Talking About Racism with Children

In June of 2020 we sat the kids down at dinner and had a discussion about racism. As homeschoolers, we often discuss racism from a historical perspective or from the perspective of inclusion of all people despite their skin color, beliefs or who they love.

On this occasion we spoke about three innocent people, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, who’s lives were cut short because of hate, violence and the color of their skin. Tears were shed as we talked about each innocent person and their horrific story of racism.  

“Mom, color shouldn’t matter, we are all human beings.” my daughter said through her tears.  I explained that we are all human beings but color does matter.  At that moment a blue jay flew by the window. “Think of the blue jay,” I said, “he is a bird but his blue feathers and unique call make him different from the other birds.  Birds come in different sizes, eat different foods, live in different habitats and come in many different colors.  Humans are just like birds in this way.  We come in many different sizes, colors, believe different things, live in different places, love in different ways and that makes us special and unique.  These differences need to be celebrated and not feared.”  

This conversation was just the beginning of our deep dive into the topic of racism and implicit bias. I cannot begin to make sense of the hate and fear in this country but I hope to raise my children to be people who are inclusive and stand up for justice.  Racism is not a political issue but a human issue.  As Drick Boyd said in his blog post, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – Why White People Need to Talk About Them, “this isn’t a black problem but a human problem.”

Racism is a sensitive and very big topic and I am by no means an expert. I am a parent, like many of you, trying to raise kids to be accepting and kind individuals who stand up for what is right. As I was doing my own research for resources to help teach my children about racism and injustice, I felt the need to share my findings with the Kids in Service community.

I always turn to books and movies as a springboard for greater conversation with my children and there are some great suggestions below. I couldn’t include all of my findings and will most likely do another post with more resources in the next few weeks.  My hope is that you will find something in this list that will help you, as you navigate this important topic with your children of all ages.

I HIGHLY recommend ALL parents watch this 13 minute Ted Talk about discussing race with your children.

Resources I Have Found

For Young Children:

1. I LOVE this video!  It is great to share with young children and then discuss how beautiful it is to live in a world with so many different kinds of hair.  The book, Hair Like Mine by LaTashia M. Perry would go along nicely with this video.

2. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz is a great book about the different skin colors in our world.  This would be a great book for ages 4 and up. From the publisher: “Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades. Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people. Karen Katz created this book for her daughter, Lena, whom she and her husband adopted from Guatemala six years ago.”

3. Same Difference by Calida Rawles is a sweet and fun book about two first cousins who consider themselves to be twins.  As the story goes on they start to notice their physical differences and become upset. Their grandmother helps them to celebrate their beauty and their differences. This book would be great for children ages 4 and up.

4. Under My Hijab by Hena Khan is a sweet and colorful story about a family of Muslim women and the the beautiful lives they lead.  This book will spark a rich discussion about what a hijab is and why some Muslim women wear them. Children will see that underneath those stylish hijab’s, are beautiful woman just like the women they know in their own lives.  This book is recommended for ages 4 and up but younger children will enjoy the comfortable rhyme and colorful pictures.

5.  And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who created a non-traditional family when zoo keepers gave them a chance to hatch and raise a motherless egg.  This beautiful book about love is recommended for kids ages 3 and up. It is a great way to introduce young children to the idea that there are many different kinds of families in this world.

6.  I, Too, Am America is Langston Hughe’s powerful poem come to life in a BEAUTIFUL children’s book.  The illustrations by Bryan Collier are incredible and they are the perfect compliment to the powerful text.  The book ends with information about Langston Hughe’s life as a brave voice for equality. This book reminds us that despite our differences, we are all AMERICAN.  I would recommend I, Too, Am America for ages 4 and up.

7. I am sharing this Oscar Winning short film for no other reason than I LOVE it!!! I cry every time I watch it and it is perfect for children ages 3 and up to enjoy.

For Children ages 6 and up:

1. This read aloud of Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins PhD is a great springboard for a discussion of racism with children ages 6 and up.  I’d preview the book before you share it with younger kids, so you are ready for the conversation that will come after listening to it.  My 13 year old thinks that older kids should watch this too.

2. Not My Idea, A Book about Whiteness is a book by Anastasia Higginbotham.  The publisher recommends this book for ages 8 and up. I’d preview the book before you share it with your children, so you are ready for the conversation that will come after listening to it. I shared it with my 10 and 13 year olds and it was a great conversation starter. For white folks who aren’t sure how to talk to their kids about race, this book is the perfect beginning. —O MAGAZINE

3. My 10 year old recommends Love Has to Win as a great movie to learn about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  This movie may be made by American Girl but it is not a movie just for girls. It is a great family movie that will spark important conversations about racism, love and standing up for what’s right.  It is FREE for those that have Amazon Prime and recommended for kids ages 7 and up.

4. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh is the true story of Sylvia Mendez and her families fight to desegregate schools in California in the 1940’s.  This book takes place 10 years before Brown vs. the Board of Education and it is recommended for children ages 6 and up.

5. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is on our family’s summer reading list.  Though it takes place in the early 1900’s, so many of the themes in the book are still present today.  This will be an excellent book to read aloud as a family and will spark rich discussions about racism.  This book is recommended for ages 9 and up.   From the publisher: When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this New York Times bestselling Depression-era “novel that soars” (The New York Times Book Review) that School Library Journal called “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.

6.  Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj is a story told in two voices, Karina (an Indian-American middle school student) and Chris (her caucasian neighbor and classmate).  This book is recommended for ages 10 and up.  From the publisher: “Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door–after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens–the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Her grandfather is gravely injured and Karina and Chris vow not to let hate win. When Karina posts a few photos related to the attack on social media, they quickly attract attention, and before long her #CountMeIn post–“What does an American look like? #immigrants #WeBelong #IamAmerican #HateHasNoHomeHere”–goes viral and a diverse population begin to add their own photos. Then, when Papa is finally on the road to recovery, Karina uses her newfound social media reach to help celebrate both his homecoming and a community coming together.”

7. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr is the story based on the author’s own story of fleeing Germany in 1933 as a small girl.  Her family is Jewish and they face many challenges as refugees as they go from Switzerland to France and then to England.  This book is recommended for children ages 8 and up but given that this story takes place during the Holocaust there are sensitive themes and events that may be too much for younger children.  Click HERE to listen to Judith Kerr talk about the book and her life.  From the publisher: “Based on the gripping real-life story of the author, this poignant, suspenseful middle-grade novel has been a favorite for over forty years. Perfect for Holocaust Remembrance Month. Anna is not sure who Hitler is, but she sees his face on posters all over Berlin. Then one morning, Anna and her brother awake to find her father gone! Her mother explains that their father has had to leave and soon they will secretly join him. Anna just doesn’t understand. Why do their parents keep insisting that Germany is no longer safe for Jews like them? Because of Hitler, Anna must leave everything behind.”

8.  Ruby Bridges is the true story of 6 year-old Ruby who was the first African American child picked to integrate into a white New Orlean’s public school.  Common Sense Media recommends this movie for children ages 10 and up.  Click HERE for the read aloud of The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.  I would recommended this book for children ages 5 and up.

9. I LOVE sports films and Remember the Titans is one of my favorites.  This movie is based on a true story of two high schools integrating after segregation ended in the south. The movie follows the integration of the football team and is a powerful story of racism, acceptance, respect and teamwork.   This movie is rated PG and recommended for ages 10 and up.

Resources for Talking with Teens:

1. This video brought my daughter and I to tears.  Tyler Merritt is an actor/writer and performer and in this powerful video, he wants you to get to know him “before you call the cops.”  This video is so simple and yet so POWERFUL.  It is a short clip and I’d recommend it as a discussion starter for ages 9 and up.

2. Looking for a way to start your discussion of racism with your teens?  Start with these videos and conversation starters put together by the Parents Coalition of the Bay Area High Schools. It is a step by step process to help you and your teens have a rich discussion about Implicit Bias and Racism.  Click HERE to access this amazing resource.

3. Dear Martin by Nic Stone is recommended for high school students. From the publisher: Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

4.  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is recommended for 8th grade and up.  This book has also been made into a movie. From the publisher: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

5.  All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is another powerful book for kids in 8th grade and up.  This trailer was made by a student for their English project.  From the publisher: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

6. This lesson plan from the New York Times was designed for a classroom but can easily be done at home with your teens.  They start off with the same Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism video that the lesson plan put out by the Parents Coalition of the Bay Area High Schools use (see #2 above).  They then share 4 teens first encounters with racism and provide discussion questions for each short story.  Follow up discussion questions and activities are then provided.  I plan on taking my teen through these exercises this summer.

7. This Teen Vogue Article talks to teens about how they can take anti-racist action through education and community involvement.

8. In this video from 1993, Toni Morrison talks honestly with Charlie Rose about racism and her own experiences with it.  This is one of Toni’s many inspirational interviews that you can find on YouTube.

9.  They Called Us Enemy is a graphic novel about the heartbreaking true story of George Takei and his time in a Japanese Relocation center during WWII.  This book is recommended for children ages 13 and up.  From the publisher: “They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.”

Additional Resources for Parents:

1. This powerful and heartbreaking Ted Talk from Jim White is about his 53 years of discrimination in this country.  This would be a great video to share with your older children. “Bringing reflections and the reality of race relations in USA, Jim White Sr. provides a lens that goes back 53 years from his first experience with discrimination, coupling it with how he’s struggling to provide counsel to his grandsons facing the same bias. This talk was the first time he’s shared this provocative and heartbreaking story in public after his decision to be silent no more.”

2. Talking Race with Young Children–NPR Talk

3. Talking to White Kids about Race & Racism–A Podcast from Safe Space Radio

4. The Guardian: How Should Parents Teach Their Kids about Racism (an article for middle school and teen parents)

5. Time Magazine Article: Why White Parents Need to Do More Than Talk to Their Kids About Racism

6. Click HERE for a list of movies from Common Sense Media that tackle racism.  Each movie listed has a description and a recommended age level.

7. 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice–This article has a wealth of suggestions and resources of ways you and your family can educate yourself and jump into action to help with racial justice in our country.  There are action steps, movie recommendations, book recommendations and so much more.

8. Raising White Kids, Bringing Up Children In A Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey is “a book for families, churches, educators, and communities who want to equip their children to be active and able participants in a society that is becoming one of the most racially diverse in the world while remaining full of racial tensions. For white people who are committed to equity and justice, living in a nation that remains racially unjust and deeply segregated creates unique conundrums.” I just purchased this non-political book from Audible to help me navigate the discussions I am currently having with my children about race in age appropriate ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s