Raising Race-Conscious Children: It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Racism
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
In light of recent international anti-racism protests, many parents of young children are asking themselves - is it too early to talk about racism?
It's never too early to talk about racism.
Identifying, understanding, and acknowledging racism as early as possible is important in raising kind, compassionate, and conscientious children. In one study by Vittrup and Holden (2011) from the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas, families were instructed to use videos with multicultural storylines to explicitly discuss interracial friendships with their children. The families were provided with a checklist of talking points, echoing the videos’ themes. The children of the families were administered a Racial Attitude Measure before and after watching the videos and engaging in the discussions. The study’s researchers found that, of the families who watched the videos, those that openly talked about interracial relationships had children who demonstrated improved racial attitudes within a single week.
Unfortunately, some families from the study reported not wanting to have conversations about skin colour with their children. Others simply did not know how to broach the topic, citing fears of saying the wrong thing.
What’s important to recognize is that many families simply aren’t afforded the privilege to “not talk about race” or to “not make parenting political”. Indeed, research has demonstrated that nonwhite parents are three times more likely to discuss race than white parents (Brown et al., 2007).
Research has also demonstrated that children are already constructing ideas around race at a very young age. In a study by Kelly et al. (2005), researchers found that babies as young as three months demonstrated a preference for faces from their own ethnic group. In another study, children as young as 30 months consistently chose same-race playmates (Katz & Kofkin, 1997).
What you can do
So, how do we start the discussion of race with our children, and what tools can facilitate this discussion?
For starters, parents must look within themselves and reflect on their own biases. How might these biases show up in our everyday language, actions, and relationships? And in turn, how do our words and actions affect our children? Be critical. In order to prepare for these conversations and foster a culture of open dialogue, it is vital to begin with some learning (and unlearning) of our own. Click here for a list of some books, films and podcasts that discuss racism from NPR:
For children, one powerful tool for raising the topic of racism in a meaningful and relatable way is children’s literature. Books provide a relatable way to inform children of their own understanding of their relationships with one another. Discussions about racism with children should contain meaningful examples that reflect everyday life, and books are an excellent avenue for introducing these examples.
Below we list 15 children’s books covering the topics of racism, its history, and cultural inclusivity. While this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope that these resources will help parents who are feeling “lost” or “stuck” to empower their children to develop positive views of cultural diversity and a critical lens of race. It is important to help children recognize the role that race plays in affording certain privileges and opportunities to people based on their skin colour.
15 Children's Books on Racism
When possible, the books below have been linked to A Different Booklist, a Canadian multicultural bookstore specializing in literature from the Afrian and Caribbean disaspora and the global south.
1. Black is a Rainbow Color: by Angela Joy; illustrated by Ekua Holmes
A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.
2. Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters; illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Two poets, one white and one black, explore race and childhood in this must-have collection tailored to provoke thought and conversation.
3. Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs; illustrated By Shane W. Evans
A timely book about how it feels to be teased and taunted, and how each of us is sweet and lovely and delicious on the inside, no matter how we look.
4. Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. by Jean Marzollo; illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney.
A beautifully-rendered study of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, told in simple, straightforward language for even the youngest of readers to understand.
5. Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson; illustrated by Christian Robinson
A timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s
heart and dreams.
6. If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold
If a bus could talk, it would tell the story of a young African-American girl named Rosa who had to walk miles to her one-room schoolhouse in Alabama while white children rode to their school in a bus.
7. Let the Children March: by Monica Clark-Robinson; illustrated by Frank Morrison
In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.
8. Say Something! Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
In this empowering new picture book, beloved author Peter H. Reynolds explores the many ways that a single voice can make a difference.
9. Skin Again: by Bell Hooks; illustrated by Chris Raschka
Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity.
Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children's questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives.
11. That Is My Dream!: by Langston Hughes; illustrated by Daniele Miyares
Follow one African-American boy through the course of his day as the harsh reality of segregation and racial prejudice comes into vivid focus. But the boy dreams of a different life - one full of freedom, hope, and wild possibility, where he can fling his arms wide in the face of the sun.
12. The Day You Begin: by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by Rafael Lopez
National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.
13. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read: by Rita Lorraine Hubbard; illustrated by Oge Mora
Imagine learning to read at the age of 116! Discover the true story of Mary Walker, the nation's oldest student who did just that, in this picture book from a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and a rising star author.
14. The Hate You Give: by Angie Thomas
For readers in eighth grade and above,The Hate You Give tells the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of the police and how she deals with the aftermath of his death.
15. We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
From the song's roots in America's era of slavery through to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today, "We Shall Overcome" has come to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This important book, lyrically written by Debbie Levy and paired with elegant, collage-style art by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, pays tribute to the heroic spirit of the famous song that encompasses American history.
What we are doing
Within Andalusia Speech Therapy, we are working to acknowledge our own racial biases in order to inform our clinical practice. This reflection starts with a review of our clinics’ books and toys in order to enhance representation. We are making a commitment to actively include resources created by people of colour in our clinical toolkits. We are engaging in discussions about representation in the workplace and the racial disparities which affect the families we work with. We are working to include diversity and anti-racism training in our onboarding for new Speech Language Pathologists. Andalusia Speech Therapy is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and will continuously strive to be anti-racist and inclusive.
Bronson, P., & Merryman, A. (2009). NurtureShock: New thinking about children. New York: Twelve.
Brown, T. N., Tanner-Smith, E. E., Lesane-Brown, C. L., & Ezell, M. E. (2007). Child, Parent, and Situational Correlates of Familial Ethnic/Race Socialization. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(1), 14–25. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00340.x
Katz, P. A., & Kofkin, J. A. (1997). Race, gender, and young children. In S. S. Luthar, J. A. Burack, D. Cicchetti, & J. R. Weisz (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and disorder (p. 51–74). Cambridge University Press.
Kelly, D. J., Quinn, P. C., Slater, A. M., Lee, K., Gibson, A., Smith, M., Ge, L., & Pascalis, O. (2005). Three-month-olds, but not newborns, prefer own-race faces. Developmental science, 8(6), F31–F36. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2005.0434a.x
Vittrup, B. & Holden, G. (2011). Exploring the Impact of Educational Television and Parent-Child Discussions on Children's Racial Attitudes. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 11. 82. 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2010.01223.x.
Andalusia Speech Therapy has two Toronto speech therapy clinics and offers speech teletherapy to anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.