How Should Parents Teach Their Children About Race and Racism?
How did you learn about racism? Did you have any conversations with parents or family members at home? What was talked about, and how did the conversation start? Describe what you can remember.
In “Are We Raising Racists?,” Jennifer Harvey writes:
Last year at this time, my 7-year-old was running around singing the praises of George Washington. I was happy to see her so engaged with what she’d learned at school. But I was dismayed that the peace- and diversity-centered curriculum she gets at her public school had left her with such a one-dimensional view of history.I struggled with how best to respond. Then one morning, she overheard the news on our kitchen radio about a politician charged with ethics violations. “What’s that about?” she asked.I told her someone in the government had done something wrong, and she asked how an adult who was a leader could possibly do something bad.“Unfortunately,” I responded, “a lot of our country’s leaders have done bad things.”When her eyes grew big and she said, “Like who and what did they do?” I knew I had my opportunity.“Well,” I said, “you know how you’ve been running around here celebrating George Washington? We always talk about George Washington fighting for freedom. But George Washington also owned black people as slaves.”Her intrigue turned to horror.Fast forward, one year. For those of us raising children, the future couldn’t be more on our minds. With the news full of reports about vandalized Jewish cemeteries and mosques on fire, police officers who terrorize and endanger black and Latino children, and engineers from India being shot while enjoying a meal after work, it’s tempting to shut off the radio, turn off the TV and cancel those news alerts on our cellphones. But it’s more critical than ever that we talk about difficult and morally complex issues with our children.
Students: Read the entire article, then tell us:
— Did you ever have any realizations about racism or sexism as a child, the way the 7-year-old in the article did when she learned about George Washington owning slaves? How did those moments change or shape you?
— Do you agree that white children need to be taught about racism early on, around age 5, to recognize differential treatment and understand about the social status of different racial groups, their own group and others? Why or why not?
— In your opinion, how and when should parents discuss this topic with their children?
— What are the consequences of children not being taught about racism in a thoughtful way?