Black and white girl blow bubbles in a field


How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids: Don’t Be a Racist Parent

Jul 20, 2020

Over the past few weeks, there is one question that I have heard over and over again. 

That question is: “How do I raise anti-racist kids?”

Basically, they are asking me how they can make sure their kids don’t grow up racist — and it’s usually said with some panic, hand wringing and concern.

I hear this a lot as a parent advocate, a Black mommy blogger and podcaster, but I’ll be honest: the question infuriates me. 

It presumes the problem of racism exists outside of the control of the person who is questioning how to raise anti-racist kids — in my experience, this comes from the parent, more often a mother. 

Black people have a complicated relationship with the police, so this is how one dad talks to kids about that. Read it here.

It also puts the problem of racism on the child and divorces it from the parent. But the truth is, raising anti-racist kids is really simple: start with yourself.

If you don’t want your kids to be racist, then I think you yourself should strive to not be racist.

The way I see it, kids aren’t the problem. They learn and mimic behaviour. They are a mirror and a reflection of their parents. So if they are making racist comments, touching a Black child’s hair, refusing to play with an Asian kid because they are Asian, telling a South Asian child that they smell, or they get scared in the presence of Blackness, the first step I recommend is turning that mirror around and looking at yourself.

So what does that mean? I know that seems like a big task, but here’s where to start:

Look at your friend group

Do you have Black friends? Do your friends only consist of “model minorities”?

If all of your get-togethers are made up of other parents, friends and colleagues who look exactly like you, then this could be part of the problem.

Ask yourself how your children can be expected to diversify their friend group and accept difference when you haven’t.

Do you shut your Black friends down when they talk about race? 

Do you hate talking about race? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you think that maybe if we just didn’t talk about it and make a big deal about it everything would be OK?  

"The way I see it, kids aren’t the problem. They learn and mimic behaviour. They are a mirror and a reflection of their parents."

Do you look at your Black friend and say you don’t see their race? That your friendship transcends race?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then I believe you are part of the problem. 

When you avoid discussions of race and when you refuse to acknowledge your friend’s identity, you erase them and their experience. If this is the message you are passing on to your children, then you are preventing them from forming authentic and holistic friendships that look at someone’s personhood in full. Racialized people can’t hide who they are.

Our race is part of us and our experiences are informed by our race, so true friendship means that discussions of race should be allowed to flow and not be stifled.

Need help introducing new books to your library? Here are eight books to get you started.

Be intentional about play and learning

Do the books on your shelves and the toys your children play with lack diversity? To put in plainly: are they all white?  

If you are looking around your house and are realizing that you haven’t built a diverse library for your children or included toys of different races and ethnicities in their play rotation, then yes I see that is a problem.

Do the books you do include go beyond the slavery and civil rights narrative? Fostering anti-racism has as much to do with empathy as it does understanding. And one of the key ways to foster empathy in children is through imagination, reading and play. 

In my opinion, there is no excuse in 2020 to have a bookshelf full of only white characters. 

Books with Black and Brown faces are everywhere

Do you extend the same effort at communication and friendliness to your Black neighbours? 

Children are little sponges. 

Do you say hi in passing to your Black neighbours? Have you made the same efforts to get to know them as you have some of your other neighbours, or do you simply leave that up to your kids? 

Encouraging your children to play with children of other races doesn’t mean they’ll have a full understanding or model.

Parents can say hello and connect, too.

Do you bring the history and culture of other races into your home?

I don’t just mean food.

Beyond watching movies and TV shows with diverse characters, are you using these opportunities to have conversations with your children about the lack of diversity and negative stereotypes you may see?

The conversation around race, anti-Black racism and Black Lives Matter is ongoing.

As a Black parent, this mom knows "the talk" is coming — the the inevitable conversation when racism comes knocking at their door. Read here how she introduces the subject to kids.

Are you contextualizing privilege?

Do you point out to your children the privilege they have just to be seen as children?

Do you highlight how Black kids may have different experiences when they go to school?

Do you raise uncomfortable facts, like how their Black friends are more likely to get harsher punishment for the same incident?

Or how contact with police could end in their death?

In order to understand privilege, I believe these questions need to be asked and these conversations need to be had.

Anti-racist parenting is intentional, and focusing on building yourself into an anti-racist and an accomplice (not just an ally) for Black lives and racialized folks is the single best thing you can do to raise anti-racist children.

Turn the focus on yourself, because change starts in the home.

Article Author Kearie Daniel
Kearie Daniel

Read more from Kearie here.

Kearie Daniel is a parent advocate, writer, activist, communicator and, most importantly, a mom of two. Kearie is the author of the Woke Mommy Chatter Blog and Podcast, founding steering committee member of Parents of Black Children (an advocacy group working for equity for Black students in Ontario’s education system). She also runs the equity-centred communications agency Kama Communications. You can find Kearie at on Twitter and on Instagram.

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