Race & Racism

BHM Series #9: Three Simple Ways to Address Skin Color Bias with Kids

In honor of Black History Month, I’m reposting this previous series. A few years ago, (2015 to be exact!) I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American History. This year I finally reached my goal!!! Check out my original post below which appeared on February 13, 2015. To see more posts in this series, click here.

This month, I am especially excited to learn more about the African-Americans who have made our country great. And, as I mentioned in post a while back, Black History Month isn’t just about celebrating the contributions of African-American heroes and heroines. It’s also about raising awareness about the harmful effects of racial inequality in our country.

One of the most powerful steps we can take this month is to examine the effects of internalized bias on the way we view the world and share these conversations with our loved ones and in our communities. In my search for knowledge, I am coming across some great resources that I’d like to share with you!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know kids as little as 36 months show a preference for playing with lighter-skinned playmates. Toddlers are not too young to pick up subtle yet negative messages about race from neighbors, friends and family members, and from the media at large. Even if you live in a diverse city or send your kid to a diverse school, there is no guarantee that your child is not being exposed to negative messages about race. How do you prevent your child from internalizing the racist messages that are so prevalent in our society? How do you do this in developmentally appropriate ways?

The in several upcoming posts in this series, I’ll share simple, developmentally appropriate ways to counteract internalized bias with your kids:

Talk about Skin Color

It may seem obvious, but teaching your child appropriate ways to talk about ethnic differences in appearance is a first step in talking with young children about race. Nonetheless, many white families shy away from this topic thinking that it’s “rude” to notice race. Remember, it’s not rude to notice if someone has blonde hair or green eyes. Why is it rude to notice the color of one’s skin?

Po Bronson discusses this phenomenon in his book, Nurture Shock. If you want to know more about “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race”, AskMoxie.org has a good summary and discussion of the topic. And be sure to read the comments!)

Remember, if YOU don’t talk about it, your child will learn about race from their misinformed peers, the media, etc. If you want a great developmentally appropriate way to start talking about skin color with little kids, go out and buy different color crayons. Encourage your child to draw friends of all colors.

Be prepared: If you haven’t done this before, this activity may open up lots of interesting (and possibly uncomfortable) conversations about race with your kids. You may be upset by what you hear at first. Remind yourself, this is to be expected. We are all exposed to a deluge of racist and stereotypical images each day. Children are no exception. We may feel embarrassed when our kids say prejudiced or biased things. That’s OK. Just remember, you can’t reframe incorrect assumptions if you AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THEM. 

…you can’t reframe incorrect assumptions if you AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THEM

When I first introduced my girls to multi-cultural crayons they told me they preferred long blonde hair and blue eyes like the princesses in their stories. They didn’t like darker skinned girls because the “pretty” girls they saw in books at school and in the toy stores were mostly light-skinned. It was really uncomfortable for me to hear them say these things. Nonetheless, I kept the conversation going. I asked more questions and introduced the idea that we had friends and family members of all different colors, shapes and sizes. I asked, “Don’t you think all our friends and relatives are beautiful in their own ways?” I encouraged them to draw princesses and super-heroines that reflected the beauty of the girls and women in our world. Over time, I started seeing portraits of heroines in all varieties of skin colors.

If you are adventurous, you can make this a real art project and mix your own paint colors like the mother and daughter do in this great book: The Color of Us. Buy the book or share this fun video of the book with your child:

Two other great books are All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hanamaka and Whoever You Are – Written by Mem Fox, Read by Kate Verrall

Talk to Your Children about Skin-Color Bias

If you have school aged children, watch this clip from the the CNN study on racial bias with your kids:

Ask your kids whether they agree or disagree with the attitudes that the children in the video express. Explain to them that we all learn messages about other people based on what we hear friends and family say, and what we see on TV and what we read in books. Explain that some of the messages we get about dark-skinned people are untrue. Ask your kids why they think the kids in the study might express biased opinions about the dark-skinned children in the pictures. Do they hear similar attitudes expressed at school? Can they think of real people, characters in books or heroes to contradict these negative ideas about black and brown-skinned people? What might they say to their friends if they hear them make similar comments?

Share Positive Messages about Black Beauty

“My one prayer to God, the miracle worker was that I would wake up lighter skinned.” – Lupita Ngo

Lupita Ngo, an ESSENCE Breakthrough Performance Award-winner speaks about true beauty, self-confidence and what it means to see reflections of ourselves celebrated in the media.

If we are not dark skinned we make take it for granted that we don’t see ourselves in the larger culture. It is important for all people to talk about and celebrate the beauty of black people, both in our outer appearance and the unique qualities that make us even more beautiful inside.

Ask your child, “What attributes do you think make someone pretty or handsome? What black features are beautiful? Which personality characteristics make someone beautiful inside. Which black people or celebrities represent inner/outer black beauty? Why?”

What are you doing to reframe negative messages about black people? How are you exposing yourself and your family to positive images of black culture? Please share your ideas, resources and comments below!

Want more ideas? Check out these related reads: Diversify your Child’s Toy ChestWhat Color Crayons are in Your Coloring Box?Books that Get the Conversation Started

Related Reads: Click here to view more posts in this series.

My homework assignment: Inspired by an SNL’s skit, I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American culture and heritage (roughly one for each day of the month)… Do you have a great resource to share? Post it in the comments or email me!

If you found this post informative, can you please share it? Thank you!

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