Being Antiracist with Kids

As a white researcher and teacher, I know I am susceptible to implicit bias. Even though I am committed to antiracism, my upbringing included plenty of exposure to stereotypes that are still buried deep in my unconscious. That means I have to reflect regularly on my assumptions and behavior to make sure that those old messages aren’t creeping into my work with children.

Black educators like equity consultant Hedreich Nichols make that task easier by laying out several steps white teachers can take to be antiracist. She emphasizes that racial equity is a goal we can achieve through intentional activities that address implicit bias and build cultural competency.

One step is training ourselves to use bias-free language. If we are wondering how to refer to a person of color or racial group, we can ask them what terminology they would like us to use. We might invite children and families to describe themselves and notice the language they use: Black, Latina, Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic, African American, Korean, Filipino, etc. When reading picture books, we can encourage children to describe the characters and adopt the racial labels they offer.

We can also learn more about Black and other racial cultures by watching movies and shows geared to non-white audiences. While the entertainment industry often reinforces stereotypes, popular shows written and directed by people of color can offer insight into how communities of color negotiate everyday racism with wit and wisdom. Binge watch episodes of Black-ish (or its young adult spinoff, Grown-ish), tune into a popular BET or Univision series, or follow Queen Latifah in her starring role as The Equalizer.

Another way we can improve our cultural competence is through researching race-related content online. Check out Staceyann Chin’s YouTube show, LivingRoomProtest, which features an Afro-Chinese-Jamaican mother talking with her daughter about a wide range of social issues. Or visit sites like Black Voices, The Root, and Palabra to read news stories and commentaries from non-white perspectives.

Creating a racial justice action plan can also contribute to personal transformation. When we identify ways to donate and volunteer in the name of racial equity, we have tangible evidence of how we are making a difference. These experiences focus our attention on change and can serve as models for other educators, as well as the children we serve. They might even become opportunities for shared action with our kids.

Throughout our efforts to become antiracist, it’s necessary to pay attention to our feelings. Many people feel most comfortable around people who seem like them. As long as this preference doesn’t create an ‘insider’ vs. ‘outsider’ mentality, it can be a normal part of life. But too often feelings of discomfort are blamed on the ‘other’ who ‘causes’ our uneasiness. When feelings become reasons to dismiss, judge, or exclude, we need to ask ourselves whether and how prejudice is involved.

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