclusive. We can use them as an opportunity to talk about the lack of representation seen in these mediums. Talk to your child about how important it is to have authors, actors, actresses, and illustrations that represent the diversity in our world.
4. Explore a variety of viewpoints and activists in history.
Holidays, books, tv shows, and school activities can be an opening to introduce voices in history that are often unheard. Take the time to explore key people that we do not learn about when discussing significant events in history. Most children learn about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But who else made a difference during the Civil Rights Movement? Who were and are significant Indigenous American activists? How many Hispanic activists have you heard of other than Cesar Chavez? Read accounts of people who were enslaved and compare those accounts with what is often found in history books.
Exploring and analyzing alternative points of view in history can strengthen critical thinking skills in ourselves and our children. It is also important that children see activists that represent them. They should be able to see themselves as someone who will stand up to injustices they see happening around them. For White children, that means finding activists who had important supporting roles in cases of racial injustice.
5. Continue learning and listening.
As parents, we also need to continue reading and listening to POC. We cannot expect to support our child’s expanding worldview and advocacy for justice without doing so ourselves. Confronting biases and prejudices does not happen magically overnight. It takes reflection, an open mind, an open heart, and time. We have to remember that our worldview and experiences are not the only ones.
I want to add that even though this list of suggestions is primarily focused on racial justice, consider the groups of people who are also not well represented in various mediums. Think about the variation of family structures, living arrangements, and many marginalized groups that exist.
We cannot expect to teach our children about the world without teaching them that differences are what make up the beauty in this world. Staying silent about race and racial justice is teaching children to avoid having conversations that are hard for them. Through these conversations, we model empathy, critical thinking, activism, and communication skills.
Children’s Books Resources
Movie and Television Resources
About Our Guest Blogger, Ana-Alicia Gonzales
Ana-Alicia was born and raised in Taos, NM. She currently lives in Albuquerque with her husband and two children. She recently received her PhD in education and hopes to eventually teach in higher education. Ana-Alicia is a stay-at-home mom and works part-time tutoring students in reading, writing, and math. God and her family are her main priorities, but she also loves to read, bake, and watch movies.
Originally published September 2020.