Start Them Young: Anti-Racist Work Begins at home
I was raised to be color-blind to race. My parents are some of the most non-judgemental, welcoming, kind people I have ever met. It was their intention to teach us kids that we should never judge anyone based on the color of their skin. That everyone is created equal and should be treated as such. My father immigrated to the United States from Italy when he was in high school. My mother was adopted and didn’t look like her parents, even though they were all white. My youngest sibling was adopted from China, making our family stick out wherever we went as Chinese adoption was still very new in the 90s. All these factors played into my parents’ idea that we should look past race and be welcoming to everyone.
This is a lovely idea, but it wasn’t until college that I realized how damaging “color-blindness” truly is. After several conversations with my classmates and professors, I came back to my parents to discuss why I was starting to think being color-blind was not the right way to approach race in America. I remember my parents, my mom specifically, being very defensive and feeling attacked by my new thoughts and ideas surrounding race. She was so taken aback by our conversation, she decided to reach out to our close family friends who are Black. After recounting our talk with them, the other mom asked, “How often did you have to discuss race at the dinner table with your kids?” After some thought, my mom responded, “We didn’t, did you?” to which our friend said, “Every single night.”
Being color-blind to race is actually just white privilege. White people are able to ignore racism when we feel like it. If the conversation seems too heavy, too uncomfortable, something we don’t feel like dealing with, we just don’t. We are then allowing ourselves to ignore the realities of systemic racism. So while the idea of being color-blind to race may be well-intentioned, it is counterproductive to being actively anti-racist. I use the term “actively anti-racist” because being anti-racist is not passive. While we may not think we are intentionally racist, sitting back and allowing racism to exist without calling it out or doing the work to initiate change is contributing to the systemic racism and inequality people of color face on a daily basis.
After having several tough conversations with each other and others, my parents and I decided to do the work to try and become actively anti-racist. This included reading books that made us uncomfortable, joining local organizations working towards equity and inclusion, and being more outspoken about injustices. And when I had my first baby I decided to make race and racism an active part of my children's learning and growth. But I didn’t know how to start. So I turned to the internet for help and realized there are many wonderful kid-friendly resources to start the conversation about race. Below are some of our favorite books:
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
This book was gifted to my son by my parents for his first birthday. A great kid-friendly introduction to what racism is and how we can address it. The concepts are clear and easy to understand. As a parent, it provided me with terminology and examples I can use when talking with my kids about race.
Our Skin by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas
This is a wonderful book that explains racism in an easy-to-understand way. It also uses clear scientific terms to explain why people have different skin tones. I wasn’t sure my kids would be able to handle these ideas, but then my 4-year-old told me at the dinner table that her skin was tan because of melanin. The book also plainly states that some people don’t like other people because of the color of their skin. I didn’t realize how important it was to clearly state this fact until after reading this book with my kids.
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
I was given this book at my baby shower and have been reading it to my kids since birth. It introduces the idea of activism and what it means to stand up for what is right. Each letter provides a different topic and urges children to take a stand against war and violence, develop an awareness of our environment, and promote acceptance and equality for all cultures, races, religions, genders, and walks of life.
Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
In third grade, I was teased for doing a book report on Marian Anderson, where we had to dress up as the person we read about and present to the class. The kids didn’t understand why I wanted to read about a Black person instead of a white person. The truth was I just loved to sing and wanted to learn about other singers. My children are going to learn about many white figures in history in school. American history has been whitewashed and it is important to introduce kids to the contributions of Black people, which are unfortunately missing from many school textbooks.
The other day at the playground my daughter yelled and pointed, “That Black boy has red sneakers!” My first instinct was complete embarrassment. I wanted to pull her aside and whisper, “Don’t say that. Don’t call him that.” But I realized that this is what I’ve been working towards. Identify differences but in a positive way. Acknowledge that people don’t all look the same and accept them as they are. She didn’t say anything wrong, so why was I embarrassed? My response to the situation is what will change the outcome and my daughter’s thinking. So I just said, “Yes he does. Those are very cool sneakers!” and she ran after him yelling back to me, “I’m going to ask him to play with me!” That night we had a conversation at the dinner table about different skin tones and what makes people unique. We talked about how the boy on the playground has black skin and our skin is white. We talked about how their aunt has different shaped eyes. We read “Our Skin” before bed and my oldest tried to understand why some people don’t like other people with different skin tones and how that is wrong. It is a hard concept and she found it confusing, but I know conversations like this are important if I want my children to grow up to be actively and vocally anti-racist.
I will never have to sit my sons down and explain to them why they might seem threatening, even if they have done nothing wrong. Or how to engage if they are pulled over by the cops to potentially limit the risk of harm. I don’t have to worry about my children being the victims of race-based hate crimes. If I’m tired or don’t feel like it, I don’t have to discuss race at the dinner table, and to be honest most nights we don’t. But we are working on it. As a parent who truly wants to see a change in our country, I know that the best way to fight racism is to start at home. Let’s teach our children the value of our differences and the importance of standing up against racism. My hope is that our children will see a change in their lifetime, but we, as parents, need to do the work to guide them and set an example of what it means to be actively anti-racist.