If you are a person of colour, it is more than likely that you have experienced some form of racism during your lifetime. Unfortunately, it is still a scourge on our society, which means that there is a chance that your child might face similar issues. Children that experience racism often feel confused and full of shame, since they have yet to conceptualise identity and can be led to believe that something is inherently wrong with themselves. It is little surprise that children that regularly encounter racial discrimination develop extremely low self-esteem.
There is still much we must improve upon as a society to eliminate racism. Therefore, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to entirely shelter your child from any such experiences. Rather, it is important to speak to your child about racism to help increase their understanding of what it means and ensure their healthy emotional wellbeing.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, here are some tips to help you introduce the challenging concept and issue to your child.
1. Talk early and often about race and racism
Racial discrimination and abuse is all the more painful when it is unexpected. So, it is important to have open and honest conversations about race with your child from an early age. An introduction to the topic will not only teach them moral lessons about being kind to everyone, but allow them to recognize that this is something that happens because of others’ unkindness, rather than because they did something wrong.
You could share your own experiences with racism and ask your child questions such as the following: “Has this ever happened to you?” “Why do you think this happens?” “How did this or would this make you feel?” These types of conversations help validate and untangle your child’s confused emotions.
2. Introduce the experiences and viewpoints of others of your race
Representation matters. Racism can lead many children to feeling isolated and marginalised. Thus, it’s important to introduce strong characters of the same race – whether that be Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, or even your next-door neighbour – to widen your child’s perspective. Learning about the experiences of others of their race will remind them that they are not alone, that their community thrives, and that they should have pride in their racial and cultural heritage. In other words, it places their experiences – past, present and future – in a wider context, which can counter their feelings of shame.
3. Promote your culture
Expand on the previous tip by being a role model yourself! Create a sense of pride around your heritage within your home. Speak about your family’s accomplishments. Make it clear that racial stereotypes do not define you, your family, or your broader racial community. This will be most effective if you can tell positive stories about yourself and others. Children are naturally attracted to compelling narratives – they often remember such stories for a lifetime. So have fun with it!