Skip to content

Anti-Racist Parenting

July 17, 2008

. . .

anti racist parent banner

. . .

I phoned in to a teleseminar on Wednesday led by Carmen Van Kerckhove and Liza Talusan. They are both contributing authors at the blog where I often find provocative discussions on race, photos of multi-racial children, and lots of insightful comments made by readers. “How to be an Anti-Racist Parent: What Every Parent Should Know—And Doesn’t” was the title that they gave the teleseminar. My mom came over and played with my children so that I could close my bedroom door and pay attention to the conference call. Thank you, Mom!

There were five points on which Carmen and Liza focused.

  1. Lead by example in your daily interactions. Become a role model. Your children will internalize the messages you project when you are in the community. Actively seek out people of color who are professionals (some examples are hairstylist, doctor, dentist) so that you push the notion of who does what kind of work.
  2. Understand that your children will face racism and they will need to deal with it. You need to talk to them about it. Teach them what is offensive (slurs that might be used against them) and give them age appropriate ways to react. Challenge the Eurocentric beauty ideal in real life situations. Children absorb the message that race determines their worth and they lose confidence in themselves. Point out different textures of hair and comment on how beautiful they are. The video “A Girl Like Me” was mentioned as something to watch.
  3. Don’t pretend to be colorblind. It used to be that people said, “I don’t notice” or “I don’t care” about race, but that sentiment is misguided and unrealistic. The social construct of race is still a reality that has a strong impact on our lives. We all notice skin color, hair texture, facial features; it only becomes problematic when you pair what you notice with a judgment on the person’s intellect or make assumptions about their character, etc. Politely ignoring someone else’s identity betrays a discomfort with ethnicity in this climate of political correctness when people are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
  4. Make conversations about race relaxed and frequent; normalize it from early on. Talk about race in age appropriate ways so that it is not an awkward one-time discussion, like the “sex talk” has a reputation of being. Point out race in story books, and in television shows if you see people of color being used as accessories. Liza emphasized the importance of reading books with main characters with whom your children can identify.
  5. Work on dismantling your own racist beliefs. Uncovering your own bias is an on-going process. Keep working on yourself and come to conversations on race with a great deal of humility because you shouldn’t assume that you are someone’s ally. Each person has their own truths. Know the different interpretations and ways we see ourselves that influence our reactions to situations.

Carmen promised us a pdf handout and an mp3 recording so I will add those when they come, sometime within the next week. Please feel free to comment here about how you are teaching your children or how you see the world. Did your parents emphasize race when you were growing up? Do you avoid conversations about race with your children?

edited to add the pdf handout:

Teleseminar for Anti-Racist Parents (PDF)

and the recording:

Teleseminar for Anti-Racist Parents (MP3)

. . .

  1. July 17, 2008 6:26 pm

    I definitely brought up my kids to be anti-racist. They both have friends of every ethnic backround you can imagine. I can’t imagine bringing up kids any other way. This was a great post .The town we live in is made up of a lot of different races. We have Native Americans (The Wampanoag Tribe), Portuguese, African Americans, Jamaicans, and recently a lot of Brazilians. I just wish they had kept their wonderful food at home. We have a wonderful Brazilian restaurant that I won’t even go to because I know I would definitely forget Weight Watchers walking in the door. And of course, my daughter’s grandfather-in-law is full Japanese. We eat a lot of rice and sushi.

    “Teach your children well”

  2. Lofter permalink
    July 17, 2008 8:39 pm

    Yet another reason why blind people have an advantage…
    Great post. It reminds me of an old dc talk song that I still love.

    “A piece of canvas is only the beginning for
    It takes on character with every loving stroke
    This thing of beauty is the passion of an Artist’s heart
    By God’s design, we are a skin kaleidoscope
    We’ve gotta come together,
    Aren’t we all human after all?
    We’re colored people, and we live in a tainted place
    We’re colored people, and they call us the human race
    We’ve got a history so full of mistakes
    And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace…”

  3. July 18, 2008 12:35 am

    I think the call provided good advice overall, but I take issue with one item.

    “Actively seek out people of color who are professionals (some examples are hairstylist, doctor, dentist) so that you push the notion of who does what kind of work.”

    Intentionally selecting a professional or personal service provider based on their skin color alone is teaching the child to elevate the race of the individual over the quality of their offering. Pushing the notion of who does what kind of work can be accomplished in a variety of other means (primarily by talking to the child).

  4. July 18, 2008 9:11 am

    Hi there,

    Thanks so much for posting this great summary of the call! I’m so glad you found it valuable, and were able to join us. I’ll be sending an email out later this afternoon with the MP3 and PDF handout, just so you know.

  5. July 18, 2008 9:57 am

    Thanks for the summary! I’ll be sure to check in and follow the work you’re doing here as an anti-racist parent!


  6. July 18, 2008 1:35 pm

    That troubled me, too, Johnny.
    Many people do many things, it’s not based on color.

    More advice i would give is to turn the tv off.
    It seems that television reinforces negative ideas of the races as well as presenting a world where people of different races rarely socialize. i think socializing with a diverse group of people is key, as well as acknowledging one’s own prejudices. Many say people of different races are fine, but don’t socialize with anyone outside of their own race. Children will listen to words but learn actions more deeply.

    “Just because you’re colorblind doesn’t mean you can’t see black and white.”

  7. July 18, 2008 1:55 pm

    Joan, what a lovely comment! There were all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurants in Japan at $30 per person! It was something we did twice a year or so. Yum!

    Lofter, great lyrics! Thank you for sharing them.

    Johnny, I completely agree with you. Our doctor and our dentist are both white married men and I don’t feel the least bit bad about that. Same with my support of Ron Paul. I am going to have to talk to my children about who does important work and find out whether or not they have assumed that only white married men make decisions. When I came back from the rally my daughter said she was glad I had gone to Washington to “do important work with Ron Paul.” πŸ˜›

    Carmen, it’s wonderful that you came by to comment! Thanks for your support!

    Liza, thank you for leading the teleseminar and supporting our efforts as anti-racist parents! I am thrilled that you commented.

  8. July 18, 2008 2:11 pm

    c, I was taking a long time to comment and once I did I saw that you had commented in the meantime! Thanks for adding your thoughts. Television shows are terrible about stereotypes, except we really like Little Bill. There are some very good programs for the pre-school age group. I know the programming goes downhill as the children grow.

    When we are out socializing at the park or the library we see all kinds of people and I am constantly having to answer my daughter’s questions. It was raining and we saw two men walking on the sidewalk sharing an umbrella affectionately. My daughter, looking at them through the car window, said, “A man cannot be in love with another man!” I corrected her and said that those two men obviously did love each other. It’s hard to humble a four year old who is so sure of the ways of the world! Her comments and questions are helpful in keeping me humble too.

  9. July 18, 2008 2:25 pm

    It does, it does for sure.
    Little Bill is a good show- there are many different people on the show, which is what i like about it. Sesame Street is good for diversity as well- not as good as when i was a child watching for several social situations were addressed: class, diversity and so on- but still…

    My 8 year-old has recently started asking about homosexuality. She knows my sister is gay but i think she isn’t sure what that means. So she asks if people are gay all the time.

    The issue in my home concerning race is White people. My husband and i struggle with this because we’ve been hurt, of course, but we want for our children, and ourselves, to deal with people individually. Sometimes that is difficult for me. My husband seems to have an easier time. i want my girls to have such a strong sense of self, they realize that others’ attitudes can never take that away from them. It’s hard for me to show them that because i’ve allowed people to take me away from me several times over.

    Yes, humbling indeed.

  10. July 18, 2008 10:41 pm

    I can’t speak to having kids, but I can speak to having been raised by racist parents. Erm, racists parents who had no idea that they were racist, no less. They believe that they are not racist, which is sadly not true. I grew up in a small town that was about 99% white. I can’t say there were “race issues” growing up, because in a town of white people there was no one to conflict with. So I knew the Huxtables from TV and if I thought anything about race, it was that it started and stopped with the color of one’s skin.

    Of course, I was completely naive and ignorant, and it wasn’t for many many years that I began to learn of the reality of white privilege and institutionalized racism, etc. And that was years after I’d left that little white town and had my eyes opened to what a horribly racist place it was, filled with horribly racist people. The things that my parents say make me cringe, and we’ve had huge fights.

    My dad, for instance, after 9/11: “we should kick them all out.” uh huh. nice, dad.

    Anyway, all that to say, it is so important to address the issues of society and race head on. Obviously your kids couldn’t grow up oblivious the way I did no matter what, but you are clearly making sure that they grow up aware, secure, accepting, and that will be so huge for them, it will resonate through their entire lives.

    And I’m betting that your advocacy will impact others in your lives as well, and that will ripple….it is the only way for change to happen, and it is fantastic that you’re being so active in effecting that change.

  11. July 18, 2008 11:35 pm

    “People of color.”


    Anybody who’s ever mixed paint or played around in Photoshop knows every human being is a color. Even white is a color. And there’s no such thing as a “white” person…if you’re Caucasian, hold a piece of paper up next to your skin.

    Once we get the labels going, it’s easy to classify β€” then denigrate β€” others. As I see it, ANY discrimination (con or pro) based on the color of a person’s skin is racist: “Asian dentists are better.” Really?

    All of them?

    Then, what about sexism: “Let’s go see the lady dentist! See how smart she is?”

    Cultural descriptions might be slightly more accurate. Here in multicultural New Jersey, our population looks somewhat like a handful of river sand in a glass jar. And I’ll state (no pun intended) with certainty that the color of the sand grain can be completely unrelated to the behavior of the person.

    Socioeconomics, education level, religious beliefs are better behavioral predictors. But, even so, the offspring generation can be quite different from the parents.

    “Minority” is just as poor a descriptor. Pretty much depends on where you’re standing at the moment. In some crowds I’ve been invisible, in others, well…imagine you’re a 6′ 2″ Caucasian redhead at the International Mariachi Festival in downtown, Tucson.


    The best I think we can do is to grant every individual equality in the eyes of the law. With none “more equal” than others. Go, Ron Paul!

    And then say to our children: “We’re going to see the dentist today. Dr. (X) is looking forward to seeing you…”

  12. July 18, 2008 11:54 pm

    This was really good to read, thanks.

  13. highhopes1 permalink
    July 19, 2008 8:15 pm

    I live in Canada and we are a very multicultural country. My husband and I raise our daughter to embrace all people and celebrate the diversity in the world. We have friends of many different ethnicities and to us we don’t judge people by their skin color, religious beliefs or anything else for that matter. OMG, people are people no matter what their ethnicity and everyone deserves respect and to be treated with dignity.

    I don’t happen to agree with the one statement “Actively seek out people of color who are professionals (some examples are hairstylist, doctor, dentist) so that you push the notion of who does what kind of work.” I think in doing this you are creating a reverse racism if you will, because you are only going to that person because of the color of their skin. I go to the professional who is the most qualified and could careless if they are purple with green and yellow spots on them.

  14. July 21, 2008 9:09 am

    Interesting post FW. I admire your desire to raise your children without racism. I hope that I will also be able to teach my children discernment with people and using their own good judgement when choosing friends and associates. I hope to teach them that color is not a factor any more than a person’s tax bracket.

    So far, it hasn’t been an issue. My kids haven’t noticed that people look different from them. And it actually is not from lack of interaction, they just haven’t noticed. I guess I figure that until they do, I’d be doing them a disservice by pointing it out. Why would I point out a difference for them to take note if they have not noted it themselves, just to tell them not to note it? LOL I confused myself with that sentence. But I bet you know what I’m saying.

    While I strongly disagree with the seeking out people of different races for different professions, I’m glad the call didn’t say to ignore the differences in color or culture either. I think it’s imperative to recognize that we are different AND THATS OK! Too often, people feel they should be boxed into a cookie cutter life/job/marriage and it stifles the magic inside each of us that makes us unique and beautiful. People from different cultures are different from each other and that’s a great thing.

  15. July 21, 2008 10:44 am

    c, I appreciate the way Sesame Street was when we were children. Thanks for making the discussion interesting and for opening up about your sister and about how you’ve been treated by white people. It’s great that you recognize what happened and still make an effort to deal with each person you encounter individually.

    Deb, thank you for those affirmations! I think it’s very brave of you to discover and embrace other ways of thinking apart from those you were taught. Your comments are full of things to consider.

    Rick, perceived race can help people get ahead or leave them behind socially, even though you are right about the technicalities of color. For example, I remember when I was in the car with my parents and we saw a young woman with some grocery bags starting up a long hill to the local college campus. My dad offered her a ride and she accepted. Then when she was in the car with us, he commented that she spoke English well, which he must have thought was an innocent observation, but it was insulting. She couldn’t go to the grocery store as a person; because of her race she had to go to the grocery store as an ASIAN person. My dad voiced his judgment of her English skills and she had to suffer that embarrassment. I think race is the main factor many people use when they judge each other.

    blue milk, you’re welcome. It’s good to know that it has some relevance in your life too.

    highhopes, that is the one point that people commenting here seem to have problems with. I felt uncomfortable when Liza mentioned it during the call, as well. That’s not the way I roll.

    Chris, I do get what you are saying. I hope you are successful in teaching your children to have good judgment when choosing their friends. You may be right that you don’t need to emphasize race in your family. In my family we do. We talk a lot about assumptions, like does skin color give you any clue as to what language someone speaks or whether or not someone is “sin papeles.” It comes up a lot in daily interactions. Great comments! Thanks for sharing your point of view.

  16. July 21, 2008 1:23 pm

    You know, i worried so much about my intial reply, hoping that i didn’t hurt anyone. i enjoy people for various reasons and to the best of my knowledge, not turned anyone away based on their race.

    i just find myself cautious.

    i wanted to speak honestly because i think that fear and glibness keep all of us from making progress in the ways and depth in which folks relate to one another. If i offended anyone, i apologize.

  17. July 21, 2008 3:49 pm

    I’m glad that you spoke honestly. It would be so sad if I invited everyone to open up and comment freely, and yet people stifled their initial thoughts. c, your comments did not offend me, and I admit I am relieved that you felt comfortable enough in my blog space, for lack of a better description, to be that honest.

  18. July 21, 2008 5:32 pm

    This is another issue I could talk about for hours and hours. I live in a melting pot, I love the diversity and try always to discern from the actions/works of a person.

    I’d like to challenge everyone: Refuse to comply or stop taking the surveys that ask us about our ethnic background, economic standing, gender, whether we have kids, you know, they are every where these days. I think these types of things fan the flames and give advertisers and media more power; more power to divide and conquer as opposed to join/enjoy each other.

  19. July 21, 2008 6:05 pm

    Canvasgrey, i liked what you’ve said and agree completely.
    Being multi-racial, i always found it unfair having to choose either black, white or latino so i began checking other and elaborating on the tiny line provided to explain my “otherness”: human.

    i like so much better not to have to check anything. What difference is it supposed to make? Still, i am not one for colorblindness, i think everyone brings a beauty to the world. A gray world would be a dull, joyless world i think. You did not say that, but i just wanted to mention it.

  20. Robert permalink
    July 21, 2008 9:37 pm

    Hey Sarah! Just wanted to say hi. your blog is gathering quite a following! Very cool post – definitely food for thought. Hope you’re well. πŸ˜‰

  21. July 21, 2008 11:01 pm

    It’s funny, because I grew up in the Detroit area and there was a lot of racism there. Even my own parents would say things that made me cringe. I never understood it, why someone would feel a certain way because of a person’s race. Eventually my parents came around but not easily – I remember some pretty heated debates about it.

    I don’t have children – so it’s something I don’t have to worry about, but it is reassuring to see that we have come so much further than when I was a child.

  22. July 22, 2008 6:14 pm

    CG, I accept your challenge! Thank you for pushing us to rebel against checking a box.

    c, it makes a difference to advertisers who want to “corner the market” and politicians who want to “court the vote,” but by defining ourselves as humans we can teach them something! I like that you write “human” in the “other” line.

    Robert, thanks for saying hi. I have met some very good people on-line and I’m grateful for all their participation. I read your latest update on el barrio. Sounds like a great place!

    WC, that’s great that you and your parents reached some understanding. At least they allowed debate. Thanks for commenting!

  23. July 24, 2008 7:30 am

    Hrmmm… I have mixed feelings about most of this. It can be used for positive or negative ends. However, I really liked the last point. Anyone who says, “I am not racist!”, does not truly know themselves or aren’t honest with themselves. Knowing your own weaknesses and how to deal with them are important steps toward improvement.

    I was a member of a faithful Bible-based church that promoted itself as being multi-cultural. It was amazing to be there; however, when they worried about external impressions (i.e., how come only 20 percent of the pastors are black?) instead of God’s directives and the leading of the Holy Spirit, they sank into base behavior. Ultimately they promoted a man into power because of his charisma and the color of his skin, he was not a Christian and wreaked great havoc from within. My earlier post that referenced crises of faith was born from some of this.

    I think it is important to “judge people not on the color of their skin, but on the quality of their character”; hence, I am cautious to not seek out professional services based on race. Of course, my current living situation leaves me with limited choice. πŸ™‚

    Sesame Street certainly taught us some good stuff, but I have a funny rant about how they taught us blatant discrimination. Do you remember the game with the song about “one of these things is not the same; one of these things doesn’t belong here.” The one who is not the same should be allowed to ‘belong’, shouldn’t they? πŸ˜‰

  24. July 24, 2008 11:15 am

    Bikkuri, Ani DiFranco sings about being taught that “different was wrong” in her song My I.Q. Yes, I remember the song about not belonging from Sesame Street. Thank you for pointing that out! Your comment brings up some important things to keep in mind.

  25. Liza permalink
    August 1, 2008 6:56 pm

    Hi – Liza chiming in. I’m definitely going to blog on my site about the comment that people should “actively seek to diversify who they see as professionals in their lives.” It’s way to much to get into it in your comment section, so hopefully people will check it out in the next week or so at I’m a huge advocate of the practice of challenging notions (hence, “To Loosen The Mind”). I certainly understand the comment of “I’m going to go to someone based on their talent and not on their skin color” and the ever-so-yikes-comment about “reverse racism.” I’ll give more clarity to the push-back on those two statements. Hoping to post in the next week or so about it, so be sure to check it out! Thanks, FWM!

  26. August 3, 2008 10:00 am

    Liza, thanks for coming back to read the comments. I am really looking forward to reading more of what you meant about professionals.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: