Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Talking with Children About RacISM

This is going to be another series. I've been musing on how to approach this for several weeks. One thing is clear: Talking about racism with children makes talking about race (see last two posts) look easy.

Over the next group of posts, I'll share my ideas about when and how to approach the subject, some stories, guidance from some experts, articles to read, and reviews of some books.

As usual, I'll be reflecting from the perspective of a white American, focusing particularly on white patterns, and particularly addressing the white community. I'm interested in figuring out how to talk about race and whiteness so that the next generations of white children don't continue to absorb unexamined racism and white privilege. As always, I welcome comments, questions and dialogue on this.

To start, here are some of my assumptions on addressing the topic of racism with kids:

1. We should. Next to overt racist behavior, not saying anything is the worst response. In fact, silence is one way to teach our kids racist attitudes.

2. Children's comments, questions and experiences are opportunities to talk and to learn.

3. As with all conversations with children, developmental and emotional readiness should determine what we do and don't say - what's appropriate and what's effective. Our responses should be concerns-based, tailored to the particular child(ren) and particular situation.

4. Racism is not the same as "being mean." Prejudice based on skin color and racial features is a universal human tendency, but racism is not just personal, it is collective and institutional as well. In order to process their own experience and to develop effective skills, young people need age-appropriate information about how U.S. society gives white people racial advantages and people of color disadvantages.

5. Conversations about racism should always include ideas about how children can respond and that adults are available to help.

6. The most essential teaching for children to absorb is a sense of hope and possibility. The content can be hard and heavy, but we can address it lightly. Provoking guilt or fear does not empower young people to tackle the challenge of prejudice.

7. In order to do all this, we adults have to be willing to examine and shift our own attitudes and behaviors, and offering our process of addressing racism in our own lives as a model that children can look to and learn from.


Anonymous said...

As always, Anne, your posts are so thoughtful and right on! Have you been seeing this discussion?

I think it speaks so well to the unintentional but still impactful ways in which children's books perpetuate stereotypes and racism. The author seems to have taken the critique to heart but unfortuanately many others have not.

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Wow, JaeRan, that's a sizzling discussion going on there. Thanks for the link; I hadn't seen it. I was impressed overall by the grace and courtesy of the exchanges, despite the heat and emotionally-packed content. There's a lot there to learn.