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When Should You Talk to Your Children About Racism?

Being unafraid of speaking to your children about racism is critical to raising an anti-racist child. Children become aware of race and skin color as young as three years old, around the time that they begin to form their identity. It is important to not only talk about race and identity but also have conversations with children about racism. Talking to children about social justice and inequity at an early age helps them grow up with empathy, compassion, and a sense of social justice (National Geographic). 

The Implicit Association test measures attitudes and beliefs that people are likely unwilling or unable to report. It is a test frequently used in studies that research prejudice and bias in individuals. The test measures the strengths and associations between concepts, evaluations, and stereotypes (Harvard). In research with children on implicit biases, children as young as five have shown an implicit bias of automatic positivity toward white children as opposed to Black children (Science Daily). In a similar study that also included Black children, Black children mirrored Black adults in showing no implicit bias (NCBI). 


• Buy the Antiracist Baby Board Book to read to your kids about race and racism.

• Study the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s guide to Talking About Race.

• Be mindful of the programming you enroll your children in, and look for schools and extracurricular activities where your children will encounter a diverse group of people. 

Raising children to fight bias requires active participation from parents. Equity starts at home. Parents should be mindful of how they choose their words and how they speak to their children about racial injustice. It seems simple, but white parents often fear speaking to their children about race. They cover the basics (e.g., racism is bad) but do not tackle the tough conversations acknowledging how racism is still heavily prevalent in our society. Research about how white parents talk to their children about race found that 81% believe it is important to discuss race with their children, but only 62% of them reported actually having these discussions. White parents are more likely to address racism from a “colorblind” perspective, which is proven to be unhelpful and minimizes the reality of racism in our culture (The Conversation). 

Black children also need to be taught about racism but from a perspective of navigating racism. Conversations about racism with Black children are literally life or death. Part of the conversation is how not to get shot by the police. This is a conversation that must be had early, as Tamir Rice was only 12 when police shot him (NYT). Having age-appropriate conversations with your children about implicit bias and the fact that white adults may see them as older and more aggressive is a life-saving conversation (NPR). 

It is also evidenced that white children who grow up in a diverse environment show less prejudice. Sociologist Margaret Hagerman’s research with white children found that the environment in which children grow up impacts them more than the conversations their parents have with them. White children who grew up with a diverse group of peers were more likely to believe that racism was a real problem than those who grew up in predominantly white schools and neighborhoods (Time). This is consistent with the “contact hypothesis” in psychology, which holds that contact between two groups helps to promote tolerance and acceptance (APA). 

To adequately address the impact of racism and raise anti-racist children, it is critical to have intentional and open dialogues with your children that address racism as a genuine social issue. It is also important to ensure that your actions are also anti-racist. If you are a white parent, you should check in with yourself about how you behave. Do you have diverse friends? Do you lock your car doors in certain neighborhoods? What kind of toys do you buy for your children? Is your dollhouse family homogenous, or do you have toys and books that reflect individuals from all different backgrounds (Mom)? To truly raise unprejudiced children, we need to model it in our behaviors. 

Teaching and supporting Black children in advocating for themselves is also important, though adults will still need to step in for them, like when a parent intervened when a child was cast as a monkey in a school play (SELF). Educating your children on microaggressions and the harm of inequity is a powerful tool for learning how to navigate racism. 

Ensuring that our children are exposed to diversity helps eliminate bias, and teaching children about racism is the first step to raising a generation that fights racism. When we can look at our own biases and actively work to eliminate them, we can produce a generation that is educated about and invested in social justice. If you are a white parent, remember that ending racism starts with white people. Start with your children. 


• Raising children who can challenge and eliminate their own biases is critical.

• Talking to children honestly about racism is effective in reducing implicit biases. 

• Scientific evidence shows that children exposed to diversity are less likely to show prejudice. 

• Black parents must teach their children how to advocate for themselves and navigate a racist world while still advocating for them.

2400 1600 Nia Norris
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