Race…what an odd concept. It is an odd concept that is not linked to genetics but based on a few superficial things such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features-the things that can be easily noticed from a distance (but even those features
can be deceiving). This Western culture social construct dates back to the 1600s and clearly still persists today. Race has become a common label in our society and everyone wants to know what label you identify with. It’s obvious that people, not nature, defined our identities by race. But, just because you can’t classify race through biology, it doesn’t mean that “race” doesn’t exist. It does exist and everyone acknowledges it. Society asks us to define ourselves by our race every day. But as often as we are asked to define our race, we are rarely invited to discuss it. This is because race is that taboo topic no adult wants to confront. This taboo makes it a difficult topic for children to confront or engage in healthy conversations about it.
Children are rarely offered a safe space where they can comfortably ask questions and gain understanding about race. As a result, children are pushed toward a counterproductive and impossible belief that one should be “color-blind.” How can we ask a child to be blind to such visible differences? We can see them and so can children, so let’s not deny it. When someone walks into a room, you notice gender first then race. Noticing these differences isn’t wrong. Discussing racial differences with humility and compassion is healthy and necessary for understanding. The assumption that if we don’t talk about race, it will create a generation of non-prejudiced children is simply false. Denial and avoidance are what we don’t want to create in our children. It is very difficult for a child to understand that people who look and act different from them are a part of the same group. This is because children haven’t fully formed an understanding about themselves or others yet. One of the best practices for learning is questioning. If children don’t have that space for questions and feedback about their ideas, false images can form the basis of their thinking. This has the potential to perpetuate assumptions and stereotypes about other races. Picture books can be one way to shape more accurate views about racial differences-not just culturally specific books, but books that feature and celebrate different skin tones, hair textures, and facial features. This will help children embrace their visible differences and enjoy the commonalities among them. So, celebrate a child’s color by sharing a picture book that praises the “skin they’re in”!
P.S. Don’t be afraid of their questions!