I won’t lie. I tend to shy away from the topic of children and racism. It’s because I am fearful. And that fear is suffocating. Whenever my mind wanders to raising children, cue panicked overthinking.
How do I teach my future children to exist in a world that doesn’t want them? Where can I send them to school where they will see people that look like them AND have the best education? What do I name them so people don’t make assumptions and toss their applications or resumes aside? What activities do I involve them in where they are accepted? How could I possibly teach them to use their voices, when I worry that using them too much would make them a target? How do I teach them to code-switch? Why should I have to? How do I ensure they have the best opportunities, despite their mixed heritage? How do I assure them of their value? I mean, the list goes on and on.
Still, I look to my parents and I am in awe at how they raised my brother and I. We were lucky enough to be exposed to diverse experiences and a phenomenal education. We were fortunate enough to never want for anything, even when times were rough. As children, our parents protected us from many (not all) of the harsh realities of racism but also educated us on how we would be treated outside of our safe spaces. They ALWAYS made me feel valued as a brown-skinned woman — for my existence, for my passion, for my intelligence, for my beauty. They wouldn’t allow me to question my worth. My dad taught me the power of black pride and my mom taught me the power of black women. I often wonder how in the world they managed to accomplish such feats when society attempts to devalue me every single day?
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for the exceptional childhood my parents cultivated for us. And I hope, I pray, that I can do the same.
But then I think about people who are raising their children right now. How do they teach their kids to be antiracist? Because if they learn & their children learn, maybe I won’t need to worry as much about how my children navigate whiteness. Maybe I’ll be able to create an even better childhood for my children than I had. And that, my friends, is utopia.
So where to begin? Well, Ashia Ray from Raising Luminaries & Books For Littles offers insightful guidance. I suggest reading both “Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race,” and “Anti-Racism 102: Why Not All Racial Discrimination is ‘Racism.” Below are recommendations from these articles (in her words) for how to have conversations about race with your children:
- We must talk about race with young kids. Racism thrives in silence.
- Your child needs at least one adult to speak truth to BS about racial assumptions. (It’s your job to be that adult).
- We can help our children understand racism – and empower them to work toward racial equality.
- Start by telling our kids that yes – we do see skin color and racial identities.
- Teach your kids to speak up against abuse of power – including their own.
- Responsible representation matters. Center voices of color.
- Disobey and refuse to submit. Avoid white saviorism.
- Understand the emotional labor of being the only one.
- Stay curious, stand brave & believe people of color.
These are just a few general takeaways; her articles include much more information than what I’ve highlighted above.
If you’re looking for children’s books to help these conversations along, I’ve also compiled a children’s reading list (including recommendations from Ashia Ray):
- Peekaboo Morning – Rachel Isadora (Ages 0-3)
- Dream Big, Little One – Vashti Harrison (Ages (0-3)
- How Do You Say I Love You – Hannah Eliot (Ages 0-3)
- I Am Human: A Book of Empathy – Susan Verde (Ages 0-3)
- A is for Activist – Innosanto Nagara (Ages 0-2)
Preschool – Grade 2
Although these books are for children between the ages of 3-8, I imagine you can read many of these books to younger kids.
- All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold (Ages 4-8)
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice – Marianne Celano (Ages 4-8)
- Lovely – Jess Hong (Ages 4-8)
- We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street) (Ages 3-7)
- Parker Looks Up – Parker Curry (Ages 4-8)
- Not Quite Snow White – Ashley Franklin (Ages 4-8)
- The Proudest Blue – Ibtihaj Muhammad (Ages 4-8)
- Sulwe – Lupita Nyong’o (Ages 4-8)
- Always Anjali – Sheetal Sheth (Ages 3-9)
- Where Are You From? – Yamile Saied Mendez (Ages 4-8)
- Spork – Kyo Maclear (Ages 3-7)
- Happy in Our Skin – Fran Manushkin (Ages 4-6)
- Same Same But Different – Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Ages 4-7)
- A Kids Book About Racism – Jelani Memory (Ages 4-7)
- We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga – Traci Sorell & Frane Lessac (Ages 3-7)
Kindergarten – Grade 3
- The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson (Ages 5-9)
- Milo’s Museum – Zetta Elliot (Ages 4-9)
- Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO – Tamara Pizzoli (Ages 4-9)
- Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration – Samara Cole Doyon (Ages 6-8)
- Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation – Duncan Tonatieh (Ages 4-10)
- We Are America – Walter Dean Myers (Ages 6-10)
- Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X – Ilyasah Shabazz (Ages 6-10)
- Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story – Reem Faruqi (Ages 5-8)
- Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom – Carole Boston Weatherford (Ages 6-8)
- When I Was Eight – Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Ages 6-8)
- Chocolate Milk, Por Favor: Celebrating Diversity with Empathy – Maria Dismondy (Ages 4-10)
- When We Were Alone – David A. Robertson (Ages 4-8)
- White Water – Michael S. Bandy (Ages 5-8)
- The Other Side – Jacqueline Woodson (Ages 5-8)
- Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History – Vashti Harrison (Ages 4-8)
- Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World – Vashti Harrison (Ages 4-8)
- Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History – Vashti Harrison (Ages 4-8)
Grades 4 – 8
- Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library – Carole Boston Weatherford (Ages 9-12)
- Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness – Anastasia Higginbotham (Ages 8-12)
- Stand Up, Yumi Chung! – Jessica Kim (Ages 9-12)
- Clean Getaway – Nic Stone (Ages 8-12)
- From the Desk of Zoe Washington – Janae Marks (Ages 8-12)
- Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice – Mahogany Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood (Ages 8-12)
- Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock – Aslan Tudor and Kelly Tudor (Ages 9-12)
- My Family Divided – Diane Guerrero (Ages 10-14)
- Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not a Number – Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer (Ages 9-12)
- Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer – Carole Boston Weatherford (Ages 10+)
- Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis (Ages 10+)
There are a TON of YA novels for middle school and high school kids, so I only included a few.
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You – Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
- How Long ’til Black Future Month? – N.K. Jemisin
- Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo
- Felix Ever After – Kacen Callender