Defining Race and Equity

In order to understand how racism exists in our society, parents and caregivers should have an understanding of how race, equity, and related terms are defined and why they are important. When adults understand racism in our society, they can then teach their children. When children have this knowledge, they can aid in building a more equitable society for all of us (NAEYC).

Defining Race

The general definition for race is the color of one’s skin or one’s ancestry, which is different from ethnicity, culture, or beliefs (AECF). The American Psychological Association defines race and ethnicity in the following ways:

  • “What is race? Race is a social construct that categorizes people based on their physical appearance.”
  • “What is ethnicity? Ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other based on shared ancestry, cultural, social, and national experiences.”

It is important to understand that race is a social construct – it was documented to advance the social and political desires of early European ideology. How race is viewed in America today is a direct result from that. Historically, defining race in America meant defining who was “white” and who wasn’t for voting and census purposes (Facing History).

How race is experienced can vary greatly from individual to individual. While a person may belong to more than one racial group, it is how they are perceived that influences the way they are treated. Thus, race plays a critical role in understanding today’s society – how they are perceived by others, what opportunities individuals have access to, and what challenges they may face. Understanding that different races experience the world differently through this lens is the first step in understanding racism.

NAEYC defines racism as “a system of oppression that results from a combination of prejudice and power.” NAEYC goes on to specify that because racism is a system in which those in power are able to oppress those without power, the belief that racially based bias against white individuals is a misconception. “Anyone can hold a bias against people of another race, but only some races are subject to oppressive structures and practices as a result of that bias.”

This video from Flocabulary showcases the experiences of five different individuals as they learned about race as students. Learning about race and teaching children about race has a profound impact on how our society views race and racism.

Defining Equity

Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair” (AECF). It is important to think of equity as a systemic concept – there are systems that reinforce equity (or lack of equity), which make it difficult for marginalized groups  to obtain the same opportunities or outcomes as that of white individuals.

Equity is not the same thing as equality. “Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.”

The Importance of Discussing Race and Equity with Your Child

Research shows that there are more positive outcomes associated with children who have talked about race. Additionally, teaching children about their history and community can buffer negative messages encountered at school, in the media, etc. Considering that racial biases may be present as young as six months old, it is never too early to begin discussing race with your child. Continue to explore resources on race and equity throughout the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

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Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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