Talking With Children About Racism

Talking about racism is a crucial way to eradicate it – and one that can be committed as early as childhood.

Because children naturally have a sense of justice, it is appropriate and important to talk to them about discrimination in age-appropriate ways as well. You can find out how to do this without overburdening your child, as well as lots of helpful information on the subject, here.

Terminology

First, let’s clarify two important terms that will help you when learning about racism.

The term BIPoC, which comes from English, is a self-designation of or for people who experience racism. The acronym stands for Black (Black people), Indigenous, and People of Color. The self-designation has emancipatory relevance for BIPoC because, after centuries of oppression, it is not a characterization by the oppressor but by themselves.

Contrarily, whiteness does not denote the real skin color of a person, but the existence of privileges in the white-majority society.

Racism In Our Society

The apartheid system in South Africa, racial segregation in the United States, or National Socialism in Germany are taught about in school, usually in higher grades. These systems, which date back less than a hundred years, were based on racist ideologies, which were used to justify discriminatory and inhumane laws.

But racism does not stop in history.

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Although Article 3 of our Basic Law prohibits “unequal rights based on various criteria such as origin, faith, gender, etc.”, BIPoC encounters discrimination and disadvantage in institutions or in everyday life.

In a study by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, more than two-thirds of all respondents with an immigrant background said they were disadvantaged when looking for housing. Non-white people also encounter racism in other areas, such as the labor market or public institutions.

What Can I Do To Counter Prejudice?

Prejudices and racist ideas are not innate but are learned. In the same way, they can also be unlearned. In order to convey solidarity with those affected and to counteract prejudice, there are a few things you can do. We present some tips that you can implement directly.

Talk Openly About Experiences

It is important that everyday racism, which even children can be confronted with, is made visible. No matter if your child or your child’s friends have had experiences with racism – convey to your child that it is right to talk about it. Often a child can’t tell where racism begins and ends, such as when jokes are made at the expense of others.

Those affected should never be pressured to report racist hostility or the like, but a safe framework should be created in which people with experiences of racism are listened to and taken seriously.

Education

Anti-racist education in an age-appropriate form is appropriate for every child. Schools sometimes have programs on this topic, but parents can also do a lot to further their education.

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First of all, it is advisable to inform oneself about racism and its historical background. You can watch age-appropriate videos together with children; the info film on racism from the Federal Agency for Civic Education is recommended

The book “The Book of Anti-Racism” by Tiffany Jewell deals with racism, its history, and what can be done against it. The book is particularly suitable for (school) children due to the illustrative and appealing illustrations as well as the age-appropriate language. Both children who have already had experiences with racism and children who are not themselves affected by racism can use this book to learn.

For older children, we recommend reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. In the book or film of the same name, the issue of police violence in the U.S. is made visible and told through a fictional story that can be seen as representative of real-life situations.

Answering Questions

Last year, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer received a great deal of media attention. The video of the crime went viral and resulted in people around the world showing solidarity and protesting against police violence and institutionalized racism.

Of course, children are already aware of such news. It is important that you answer the questions your child may ask and explain the background behind such acts without overwhelming him or her.

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For example, you can explain that it is very difficult to rid people of prejudice and racist thinking. Convey that such thinking is wrong and that it is important to help oppressed people.

Identity and Diversity

For children and young people who live in Germany and have a migration background, sooner or later the question of their own identity and where or to whom they feel they belong often arises. This looks different for everyone, some may not ask this question at all or only for themselves, others have concrete questions that they ask openly.

Talk to your child about your background or share experiences if they ask questions.

Integration and equal values and norms as a basis are important for living together in a society. However, it is just as important to continue language or traditions of your own origin and not to forget them. A diverse society benefits from shared values, but also from different cultures.

Diversity and variety are a great enrichment for society and should therefore be represented in the media and in the environment.

The Power Of Language

Language changes. Anyone who has consciously experienced changes in language or spelling knows how difficult it is to unlearn something. It is harder to unlearn certain terms or thoughts than it is to learn them. Therefore, it is important that you set a good example and take care from the beginning not to reproduce discriminatory language so that your children can learn from you.

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Terms such as the N-word should be taboo, as this reproduces the language of the oppressor and BIPoC has had traumatic experiences with this term.

Idioms and other terms that at first glance are not meant to be racist can also be avoided. For example, most probably associate the pencil “skin color” with the pencil with beige color. This designation and association imply that light skin color is the “normal” skin color and anything deviating from it is not. Instead of Mohrenkopf, you can use the word Schokokuss.

Avoiding certain terms can be unfamiliar at first, but it is important for change to occur.

Conclusion: Being Ally

Ally means ally – that’s exactly what you can be and be a role model for your child in this regard.

This means that you stand in solidarity with people who are affected by racism and actively inform them about racism. If you see someone being treated unfairly, stand behind that person and encourage others to do the same.

Books and information videos on the subject that you can watch together with your child are helpful. You can also make sure to use non-discriminatory language so that your child learns to think and act anti-racist from the beginning.

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