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Kristen Howerton

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Resources for Talking to Kids About Race and Racism

Posted: 02/28/2013 6:46 pm

As Black History Month comes to a close, I thought I would share some resources for talking to kids about racism, in terms of both the historical context of our country and the present-day issues of prejudice.

I am a firm believer that we should be talking to our kids about racial differences from a very young age. At a certain age, all kids are prone to leaving others out based on external factors. This can be gender, race, disability, etc. I think kids need help to overcome this natural tendency to seek out "sameness." I also think they need intentionality, especially when living in non-diverse areas. Kids do see color -- and when parents ignore it, the lesson children learn is that diversity is something too scary to talk about.

I don't know that there is a universal timeline that fits every child, because maturity levels vary. But below I've listed some suggested books for each stage that can help parents start the conversation. I really believe that children are never too young to start learning about racial difference and the importance of fighting prejudice.

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  • Age 2+: Talk about physical differences, including race and gender, and the importance of accepting everyone

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Colors-Us-Karen-Katz/dp/0805071636">The Colors Of Us</a> By Karen Katz

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Skin-You-Live-In/dp/0975958003/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362079975&sr=8-1&keywords=skin+you+live+in">The Skin You Live In</a>, Written by Michael Tyler and Illustrated by David Lee Csicsko

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Rainbow-Friends-P-K-Hallinan/dp/0824955196">A Rainbow of Friends</a> by P.K. Hallinan

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Shades-People-Shelley-Rotner/dp/0823423050">Shades of People</a> by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Were-Different-Sesame-Street-Pictureback/dp/0679832270/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362080422&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=We%27re+Different%2C+We%27re+the+Same%2C+Bobbi+Kates+and+Illustrated+by+Joe+Mathieu">We're Different, We're the Same</a>, Written by Bobbi Kates and Illustrated by Joe Mathieu

  • Age 2+: Talk about prejudice of all forms, maintaining an open forum for kids to report and discuss instances of prejudice

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Chocolate-Me-Taye-Diggs/dp/0312603266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362080574&sr=8-1&keywords=chocolate+me%21">Chocolate Me!</a> Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane Evans

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0316523755/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0316523755&adid=1EHDS4F4QN7M14NCHFWT&&ref-refURL=">I Love My Hair! </a> Written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Its-Okay-Different-Todd-Parr/dp/0316043478/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362080825&sr=1-1&keywords=it%27s+ok+to+be+different">It's Okay To Be Different</a> by Todd Parr

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/black-brown-tan-Arnold-Adoff/dp/0064436446/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362081000&sr=1-1&keywords=black+is+brown+is+tan">Black is Brown is Tan</a>, Written by Arnold Adoff and Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

  • Age 2+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0142501417/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0142501417&adid=1X6NBAKXXNGSEGH3XAED&&ref-refURL=">Dancing in the Wings</a>, Written by Debbie Allen and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

  • Age 4+: Introduce other cultures, including food, art and role models, emphasizing acceptance and diversity

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Almond-Cookies-Dragon-Well-Tea/dp/1879965038">Almond Cookies & Dragon Well Tea</a>, Written by Cynthia Chin-Lee and Illustrated by You-Shan Tang

  • Age 4+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0152060308/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0152060308&adid=0XZ4VR4XDPT150P094DS&&ref-refURL=">Whoever You Are</a>, Written by Mem Fox and Illustrated by Leslie Staub

  • Age 4+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0763633887/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0763633887&adid=1Y6MCV64PK1YKZQHCF4V&&ref-refURL=">God's Dream</a>, Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, and Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

  • Age 4+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807575259/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0807575259&adid=1TXKCCQGVDTZP88D3KEC&&ref-refURL=">Snow in Jerusalem</a>, Written by Deborah da Costa and Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu and Cornelius Van Wright

  • Age 4+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0618434771/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0618434771&adid=00PC9E9ZS7SHZY7TW65H&&ref-refURL=">One Green Apple</a>, Written by Eve Bunting and Illustrated by Ted Lewin

  • Age 4+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0374351147/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0374351147&adid=0ZR61YBVTXYFXV07T9XE&&ref-refURL=">My Name Is Yoon</a>, Written by Helen Recorvits and Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

  • Grade 1+: Discuss civil rights in broad terms, introducing heroes

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0439472261/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0439472261&adid=19XJWBHC90HWG2BQNYDG&&ref-refURL=">The Story Of Ruby Bridges</a>, Written by Robert Coles and Illustrated by George Ford

  • Grade 1+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0689856768/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0689856768&adid=1TZ781X2P6V66R3843NE&&ref-refURL=">If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks</a> by Faith Ringgold

  • Grade 1+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0545142334/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0545142334&adid=0EEK8KT7KBHAZPA279NT&&ref-refURL=">My First Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr.</a>, Written by Marion Dane Bauer and Illustrated by Jamie Smith

  • Grade 1+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0553112333/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0553112333&adid=0FAKQMC4P1RKS3HWNJP7&&ref-refURL=">Cassie's Word Quilt</a> by Faith Ringgold

  • Grade 1+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0055X4SD2/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=B0055X4SD2&adid=0W5M9K0WWEV7GDQDH9YX&&ref-refURL=">Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down</a> by Andrea Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

  • Grade 3-5+: Discuss specifics of Jim Crow, slavery, Underground Railroad, assassination of MLK and other Civil Rights heroes, and other atrocities based on ethnicity (Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, etc.)

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061730742/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0061730742&adid=1632GN787KA1V8QFNE7M&&ref-refURL=">Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans</a> By Kadir Nelson

  • Grade 3-5+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1562470752/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=1562470752&adid=1EXPGEZS6P453RXEV1QT&&ref-refURL=">Meet Addy: An American Girl</a>, Written by Connie Porter and Illustrated by Dahl Taylor

  • Grade 3-5+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1423106350/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=1423106350&adid=1V2PSSAVB82S4W7R12ED&&ref-refURL=">Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.</a>, Written by Doreen Rappaport and Illustrated by Bryan Collier

  • Grade 3-5+

    <a href="http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-am-rosa-parks-rosa-parks/1101546803?ean=9780141307107">I Am Rosa Parks</a>, Written by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins (Author), and Illustrated by Wil Clay

  • Grade 3-5+

    <a href="http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sojourner-truths-step-stomp-stride-andrea-davis-pinkney/1100190314">Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride</a> By Andrea Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

  • Grade 3-5+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/043977733X/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=043977733X&adid=0H68RFJZ8CCWHQP1QG7W&&ref-refURL=">Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad</a>, Written by Ellen Levine and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

  • Grade 7+: Discuss current global examples of ethnically-motived violence and oppression, issues of social justice, current circumstances of slavery, etc.

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0044LBCWQ/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=B0044LBCWQ&adid=11RAEP9ARA12BPRYMQ7Q&&ref-refURL=">Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry</a> By Mildred D. Taylor

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140348921/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0140348921&adid=0E1YB7ZABTZ65DZ05G5Y&&ref-refURL=">Let the Circle Be Unbroken</a> By Mildred D. Taylor

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1416905863/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=1416905863&adid=14PNNEX5V7M4GN8ES358&&ref-refURL=">Chains</a> By Laurie Halse Anderson

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0439023459/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0439023459&adid=09XWQ41412B1RZFTEFDC&&ref-refURL=">Elijah of Buxton</a> By Christopher Paul Curtis

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1572493119/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=1572493119&adid=0FHKFY7VN3R6F2B57EWC&&ref-refURL=">Lottie's Courage: A Contraband Slave's Story</a> By Phyllis Hall Haislip

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0486284999/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0486284999&adid=11YD06TWMQ9RZKZZ0XQ2&&ref-refURL=">Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass</a> By Frederick Douglass

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0689856407/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0689856407&adid=0NGDGZMG0PNP9Y7044ZZ&&ref-refURL=">Kira-Kira </a>By Cynthia Kadohata

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0375842209/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375842209&adid=0M4TH4MEGWBV26GEQWDG&&ref-refURL=">The Book Thief</a> By Markus Zusak

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307594009/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0307594009&adid=1RAGF2011T6T8TJVA9W6&&ref-refURL=">The Diary of a Young Girl</a> By Anne Frank

  • Grade 7+

    <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/043912042X/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=rageagaithemi-20&camp=213381&creative=390973&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=043912042X&adid=0XCQ58DTZ0832R2QM8DQ&&ref-refURL=">Esperanza Rising</a> By Pam Munoz Ryan

  • More on HuffPost Parents

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/03/february-2013-childrens-books-_n_2593679.html">8 Books For Black History Month And President's Day</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-handler/50-inspiring-childrens-books-with-positive-message_b_1557914.html">50 Children's Books With A Positive Message</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/devon-corneal/patriotic-books_b_1643945.html">9 Patriotic Books To Read With Kids</a>

I really want to emphasize that the books I've listed above are not just suggestions for African-American families or transracial families. I think all of us should be introducing these concepts to our kids. A study outlined in the book NurtureShock discovered that most white parents don't ever talk to their kids about race. The rule is that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don't point out skin color. We'll say things like "everybody's equal," but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it's rude to talk about it. It's kind of like the sex talk; if we never talk to our kids about sex, they are gonna have to figure it out on their own. Which will probably lead to some not-so-great influences filling in their gaps of knowledge.

Here are a few practical suggestions for developing an environment in which diversity is valued:

1. Take an inventory of your home's diversity. Are your toys sending a subtle message? Make it a point to buy dolls and action figures of every race. Watch how your kids react.

2. Be intentional in showing your children positive examples of other races in the media they watch. Some great examples are Go, Diego, Go!, Little Bill, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, Dora the Explorer, and Cooking for Kids with Luis.

3. Take inventory of your own racial biases. Be careful with the language you use around your children. Avoid making stereotypical statements or racial jokes in front of your children (or better yet, don't do it at all).

4. Look for opportunities to immerse your family in other cultures. Try to find situations where your family is the minority. This is a great stretching and empathy-building opportunity for you and your kids. Try attending a minority church event or a cultural festival. Again, observe your child's reactions and open a dialogue about how that feels.

5. Read books that depict children from other races and countries. For an incredible list of multi-cultural children's books, check out Shades of Love at Shelfari.com.

6. Just observe. Watch how your children play with children who are different, whether that difference involves skin color, gender, disability or physical difference. Talk about it. Let your child know that you are a safe person to process their feelings and reactions with, while at the same time guiding them to accept children with differences.

7. Talk to your children about racial prejudice. Ask them to recall any they have observed. Encourage them to be advocates against bullying towards children who are different.

8. Lead by example. Widen your circle of friends and acquaintances to include people from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences.

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How do you talk to your kids about race?  What books have you found to be helpful? 

 

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