Talking to Your Kids About Racism

Jul 24, 2020

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Talking to Your Kids About Racism

Racism can be a tough and emotional conversation to have with little ones, but it is absolutely necessary. As young as age 3,children start classifying people based on their appearances. Start early, and bring it up often. Celebrate inclusion and empathy. Continue to educate yourself in order to answer your children’s questions with well-informed honesty.

For those feeling lost, or unsure where to begin, please browse our book guide – grouped by the recommended reader’s age, each title examines racism and the surrounding injustices.

Newborn - 3 years:

"Woke Baby" by Mahogany L. Browne

Lyrical and empowering, “Woke Baby” celebrates exactly that; activism and youth. Bright illustrations guide us through conversations of justice, racism and how to grow up and change the world.

“A is for Activist” by Innosanto Nagara

This ABC board book uses alliteration, rhyming + beautiful illustration to spark a child’s interest, while presenting issues that will resonate with parents’ values of community, equality + justice. “A is for Activist” is an excellent way to initially prepare your babe for conversations surrounding racism, justice, and activism.

Ages 4 - 8 years:

“Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry

Both a NYT best-selling picture book and a seven-minute, Oscar-winning animated short film, “Hair Love” presents a relationship between a Black father-daughter duo, Stephen + Zuri, and Zuri’s hair. While Mom is away, Stephen must figure out how to style Zuri’s hair-- which very much has a mind of its own. A direct response to the lack of representation in mainstream works of animation, the book + short film is meant to inspire + promote hair love within Black adolescence.

“Something Happened in Our Town” by Marianna Celano, PhD

A National Parenting Product Award Winner, “Something Happened in Our Town” follows a white family + a Black family through a discussion that takes place after a Black man was shot by the police. The story does its due diligence in aiming to answer young children’s questions about similar traumas, and to help identify + fight against racial injustices in their own lives. Sent along with the story, an extensive note to Parents + Caregivers offers guidelines for openly discussing racism with your kids.

“The Skin I’m In” by Pat Thomas

Racial discrimination is cruel and unfortunately happens even at a very young age; it is never too early to teach your kids to accept and be comfortable with racial differences. Part of the “A First Look At” series, “The Skin I’m In” follows an easy-to-understand format that explores and discusses difficult emotional issues while promoting positive interaction between parent, teacher + child. This series also includes a guide, glossary, suggested additional reading + a list of resources.

“Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh beautifully combines educational text and folk-inspired illustration to tell the story of Sylvia Mendez, an American citizen of Mexican + Puerto Rican heritage, who despite perfect fluency in the English language, was denied enrollment to a “whites only” school. Seven years before Brown vs Board of Education, Mendez’ parents organized the hispanic community and filed a federal lawsuit. Their success eventually ended an era of segregated schooling in California. As the injustice enrages you, the resolution feels good; this story will effortlessly spark many conversations with your child.

Ages 9 - 12 years:

“Little Leaders” by Vashti Harrison

NYT best-selling author + illustrator Vashti Harrison illuminates + celebrates Black women through history. Each anecdote features eye-catching illustrations, making it an engaging read for all ages. From abolitionist to artist, pilot to politician, chemist to poet; “Little Leaders” covers the bases both geographically and historically. In addition to their Blackness, these women share feats that have undeniably blazed the trail for generations to come.

“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higgenbotham

“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” explains how power and privilege affects us from birth, and how such recognition paves the way for a solution. One of the few children’s books that provides an honest exploration of racism + white supremacy in America today, Anastasia Higginbotham’s work is a perfect place to start the conversation with your children.

“Born Curious” by Martha Freeman

“Born Curious” is a chronological, collective biography of twenty groundbreaking women. Through these accounts, one can see the differences of all these women’s backgrounds and experiences; poor, rich, booksmart and otherwise. What they had in common, though, was their extreme curiosity. Never underestimate the power of a curious woman.

Ages 13+

“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Set in a town divided by racism, “All American Boys” follows two young men, one Black and one white; one victimized by police brutality and the other, a witness. Written in tandem by Jason Reynolds + Brendan Kiely, this story is told in alternating perspectives; a juxtaposition as thoughtful as the subject matter. This exploration of systematic racism is honest and brave, and is an educational powertool in getting these crucial conversations started.

“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

12-year-old Jerome is shot by a cop who has mistaken the boy’s toy gun for a real one. In “Ghost Boys,” Jerome’s ghost meets Emmett Till, who helps him process what has happened and the role of historical racism in the matter. Jewell Parker Rhodes masterfully weaves historical and socio-political layers into a story that examines the complexities and injustices of today’s world.

Parents who are quiet about racial issues are inadvertently teaching their children that race is a taboo topic, which cultivates fear and embarrassment surrounding the subject. Read these books with your children, supplement the stories with open discussions and encourage your little ones to ask questions. Open minds seek understanding. Empathy fights for change.