6 Ways How To Teach Kids About Racism

The topic of racism is hot in the media right now all over the world and I believe that this is something that we need to bring to the attention of our children. As a white mother living in South Africa it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids about racism. Yes there activists trying to make a difference and there are protests but the real change is going to come about when our children do things differently to the way that we have done things and to the way that things have been done in the past.

This is a topic that I have wanted to cover for a long time and I am so pleased that Keri-Lee Stroebel and Laura-kim le Roux were both able to join me live on Facebook and Youtube to discuss this with me.

Please note that I am aware of the live guest that popped in and out to say “white power” – I did not catch what was said during the live video, I only caught it when I watched the video later when writing this post. It is upsetting, but honestly not that surprising. This is exactly the ugly and nasty behaviour we are trying to stop through teaching our children the right way to behave.

***Disclosure -The links in this post may contain affiliate links and I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on a link.*** 

How To Teach Kids About Racism

Introduction To Live Guests

Keri-Lee Stroebel

Keri-Lee was a professional freelance digital marketer but decided that she no longer wanted to do that anymore and she has started baking. She got involved in social activism and social justice about four years ago when she entered Mrs South Africa and she realized that there was a lot that she wanted to talk to the youth about.

She got involved with the South African Council for Business Women and became a speaker for the South African Anxiety and Depression Association and she is now very active in the racism space. She is also a theater actress and involved in many different things.

I can’t remember how or when I met Keri-Lee but I became friends with her on Facebook a few years back and I follow what she is up to and all the (very often heated) discussions online.

Laura-kim le Roux

Laura-Kim blogs at Harassed Mom – she is a mom of four, two teenagers, a nine year old and a six year old. She also runs an online digital marketing agency that helps small businesses with their social media.

Her two teenagers are people of colour which means that racism is something her family has had to live with and something she was not expecting as a white mother. Her sixteen year old daughter is a Black Lives Matter activist which has opened up a lot of conversations around racism in their home.

I’ve followed Laura-Kim’s blog for a while and when I read one of her tweets a while back I wanted to ask her to join me for a video on racism. She shared how she went into a shop with her teenage son and she was ignored but the security were watching her son like a hawk. Reading that made my heart break, it is not what any mother wants for her children but this is the reality that many mothers live with.

How To Teach Kids About Racism

As a white person growing up in South Africa I was not aware of racism until I was in standard five (now grade 7). It was 1991 and the first time that people of colour were allowed to go to previously white only schools.

An Indian girl joined our class and I can’t remember exactly what happened but there were some incidents of racism that occurred. I remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed. Part of it was embarrassment and sadness for this girl having to go through that, but I believe that a big part of how I felt was that I never did or said anything to stand up for this girl.

While I did not do or say anything nasty to her the fact that I did nothing was not right and still sits with me.

We are now in 2020 and we live in the rainbow nation. It is important for me to ensure that my children are not racist, that they know and understand what racism is and that they stand up for others.

Multiracial family

Teaching Values Through Our Own Behaviour

The very first thing we need to do to teach our kids about racism is to change the way that we are doing things. To acknowledge where we have gone wrong and to ensure that through our own behaviour our children grow up with the right values.

I was a white child growing up in the time of Apartheid and while there was no racism in our home the fact that everything was segregated says something. My reality as a child and the reality of another child that is a person of colour was completely different.

I need to carefully look at the way that I conduct myself and ensure that I am a good role model for my children. I need to be the person that I would like my children to grow up into.

Recognizing Teachable Moments

There are teachable moments everywhere if you make it a priority to teach your children about racism.

A good example to share with you all is last year when my daughter asked me why only brown people want to work at Checkers. I was standing at the till and trying to pay while my son was running around like a lunatic so I told her that I cannot answer her question right now because it was not a simple, one sentence answer.

When we got home I sat her down and I explained to her about the inequality in our country, about racism and many more things that came up. We even spoke about Mandela and how he had been in prison for 27 years before becoming our president. I told her about apartheid and how people of colour were not allowed in the same shops, the beaches or the same schools.

My daughter was very disturbed and upset by the conversation. She asked me about her friends, which I am proud to say reflect the rainbow nation of our country. She wanted to know if they had been discriminated against. I told her that I am sure that they had at some stage.

I did not share these things with her to upset her, but I felt that she needed to know that things are not always as they seem at face value. The people that she thought wanted to work at Checkers probably don’t have many other options available to them.

Laura-Kim is quite involved with charities and often goes into townships and she takes her kids with her. There have been some amazing discussions that come out of these trips as they live in the suburbs and are quite sheltered. This way her children see how other people live and to get some empathy. It gives an opportunity to explain the inequality and why things are how they are now.

I know that talking about race can be very sensitive and you may not be comfortable with it, but the more the topic is spoken about the easier it will get and the better the world will be.

Boys hugging

Why It’s Important To Stand Up Vocally Against Racism

Racism is still such a widespread problem. If we want to combat this problem we don’t have the option of staying quiet. Change does not happen by staying quiet, and being quiet when we see something that is wrong is being complicit.

I have not really witness someone being directly racism to another person to their face, however what I often encounter is when someone says something to me about another person that is racist.

For example I have had someone tell me they are concerned about the amount of dark kids in the class and I have also had someone comment on how many friends I have or my kids have that are people of colour. This type of thing is upsetting and I find that it is important for me to say how I feel about that.

We may not change how someone else behaves but we need to show our children that we stand up.

How We Can Encourage Schools To Get Actively Involved

Our children spend so much time in school and they are taught about bullying, being kind, sex education and more. I just find it really strange that the topic of racism, race and the history of our country’s fight for freedom is not being proactively addressed in schools.

I asked my daughter if she has ever been taught anything in school about racism and I was disappointed to find out that she has not.

It is not enough to wait for an incident of racism to occur before addressing it – this is something that should be tackled head on. Perhaps we as parents should be addressing this with the PTA and the school board to see how we can address this properly?

Teaching Our Children About Politics and The Importance Of Voting

This is something that Laura-kim and Keri-Lee stressed in the video and it is very important. We need to teach our children about politics and encourage them to properly research what each political party truly stands for by reading their manifesto.

There are so many people that vote by doing what our parents did before us, or we take note of the tweets or social media discussions. This does not give a true reflection of what each party stands for. Social media is not the right place to get your information and base your decisions.

We need to encourage our children to take an interest in how things work and make up their own minds for what they want for our country and to vote for what they believe in.

Resources

There are many fantastic resources where you can learn more about the history of our country and about racism, as well as fantastic resources to help you teach your kids about racism.

I Write What I Like by Steve Biko

Bantu Stephen Biko was an anti-apartheid activist who was at the forefront of the Black Consciousness Movement. He was arrested in 1977 and beaten to death by state security officers at the age of 31. His book I Write What I Like contains a selection of his writings.

Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

There is no need to introduce Nelson Mandela, his book Long Walk To Freedom is his autobiography sharing his early life, coming of age education and his 27 years spent in prison.

We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun

This book recounts the murder of Amy Biehl, an American scholar and anti-Apartheid activist. It goes into the life in townships, Apartheid and South Africa in general.

Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice

This is a book that follows two families, one black and one white, as they talk about the shooting of a black man by police in their community. The book is aimed at answering questions that children have about such traumatic incidents and to assist children in identifying and countering racial prejudice and injustice in their own lives.

This book includes guidelines for caregivers and parents for discussing racism and race with children.

Whoever You Are

This book teaches children that while we may not look the same, speak the same language or have the same culture we are all the same inside. It teaches children about tolerance, accepting our differences, recognizing similarities and rejoicing in both.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

This is a beautiful book by actress Lupito Nyong’o that inspires children to see their own beauty. It is about Sulwe that has the darkest skin in her family and her school and the magical journey she goes on that changes the way she sees herself.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Curry

This lovely book is written by Matthew A Curry, award winning director and former NFL player, and beautifully illustrated by Vashti Harrison. It shows the love of a black father for his daughter and how he gives his daughter a special hair style to help her self-confidence.

Black Is A Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

This book is about a child that reflects on what it means to be black. It covers black culture, history and a legacy.

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18 comments

  1. This is an awesome read, thank you for covering this. Its a sensitive topic that can not be ignored at all cost

  2. This is so important indeed. I hope many parents take the time to read this.

  3. Thomas Priest ketulo

    So how do we teach black children for them to understand racism because most of the parents don’t teach their children about racism ,buy anyway thank you for bringing out that topic about racism.

    • All children should learn about racism, the focus here was on white children as we have been born into white privilege. There are some books added to the bottom of this post that will help teach about racism.

  4. Thank you for covering a very important and relevant topic!

  5. Amelia-Amy Japhtha

    My kids, especially my son was bullied at school because he was not willing to choose. He told the bullies to beat him but everyone’s lives on the school ground matters to him. After that the bullies got expelled and my son are still friends with all race💖

  6. This is extremely helpful to help parents and kids navigate the complex issue of racism! great read

  7. Very interesting and important. Thank you so much Lynne! 🙏🏻

  8. Thank you this was very helpful and insightful. I love adding to our home library, so will get some of these titles.

  9. It’s important for all children to learn about racism. The way children understand the world evolves as they grow, however it’s never too late to talk to them about racism. We need to teach our children that we are unique and that’s amazing. We are all human.

  10. This is very impotant and vital for my kids to know. They are 4 and 5 and due to corona and comorbidities they are homeschooled and dont interact much with kids now. Thank you for this post it certainly helps

  11. This is a sensitive issue but it needs to be dealt with thank you so much.

  12. This was actuality really insightful. As a teacher I liked how you incorporated how schools play such a big role. Ee try to teach and reinforce this everyday, as children speak what is taught at home, which most of the time is actually really negative about other races and how they shouldn’t mix and play with them. So thank you for this, I’ll be using it and studying it but further over the weekend.

    • I’m so glad you found this helpful Saajidha, it is so sad to hear that there is so much negativity that you encounter. As a teacher you can make such a difference. I just wish that this was properly incorporated into schools to teach about racism. I believe that would make such a positive impact.

  13. This is a very interesting read, thank you. This is an extremely sensitive topic but it’s so important to teach our younger generations, to see each other without prejudices

  14. A very great read ,very educational,loved it

  15. We had an amazing oppurtunity to teach our daughter about racism and our country’s history (apatheid etc) recently during lockdown. My husband is a sailor and has know Neal Peteresen since the 80s. They have kept in contact over the years – Neal having lived overseas all those years. Neal was the first man of colour to complete the round the world BOC Single Handed yacht race. He built his boat himself on a shoe string budget her in Cape Town and sailed it single handed to the UK where he set about finding sponsorship to enter this race and fufill his dream. Support was NOT forthcoming from South Africa as this was pre-1994!
    Anyway, as ‘luck’ would have it’, Neal and his wife were stuck in South Africa when we went into lockdown. Neal made contact as they were stuck in their air B&B home bored and with no company – we ended up having several visits with them (yes, we broke the rules). I borrowed Neal’s autobiography, No Barriers, which I read myself and then decided to read to our daughter, 9 years old. In the first 3 or 4 chapters Neal goes in to details of what it was like to grow up in Apartheid SA and how his mom, an activist, was treated – their house raided in the dead of night etc.
    What an amazing opportunity for my daughter to learn this history, especially written by someone who she had met and really liked. She was in utter disbelief that his life was what it was (Neal and my hubby are the same age) and how it could have been so. Obviously this brought up many a chance to chat about racism of all kinds, what it is all about, why it happens, etc, etc.
    Needless to say, although my very fair, very blonde child sees that people have different colour skins and different hair, she sees them as equals and in her words “they are just people with the same feelings and the same dreams”.

    • Hi Cindy, what an amazing opportunity for your daughter to meet Neal Petersen and to get to read his book! Thank you for sharing this experience with us Cindy, I must get his read his book. Thanks for the recommendation, I love it when my readers add great resources to my posts.

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