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How to discuss race with children

It’s Black History Month in a year which saw greater awareness of racial tensions and inequalities. But where do parents begin when it comes to raising the topic of race with our kids?

Written by High Life North
Published 27.10.2020

BY: Jo Dunbar

It’s possible your child has seen their favourite sports stars taking the knee, seen Black Lives Matter marches covered on the news or We Race As One written across screens or on sports kit. Maybe this has prompted discussions at home. But if you are feeling nervous about where to begin, start small.

Blogger and author Uju Asika who has written Bringing Up Race, says, “Don’t let the fear of messing up stop you from having these important conversations. The simplest way to start is the way you might begin any conversation, by asking a question. You could ask about what your child has learned about race at school. For younger kids, you might offer a prompt like ‘What colour am I? What colour are you? Is everybody the same colour?’”

Learning together

Uju reminds us that in discussions about race we may not have all the answers, and it’s okay to show your child that. She says, “You don’t have to pretend to have all the answers. It’s good to keep learning alongside your child. If it’s something you don’t have an immediate response for, you could simply say ‘I’m not sure about that, shall I look into it?’ or ‘shall we find out together?’ If you have older kids, be ready to have deeper conversations and don’t worry if it feels awkward. We can all feel uncomfortable talking about stuff that’s normally swept under the carpet. But the more we talk about race in our homes, the easier it will become to talk about it as a society.”

Prejudiced comments can sometimes be made by people we love. As parents we have a responsibility to acknowledge these remarks and teach our children better ways. Uju understands that situations like this can be tricky: “It can create a lot of tension when loved ones come out with offensive comments. You might not be able to change how a relative thinks but you can break the chain of ignorance with your own children. If you are feeling too awkward to say anything in the heat of the moment, be sure to follow up with your children afterwards and discuss what was said and why you don’t agree. Talk about what your child can do if a friend or peer says something racist. It’s your call, but the most important thing is not to sit in silence and pretend it never happened. It sets a bad example for your kids and sometimes passive racism is the most damaging of all.”

Many parts of the North East lack cultural representation when it comes to a diverse population. But it’s just as vital that we discuss race with our kids. Uju recommends how we do this, “One of the best ways to raise an antiracist child is to bring them up in a multicultural environment. This can present a challenge for families living in homogenous areas. Take the time to visit nearby areas that are more diverse. Look for ways to bring the world into your home. Reading books together and watching movies with Black, Asian or multicultural characters can spark interesting conversations around race and identity.”

BOX: Diversify your book shelf

When you look at the books in your home, it’s possible many feature white families and white children or were the books you read a as a child. There are many diverse texts available and as Uju tells us, “Stories are a brilliant way to help children empathise with people who don’t look like them, so be intentional about the books you choose to read with your kids.”

High Life North recommend the following titles and Uju lists further books on her blog here: babesabouttown.com

Little People, Big Dreams series (Frances Lincoln books) charts the achievements of black figures like Rosa Parkes, Martin Luther King Jr, Ella Fitzgerald and Mohammed Ali.

Little leaders by Vashti Harrison (Puffin) is about black women in history

Kids’ tv legend Floella Benjamin’s book Coming to England charts her experiences as a child of the Windrush Generation.

The Smeds and the Smoos by Julia Donaldson sees two families of aliens who look very different learning to co-exist.

Look Up! By Nathan Byron (Puffin) is about a wannabe astronaut.

David Olusoga’s Black and British (Macmillan) is aimed at kids age 12 and up.

Alesha Dixon’s Lightning Girl series has a black heroine.

Bringing up Race bu Uju Asika is published by Yellow Kite and is out now.

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