Parenting to Combat Racism, Bias, and Discrimination
How can white parents raise anti-racist children?
In the midst of yet another round of high-profile incidents involving racial injustice in America, and the protests that have followed, parents are faced with questions about how to talk with their children about these incidents and how to parent in ways that combat racism, bias, and discrimination.
These questions are not new for parents of color. A large body of research focuses on racial-ethnic socialization, which is defined as the transmission of values, beliefs, and information about ethnicity and race. Two major components of racial-ethnic socialization are helping children develop a positive view of their racial-ethnic group and helping children prepare for and cope with bias and discrimination. These are challenges that parents of color have always faced and could not ignore--their children’s lives too often depend on it.
But, it is unjust to place the burden on parents of color alone to socialize their children to prepare for and respond to bias and discrimination. In the area of child protection, the goal is to prevent child abuse, not just to help children cope with their abuse after it has occurred. Likewise, as a society, our goal should be to dismantle systemic racism and prevent discrimination in the first place, rather than merely expecting children of color to cope with racism and discrimination.
Silence about race and pretending that racism does not exist are not beneficial for white children or children of color. White parents’ silence can convey to children that racial topics are taboo or that racial topics are important only for people of color. White parents have the responsibility to combat racism, bias, and discrimination, starting with the socialization of their own children.
What can white parents do to raise anti-racist children who can be part of the solution rather than the problem?
First, white parents should not take a “color-blind” approach and claim that they don’t notice the color of people’s skin and just treat everyone equally. Such claims are disingenuous, as research on implicit biases demonstrates that even people who do not regard themselves as racist still make implicit assumptions about people on the basis of the color of their skin. And, parents of color do not have the luxury of taking a color-blind approach as their own daily experiences and the experiences of their children make it clear that the world does not treat them in a color-blind way.
Second, white parents can talk with their children about race in ways that are developmentally appropriate. For young children, these conversations may involve acknowledging that people look different but are all of equal value, regardless of the color of their hair, eyes, or skin. For older children, these conversations may focus on talking about both structural racism and other forms of racism, such as microaggressions, and the ways that they can challenge racism, such as by speaking up if they hear someone make a racist comment (e.g., “That joke is not funny. It’s rude and mean.”).
Third, white parents can behave in a way that gives their children a model of racial justice. This might involve participating in protests. It might involve reading books by Black, Latinx, Asian, and other minority authors and discussing them with their children. It might involve letting children witness their own attempts to combat racism by speaking up or acting when they witness injustice.
Fourth, parents can use events in the media to explain issues like white privilege and why movements like Black Lives Matter are important. Parents can discuss how being white confers advantages that people of color do not have and that this is unfair. Parents can place current events in historical perspective that helps children understand how the legacy of slavery, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and events today are interconnected through systems of oppression and discrimination.
White parents have not done enough in the past to combat racism, bias, and discrimination. A new approach is needed—one that does not burden parents of color as the only ones responsible for the racial-ethnic socialization of their children.
Here are some additional resources to help white parents talk with their kids about race, compiled by other white parents: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
Here are some additional resources on racial-ethnic socialization to help parents from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds: https://www.apa.org/res/parent-resources
Jennifer E. Lansford, Ph.D., is a Research Professor at Duke University who studies parenting and child development in diverse cultural contexts.