As a child I was taught the crayon theory of humanity. We were all the same, Black, White, Yellow, Red and we should love each other and get along in the same crayon box. I was raised to be colorblind. Experts tell us, infants as early as 6 months are distinguishing color. Children are not colorblind. Teaching children we are all the same, denies individual and group identity. It denies our shared history, trauma history, culture, challenges and struggles and for some our privilege.
Children categorize at an early age. They sort Legos and candy by color. It is okay when children identify another child as having different color skin, hair, or eyes, but in an affirming way. We can explain that darker skin has more melanin and it is an advantage as it is protective from the sun. Our job is to help children embrace their own cultural and ethnic identity and appreciate and respect others’.
As children grow older, as early as three to four years old, and ask questions or state misconceptions concerning race, adults need to take the lead to inform and correct instead of dismissing or avoiding the discomfort. Saying that a statement is not nice doesn’t teach what was incorrect about the statement or thought. If it happens in daycare or a classroom, discuss it with the teacher. Caregivers are valuable and can teach against stereotypes.
Young children frequently speak of fairness as they develop morally. “Timmy got a bigger piece, that’s not fair.” Talk to them in terms of fairness when you speak of racial history and White privilege. Be sure to highlight heroes, from the race of which you are referencing, who acted bravely for change. Show them people of other races are quite capable and do not need White people to rush in and save them.
Children learn through watching parents. Model what you want your children to learn. Call out a comment or racist joke. Discuss how your child can be an ally. If another child is called a name or left out during play because of their race teach your child how to stand with the child being hurt and report the incident to the teacher/coach, etc. Role playing this helps children form memories they call upon when they later find themselves in a similar situation.
Story is an excellent way to teach children history they may not get exposed to and build empathy. Stories have the power to form memories that link to our hearts. Use books, movies and cuddle time to expose children to races and cultures different than their own. The following sites list many books in many categories to help you raise an empathetic, anti-racist child. The future of our country and the world is in your very capable hands.
Here are some useful links:
Social Justice Books - The best selection of multicultural and social justice books for children, YA, and educators.