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Talking to Kids about Racism

By Glenda Golter

As a white mother of two white teenage daughters, I wish I’d been more deliberate about talking to my kids about racism when they were little. The topic of racism comes up more regularly now that they’re older, but I know I still have plenty of room to grow.

In my efforts to improve in this area, I’ve come across some resources that I thought were worth sharing. I’ve tried to provide a variety of resources that work for a wide range of ages.

If you’re not sure how and when to start talking to little kids about racism, the baby board book Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi uses bold images and child-friendly language to guide adults through sharing the steps to creating a more just society. 

You may recognize Kendi’s name as he’s also the author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas, both intended for adult readers. However, Kendi teamed up with Jason Reynolds, an author for young adult and middle-grade audiences, to write Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You. This narrative, geared toward teens and young adults, examines our country’s racist history and imagines an antiracist future.

If you’re looking to purchase any of these books, be sure to support black-owned Portland bookstore Third Eye.

This next resource is great for kids of all ages. Until November 8, 2020, The High Museum of Art in Atlanta is hosting an exhibit called Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Children’s Books. Since it’s probably not feasible for most of us to travel to Atlanta in the near future, you can find several of the exhibit pieces on the museum’s website. Images from children’s books are used to tell the story of the civil rights movement, honoring icons of the movement and highlighting turning events. Background information accompanies most images and a few come with questions to provide a jumping-off point for adults to engage in conversation with children to encourage thought about how they can continue the efforts of the movement. 

One of the images included in this exhibit is Faith Ringgold’s painting of the black children watching the white children swim. Consider pairing this with a clip from this Mr. Rogers episode where Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons share a mini pool to soak their feet. Read this article to learn more about the historical significance of this episode. 

Check out this PDX Walkabout originally created* by Val Lonchar, a Portland resident and hobbyist historian. This walkabout is in the Albina area and is focused on Portland’s racist history and the forced segregation that forced black communities to leave their homes and uproot their entire lives. Val explains that the purpose of a walkabout “…is to drive to a neighborhood and just walk around and think about the people who live in that space and why it is significant to the history of Portland.”  

If you or your children don’t know the story of Claudette Colvin then consider watching The Girls before Rosa ParksClaudette Colvin, a brave fifteen-year-old black girl, held her ground and refused to change seats so that a white woman wouldn’t have to sit next to her on a bus, and all this took place before Rosa Parks refused to move on the bus. This video explains some of the reasons for why Rosa Parks is known for this act instead of Claudette. To learn more about these details, I suggest that you listen to this GirlTrek podcast from the Black History Boot Camp series and then share what you learned with your children. Please use discretion; this podcast has some discussion of rape and child abuse.  

*With Val’s permission, I tweaked the content of the walkabout to make it more appropriate for this article.