Talking to Kids About Race

Are you wondering how to talk to young kids about race? I’m so pleased to welcome Jasmine Bradshaw to the podcast today to share her insights. Jasmine and her husband Carter are the voices behind the podcast First Name Basis. Her work is a resource that I will return to time and time again.

Be sure to subscribe to her show and follow her on Instagram.

Show Notes/Links:

Denaye Barahona: Hi there and welcome to episode 221. Our topic for today is how to talk to kids about race. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Denaye Barahona: Thanks so much in Denaye here. And this week I am participating in the amplify melanated voices movement. If you're not familiar with that is it is a dedicated week to make space and amplify the voices of people of color in doing so. It is my hope that I can help to connect you to the people who have been doing real important work in the fields of diversity and inclusion and racism. That means this week on social media and on the podcast, you won't be hearing my own content and my voice. Instead, I'll be lifting up and introducing you to the content of others. Now, in many ways, this feels like the right thing to do, but I'll also tell you, it feels kind of like the easy thing to do because as a white person talking about my own implicit racial bias and my own ignorance around racism is uncomfortable and it's hard, but it's something that I'm committed to continue talking about and continue working through as well.

Denaye Barahona: So while I'm thrilled to be able to amplify the voices of others who have already been doing this work and have so much to offer, I'm also not letting myself off easy here. I am still going to be doing the work, and I'm still going to be on this journey right along with many of you listening to me now, with that being said, I want to introduce you to Jasmine Bradshaw. Jasmine is brand new to me. I really just discovered her podcast in the past few days, but I'll tell you, after listening to a few episodes, she already feels like a friend. Jasmine is the mother of a young girl and a former elementary school teacher turned diversity inclusion and racial awareness advocate and educator in her podcast First Name Basis she uses her education, her life experience, research and knowledge to help families move from good intentions to action.

Denaye Barahona: In the introductory episode of the podcast, Jasmine and her husband discuss how they intend to make First Name Basis a community where we can say the wrong thing sometimes, but we can lovingly hold each other accountable and learn, which I think is so important. I personally believe that we can't let our progress be limited by our fears and discomfort. So I'm so grateful for Jasmine for creating a community like this, where we can learn together. So this week Jasmine is taking over the podcast. I am literally doing what is the podcast equivalent of resharing or reposting one of her early episodes, which is how to talk to young children about race. Jasmine really delivers. In this episode, she nails it on the child development topics. She brings some real tried and true tips for implementation and strategy. And I think you'll pretty quickly see that she is approachable, knowledgeable, and a voice that you definitely need to have in your life.

Denaye Barahona: So make sure you jump over to her podcast, First Name Basis, and click subscribe, and also find her on Instagram. Also first name basis there. And I'll put the links to those in the show notes, . She's also in the process of launching a brand new Patreon community, which I will be the first person to join in this Patreon community will have the opportunity to connect with other parents who are working to create a more, just an inclusive society. She's also going to be doing monthly Q and A sessions and have access to detailed notes from our podcast episodes. And I'll stick that in the show notes link too, and without further ado, I'm going to say thank you to Jasmine for letting me share your work and for the amazing work that you're doing.

Jasmine Bradshaw: You're listening to the First Name Basis podcast episode one, I'm talking to young kids about race.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Welcome to first name basis. A community of parents committed to making the transformation from good intentions to confident action. Join us each week. As we cover critical topics and answer the questions you've never felt comfortable asking. We'll use the lessons we learned to teach our children about race, religion, and culture. I'm your host, Jasmine Bradshaw,

Jasmine Bradshaw: Hey, first name basis, fam. I wanted to give you a little bit of insight into how our podcast is going to be structured. I decided to go with a series structure so that we can talk about topics that are similar to each other over a number of weeks, we'll have about two to four episodes in a series. And each of the episodes will either be about the same topic or topics that go well together. The first series that we're going to start with is talking to your kids about race and slavery. I know it might feel like we're starting in the deep end, but this is one of the most common questions I get. When I am helping families understand how to make their lives more inclusive and how to teach their children to appreciate diversity. So we're going to start today with how to talk to your young kids about, oftentimes parents will read articles or listen to a podcast about talking about race and ethnicity.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And they come away feeling like, okay, that was great, but where do I start? What do I do? How do I know what to say? So I'm going to give you three concrete things you can do and say to your young children about race. But before we begin, I wanted to lay a little bit of a foundation. We have to remember that this is a journey. It's a continual conversation. It is not a onetime deal. So it's totally okay if you feel awkward or uncomfortable. And it is okay if you don't have the answers. As I said in our intro episode, this is a muscle that you build up over time. So the first time you might say the wrong thing, you might say something awkward. You might feel uncomfortable, but that's all right. If your child asks a question and you don't know the answer, just say, Hmm, that's a good question.

Jasmine Bradshaw: I'm not really sure. Let's look it up together. Help them understand that you are on this journey together, and that you're going to be working together to learn these things so that you can be better as a family. I really want to encourage you not to shy away from differences. It's super tempting to say we are all the same. And we have so many things that are similar. Of course we do. And sometimes we have more things that are similar about us than are different, but our children need to understand that it's not wrong to be different from one another. And it's not even wrong. If those differences caused some friction in our lives, if the Lord meant for us to all be the same, he would have made us all the same differences are okay, let's embrace the differences. Let's appreciate them. And if differences caused friction, that's why we're here on this earth is to learn how to work together.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Even though we're different. Oftentimes parents have this misconception that their kids are color blind, and I've even heard adults tell me that they're color blind, but that is just unrealistic. Obviously you can see color when you are looking at someone who's black, you see that their skin is dark. When you're looking at someone who's white, you see that their skin is light and that's okay. Nobody is translucent. That would be really creepy, right? So we need to show our kids that it's totally okay to see color. And in fact, most people of color prefer it. That way being biracial black, biracial is a big part of my identity. I don't want people to not see my color. Then they're not seeing a big part of me. So we need to teach our children that by talking about these things, it takes away the stigma. There should be no shame or stigma around talking about race because it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Did you know that kids can start classifying people by race when they're only six months old? So a six month old baby can classify in their mind. Someone who's black from someone who's white, they don't have the social stigmas that we've attached to the different races, but they can definitely put them into categories. I heard on a podcast one time, it's called life kit for parents podcast. And they said, kids are not color blind. So don't be color silent. One last thing I'll mention before we jump into our three concrete strategies is that studies have shown that children don't need to have explicitly racist parents to develop racist attitudes. So they don't need somebody at home telling them, you must think in this way, you should not like people because of the color of their skin. They just need their environment to teach them. So I want to paint a picture for you.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Imagine that you are, you know, a little white child growing up in a neighborhood where everybody around you looks like you. And then you go to the store. Let's say you go to Walmart. And the only time that you ever see a person of color is when that person is at Walmart serving you. So that person is helping you find things. That person is checking out your groceries, that person is bagging your groceries. And in a little child's mind, they're making these connections and they're thinking, Oh, so the people who don't look like me, the people who are different from me, that is their job in my life is to do things for me. That's their capacity is to serve me. It's not because their parents said anything to them about the capacity or potential of people of color. It's just because of what they're seeing in their environment.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Toddlers are prime suspects for stereotyping because they're in the stage of life where they're classifying things. And it's really hard for them to make categorizations in more than one way. So if they see someone of a certain skin color, who's doing something that becomes the basis for the category of all people with that skin color. So let's say that you go to get your car fixed. And there is a black man who is helping you change your tires. So your toddler might see that person and think, Oh, black men change tires. That's what they do. They're making categorizations in their mind. So from there, they see the person changing their tire. They see the person at Walmart, and then they go back into their insulated community. They go back to where no one in their church looks different from them. No one in their school or in their neighborhood looks different from them.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And they start to make these assumptions that all the people that I know in love, all the people that I feel safe with are within my inner circle, live in my neighborhood or go to my church. And the other people who are outside of my neighborhood, maybe they're not good people because they don't go to my church because they don't live in my neighborhood. Does that make sense? So they're making these connections in their mind and their parents never said a word. The worst thing that we do, the way that racism gets perpetuated in our society is by not talking about it. And it starts young. You're not going to plant these ideas in your kid's mind. They are making the connections on their own. And you did think about why is it that, you know, most of the people in our social circles, most of the people that we know in love look exactly like us think about that.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Have those conversations with your kid. Okay? So let's jump into the three steps you can take. When talking to your child about race, have you ever been in a situation or heard about a situation where there's a little kid and they see a black person for the very first time and they say very loudly, of course, mom, why is that guy all covered in black paint? Or why is that little girl all dirty? I kid you not. These are stories that people have actually told me. I am not making this stuff up. And I always ask the parent, who's telling me this story. Well, what did you say? How did you react? And they're like, Oh my goodness. I didn't know what to say. I just shushed them and got out of there as fast as I can. Well, therein lies our problem. When kids ask questions about race, if your reaction is to shush them and scurry them out of there, they're going to think that race is something to be ashamed of.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And it's not, it's not, we can talk about it openly it's okay. But if you teach them that it's shameful to ask questions, it's not that they're questions stop coming. It's just that they stop asking the questions. And that's when they left to make those connections on their own in their mind. And that's one of the ways that racist attitudes are formed. So instead you can teach them about melanin. So everybody has melanin in their skin. Some people have more melanin and some people have less, the more melon and you have the darker, your skin, the less melanin you have, the lighter your skin. And so if I were a white mom talking to my white child, I would say, look at your skin. We don't have very much melanin in our skin. And that's why our skin is lighter. That person has more melanin than us.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And that's why their skin is dark. And you can help them understand just like people have different hair colors in different eye colors. People have different skin colors and little kids are really good at picking up this concept and understanding it melanin. It's not too difficult for them. It's just like any other word they learn. So that is your first concrete strategy for talking to your young kiddo about race makes you teaching them about melanin. The second is to prepare an environment that invites conversation. So your toys should be inclusive and diverse. If you have dolls, if you have action figures, make sure you're getting them in a number of different skin tones. That way when your kids are imagining what their action figures or let's say, you're dressing, you're playing dress up with the doll. You can mention, look at, look at how this doll has lighter skin.

Jasmine Bradshaw: This doll has darker skin talk about their features. Talk about how their differences make them unique and make them beautiful. Your children and their friends are different, but they're each beautiful in their own way. One thing that I will mention about the dolls is that if you're going to use these dolls as a conversation starter, you want to make sure that you are taking good care of them. So let's say that you have a black doll who has curly hair. You're going to want to make sure that the hair is well taken care of so that you're not building those stereotypes within your children, that you are actively trying to fight against and kind of undoing the work that you're in the process of doing. So if you weren't taking very good care of the doll, the hair might get really tangled up and messy.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And that is something that I've experienced firsthand as a stereotype is that we, as black people, don't take very good care of our hair. So if you are letting your child play with a doll in which their hair is not being very well taken care of that stereotype might be cemented in their mind instead of undone. Does that make sense? So make sure that you're taking really good care of those stalls. One of the most common misconceptions for little kids is that skin color is dirty, right? We talked about that a little bit at the beginning. Why is that person all dirty? So you want to look for natural ways to help your children understand that that's not the case. So let's say that you have your dolls and you're playing out in the yard and your dolls get a little bit dirty. This is a perfect opportunity for you to talk to your child about the dirt on their skin.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Look at the dirt on each of your dolls, the dirt washes off of people's skin, but skin color does not wash off because skin color is not dirt. Skin color is melanin. So that's another way for you to incorporate that in the conversation. And if you're having these conversations about melon and when you're playing with your dolls or your action figures, maybe you won't have to go through that really embarrassing experience in the middle of the grocery store. When your child is asking you about why that person is covered in dirt or covered in black paint, another way to prepare your environment so that it invites conversation is by making your bookshelf inclusive, who you include and who you exclude from your bookshelf, sends a message to your children. It sends a message about who matters and who is important and who we celebrate and who we don't.

Jasmine Bradshaw: So if everyone on your bookshelf looks just like your child and looks just like you, then they're going to think that those are the only types of people that matter. Those are the people that, that are celebrated. That is the simpler mental message that is sent to them. When your bookshelf does not include any people of color and being inclusive with your bookshelf, sets up an amazing opportunity for you to help build empathy within your child. So let's say that you're reading a book about a child who is being made fun of because of their culture. They're from another country, they moved to America. Um, they brought something from their home country and their lunch, and they're being made fun of at school because nobody else has that in their lunch. And it's something new and different that the children haven't seen and that they're unfamiliar with.

Jasmine Bradshaw: So they're making fun of the child. As soon as you get to the climax of that book, pause what you're doing. Stop your reading and ask your child. How do you think that this new student feels? How would you feel if people were making fun of you for what you had in your lunch and people were making fun of you for your culture and ask them what they should do to fix it? What do you think the children in that class should do? Help them understand that if they're a bystander, they still have a responsibility in that situation. So what about the child who is sitting at the lunch table, but isn't participating and isn't making fun of the new student, but they're still sitting there hearing it. What do you think that child should do? What if that were you, what would you do?

Jasmine Bradshaw: What do you think the teachers should do? Ask these questions and help your children talk through what they're going to do when they face a situation of cultural insensitivity, because it's probably going to come up. So if you're having these conversations beforehand, they can already be deciding in their mind what the right thing to do is in that situation, also take the opportunity to point out different skin tones and differences in the characters. When you're reading books with your children, help them to know that it's nothing to be ashamed of. That differences are not shameful, that they are to be celebrated and appreciated and noticed. Okay. So the last strategy that you can use when teaching your young children about race is getting out into the community and getting on a first name basis with people who are different from you. Your children are looking to you as an example.

Jasmine Bradshaw: And if you don't love and value people of color, they're not going to either because they don't know how all of life's most important things they're learning from you. So you want to model that behavior for your kids. A lot of white families don't have really deep personal connections with people of color. So it's hard for them to understand their experiences. So get out and get yourself to some community events, try new things and talk to new people. Every message that I get from somebody on our first name basis, Instagram page is just telling me how grateful they are, that they went to the event and how lovely the people there were. We all have something meaningful and amazing to contribute to this world. And those cultural events are opportunities for people to share their heart with you. So to recap, our three strategies are teach your children about melanin, create an environment that invites conversation and get out into your community and get on a first name basis with people who are different from you.

Jasmine Bradshaw: Thank you so much for listening to this episode and being committed to building a community of inclusion. I can't even tell you how happy it makes me when I hear from you guys on Instagram. If you are not yet part of the First Name Basis, family, please find us on social media. At first name dot basis, send us your questions. Send us your comments, send us your experiences. We want to hear it all. If you feel more comfortable sending it in an email, you can email [email protected] and everything that I talked about in this episode, books, podcasts, articles, I'll make sure to link in the show notes. Okie dokie. I'll talk to you next week.

Jasmine Bradshaw: [inaudible].

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.