I’m a big believer that the way your kids react and treat others is an extension of you. How I talk about current events, treat other people – every action I do – my kids can follow. It starts at home, and as such, this is where we all need to start. There are learned behaviors that kids will inherit and practice when they become adults, and I do believe that being racist is one of them.
I remember in one of my first communication classes in college, we had a section that talked about studies where babies recognized differences in skin color. At a young age, our brains are already working to find those who look like us and noticing who does not. I remember when I was younger, and with pictures and videos my parents have kept, I was surrounded by diversity. My parents had not just Asian friends, but friends of all origins and skin colors. I believe that has shaped me into who I am today. It taught me early on to not only see color, but recognize it is what makes us all beautiful.
However, just because I grew up that way, does not mean others were exposed to diversity. Let’s be real, I live in Minnesota where I am a minority. I recognized this early in school, especially when people would mistake me for being Chinese or Japanese (no one knew Vietnamese for some reason). I noticed when friends would “joke” and make squinty eyes to match my smaller eyes. I was taught to brush it off, move on, it’s just a stupid joke. As I grew up, I knew this was wrong, I knew it was racism, intentional or not. I knew this in college when prospective students’ families would remark how good my English was, making the assumption I was an International Student. I remembered surprised faces when I would say I was born in Minnesota. Again, I used to just brush it off when students from small towns would say I was the first Asian person they ever met and would ask questions like, “Did I know the football player who played for the Dallas Cowboys because he had the same last name as mine?” I would politely say “no” and explain that my last name was like Johnson in Minnesota, and that would be the end of it.
I am lucky though. I never had to feel scared or watch what I said or did because of my race. Not like my black friends. I would be there and watch how they would be denied getting into a bar or club because their outfit wasn’t right, even though myself or another non-black person with us was wearing the very same thing. We knew what was happening, we chose not to fight it because we knew we didn’t want police involved. We would walk away and find another spot to hang out at.
It’s something we’ve always lived with, part of life right? Everything changed when we had our own kids. My oldest noticed early when he started school that he looked different from his friends. We realized early on that we’d be open with him as he got older if he had questions, but I never thought of being proactive with it. For us though, it started early on when he asked us if he could become an American citizen. My son, who was born in Minnesota, asked us if he could become one and not realizing he was one.
I believe that we start the teaching at home on how to be anti-racist. Yes, we have all different skin colors, but we have taught our boys that different is what makes us unique. It is what makes you who you are and you need to embrace that in yourself and in your friends and family around you. We never told them “not to see color.” Instead, we taught them to notice it and embrace it. It’s been difficult these past few years especially, to have to continue to reinforce with our oldest. Most recently, having to explain that just because he is Asian, does not mean he will get COVID-19. Explaining that our black community is hurting and we need to support them and learn and listen to why this is happening.
I know it starts with me. I will be the one to teach anti-racism to my sons. I will be the one to make sure they understand how words and actions can be perceived. How they can hurt if you don’t understand the history of where it comes from. My oldest is curious and at the age where he is always wanting to learn more. To do this, my husband and I have committed to continue to look to the resources that we’ve been seeing to teach our boys what being racist means and how we don’t want to be that. Our actions will continue to speak louder than our words and we need to understand that anti-racism is practiced. It’s not easy and prejudices always surface, no matter how good you think you are. We need to continue to talk about it, learn about it, and practice it in our actions and our words.
For our family, movies and books have been a go-to for us. Here are some of the ones that I’ve tapped into, along with resources that have been compiled by the Twin Cities Mom Collective group…
- Pretty Good Design | Your Kids Aren’t Too Young To Talk About Race
- Embrace Race
- Parents.com | Anti-Racism for Kids
- Rossier Online Classroom Conversations
Resources for Parents
- Coretta Scott King’s Book Award Winners
- PBS for Parents | Teaching Your Child About Black History Month
- The Conscious Kid on Instragram
- How to Speak Up at School
- Anti-Racism Resources
Movies & Television
- The Hate U Give
- Just Mercy
- Sesame Street & CNN | Coming Together: Standing Up To Racism
This list of resources is just the beginning. Please let us know what you have found useful in the comments below!