1. One of the challenges parents face is not knowing the right words to explain racism to their kids. Are there some examples of how they can explain what’s happening right now?
Research shows that children begin to notice race even at the infant stage. As early as 3 months old, children begin to notice a range of differences including skin color, voice, and facial features. It is never too early to talk with your child in age-appropriate ways based on their level of understanding. The best ways to approach these conversations are being open to questions from your kids, to build their trust in you, even if you don’t have all the answers. Children pick up on their parents’ attitudes about race at an early age, so it’s critical adults also commit to learning about race, racism and racial bias themselves. For younger kids, PBS recently aired a special on how to talk to kids about race and racism. Young children may understand the concept of fairness and explore through storybooks that tackle race and identity. For older kids, Learning for Justice offers resources to talk about race with youth in general, as well a list of of children’s literature that center’s Asian American stories.
Essentially, race is a way of grouping people in our world by seeming physical or social qualities. It is important to note that race is not a scientific or biological difference in each of us. Race as a system of categories to group ourselves was invented by people. Racism is the idea that a hierarchy exists among the groups of races, and that certain people should be treated differently because of their race.
- Talking to Young Children About Race and Racism, PBS
- Race and Ethnicity, Learning for Justice
- Talking About Race, National Museum of African American History & Culture
2. How can parents or teachers describe to kids what racism looks like?
Over time, racism has looked different over the years. In some ways, it means creating separate spaces or having different items for people of different races to use. Today, racism may look like someone picking on, insulting, or being physically aggressive to someone else because of their race. It can include calling people names, racial slurs, yelling at others in public, or saying hurtful, untrue things about people based on their race in-person or online. It may look like excluding people from an activity because of their race. Racism may also present in subtle ways to a child, like making fun of someone’s name, hair style, clothing, or food that’s connected with their race or religion. From media and stories, we’ve heard the ways Asian American students and adults false accusations of stereotypes and assumptions around their race, from being called terrorists, to carriers of the covid-19 virus and to not “belonging” in the United States and the need to “return to their country.”
Act to Change has worked with youth to develop the “Racism is a Virus Toolkit” which includes more examples and the history of racism against Asian Americans as well as steps to address or create change to combat racism. You can find that and our other resources on our website.
3. How should parents teach their kids to respond if they encounter slurs, etc.?
Whether or not your child is encountering a slur directed towards them or towards someone else, they should state that the slur is hurtful to whomever is saying it and then if it can be safely done, the adult present should be told. If they do not feel safe, they should find an adult whom they trust and share the incident at a time they feel safe to do so. Alternatively, if the person using the slur is a trusted friend, your child can be an advocate for themselves and others by asking the friend their intention behind why they want to use the slur, and helping the friend understand that the slur is hurtful and inappropriate so they can see it’s better to stop using racist language. Similar measures may be taken if a child encounters bullying online. They should inform and confide in a trusted adult.
4. How should parents teach their kids to respond if they witness someone else being bullied, experiencing racism, etc.?
Always speak up or say something if you notice bullying or racism. You can either interrupt by being distracting, being funny, or directly calling out the incident. It is most important to ensure the safety of the person being bullied or experiencing racism and ensure your own safety, and you can do so with a simple distraction, such as asking for directions, dropping something and making a commotion, or redirecting the attention of the people involved, ideally to something random and irrelevant to the situation.
For adults, it’s important to also model this behavior of intervening as bystanders of incidents. Organizations such as Hollaback have developed the 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention, and offer resources and trainings through their website. It’s just as important to report incidents to local authority and advocacy organizations such as Stop AAPI Hate to support in tracking and improving responses to the rise in hate crimes. For more information on how to handle or report incidents, visit their website here.