Why it's Important to Talk about Race with your Children

Children recognize race early

Children recognize race earlier than many of their parents realize. Infants as young as six months can nonverbally categorize people by race; by age two, they are able to use racial similarities to reason about possible behaviors, and by ages three to five they can express biases based on race (Winkler, 2009). Children do not have to be explicitly taught about race to learn these biases, as many children are able to pick up social norms implicitly. Thus, it is imperative to address race with your younger children since they are already forming ideas and biases. In addition, not bringing up race with your children can reinforce stereotypes, biases and racism (Lingras, 2021). To find more information on how to talk about race with your children make sure to check out the age to age guides.

Children Embracing in Circle
Racial development facilitates social development

Silence about race does not stop children from noticing racial differences, but instead allows stereotypes, biases, and racism to be developed and reinforced without giving children the skills to think critically or talk about it (Lingras, 2021; Winkler, 2009). It might seem like a daunting task, especially as a White parent raising a White child. You might not feel like the most equipped person to talk about it—but that’s okay. Showing your child that it’s okay to be nervous and make mistakes while talking about difficult topics can encourage them to speak up and ask questions, even when they might be apprehensive or uncomfortable. Developing ethnic and racial identity and awareness is part of a child’s social growth, and the skills they learn through these conversations (critical thinking, empathy, perspective-taking, etc.) can help them navigate a variety of situations and contexts, not just those that are racially salient (Perry, 2021).

Conversations decrease kids' AND parents' biases

In too many white households (90%), parents are hesitant about having in-depth conversations about race with their children out of fear that their own lack of knowledge or nervousness about the subject may cause their children to form negative ideas about those of different races (Perry, 2021). The reality is that simply having an informed conversation with your child, regardless of  discomfort, is not linked to any sort of increase in children’s implicit anti-black attitudes; rather, it is more than likely that these attitudes will decrease significantly for both children *and* parents (Perry, 2021). Racially socializing your children, even when you may not have all the answers yet, can only help everyone involved learn and grow.

At the Library
Ignoring race perpetuates systemic bias

A popular solution to the discomfort that parents (White parents in particular) experience when addressing the topic of race is to simply tell their children not to notice color, to treat everyone equally. This approach, known as a “colorblind” or “egalitarian” perspective, tends to do more harm than good. “Colorblindness” has been found to decrease children’s ability to detect bias where it is present (Apfelbaum et al., 2010). Additionally, parents who take such approaches often assume that their children must not harbor any racial biases—but this tends to not be the case (Vittrup, 2016). A colorblind approach does not deal with implicit biases, nor does it teach children about the structures in place that lead to people of different races experiencing the world so differently. Instead, these children are less aware of their own privilege and less inclined to work towards individual or systemic change.