Transcript: Parenting for Positive Racial Identity Development

Presented by: Dr. Denisha Jones

[ Music ]

>> Trying Together is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that supports high-quality care and education for young children through advocacy, community resources and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals who interact with them. The Parenting Together Pathway is a video-based learning series to provide high quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas. The series provides families with the opportunity to learn more about brain development, play interactions in relationships, technology, childcare, advocacy and more to better support their children’s healthy growth.


[ Music ]


>> Welcome. And thank you for attending my discussion for Trying Together, Parenting for Positive Racial Identity Development. My name is Denisha Jones. My pronouns are she/her and ella. And I am currently located on the [inaudible] in Orange County, New York. I began my career in education as a kindergarten teacher in Washington DC. I also worked as a preschool teacher and a preschool director before spending the last 19 years in teacher education. As I pursued my passion for advocacy, I went back to school and earned my law degree in 2018. And beginning August 1st of this year, I will be the Executive Director for Defending the Early Years, a nonprofit organization working for a just, equitable and quality early childhood education for every young child. For the past six years, I’ve taught courses on diversity in American education at the college level. This work led to my understanding of the importance of teachers and schools supporting positive racial identity development in young children. I realized that many teachers and parents are not really introduced to this area of study, and as a result, they’re missing opportunities to support young children.

As a Black child growing up in a White world, I often felt isolated because of my race. For many years, I tried to be raceless in an effort to be accepted by the White world that I was in. It wasn’t until I went to an historically black college and university in Washington DC that I finally began to develop a positive racial identity development. Even though I’ve done well despite my early experiences, I must remind you that I’m the exception and not the rule. Most people who struggle with positive racial identity development do not do well in life. Thus, it’s imperative that we offer support to young children as parents and as caretakers. As parents, there are many things you may be doing to support your child’s positive racial identity development, or you might be completely unaware that your child has a racial identity, and that can be positive or negative. Regardless of what side of the spectrum you find yourself on, this session will help you parent for positive racial identity development.

So first, we will begin with an overview of what is meant by racial identity development and why it matters to the wellbeing of young children. Then we will discuss how racial identity develops and how you can support it. In case you’re thinking, ‘My child is too young to talk about race,’ please stay with me because we will address that myth, and I will share what we know from research about babies as young as six months old, how they begin to understand race. Also, if you’re thinking parenting for positive racial identity development is just for parents of children of color, I will explain why all children need positive racial identity development. Research on racial identity development has looked at White children, Black children, Latino children, Asian children and Indigenous children. And they all have racial identity. We all do, even as adults. Lastly, I will review some resources to support you in parenting for positive racial identity development and I’ll share my contact information which you can reach out and contact me if you want to discuss it further.

How would you describe yourself racially, ethnically or culturally? I’m a Black Panamanian American. Black or African American is my racial identity, while Panamanian American is my ethnic and cultural identity. I was born in Panama to a Panamanian mother, but I grew up in America. And my father, my stepfather are both American. Scientists argue that a person’s race cannot be determined by examining his or her biological makeup. This is because race is not a biological construction. It is a social construction, meaning race and racial categories have been invented by society. So racial identity is also socially constructed. Given the history that race and racial identity have in this country and in the world, how we define ourselves in terms of our race, culture and identity matter. People of color are racialized, meaning their race is used to define them, while White people are not racialized and are really defined by being a member of the White race. As racialized people, we develop an understanding of what it means to be Black or Latinx or Asian American or Indigenous from our families, friends, communities, media and society. White people, though not racialized as White, also develop an understanding of what it means to be White from how we treat people of color in our society. Thus, our racial identity can be positive or negative, depending on how we are socialized about race. We will talk more about socialization later. For now, it’s important to understand everyone is a member of one or more racial groups. And everyone develops a racial identity, even if they’re not explicitly aware and think about it. Right? They are — don’t really think about how they feel about it. A lot of my students tell me, I don’t think about race. I’m just me. I’m just normal. And it’s okay. But that is part of your racial identity that you don’t have to think about your race all the time, as opposed to other people who are racialized, who do think about their race. And not every person of color thinks about their race all the time. But many do for different reasons.

Racial identity development can be positive or negative, depending on how the child is socialized. So what do I mean by socialization? Socialization is the process of how young people — how young children, babies, learn about the society in your culture. It really starts from the family. The parents or the caregivers are the first people who do the socialization. But it also comes from society, schools, communities, culture. All of these things send messages about who we are and who we’re supposed to be in this world. A child of color who receives racial affirmation sees themselves represented in books and stories and sees people who look like them as role models in movies will likely develop a positive racial identity development. They see themselves in their family as a child of color but they also see that the society values that. They see models who look like them and actors and people with successful lives who look like them and so they have something to aspire to. They learn about people who look like them and diverse people in their curriculum, not as a footnote or a side note, but as fully a part of the society in the community. And they get support if they experience any type of racial trauma, racial stress. So all of that helps develop that positive racial identity development.

On the other hand, children of color who might attend school that fail to include the history that people who look like them or only tell those stories through the lens of pain and suffering or that actually show racist attitudes and practices are likely to develop a negative racial identity development, where they don’t see themselves positively as a child of color. They don’t see themselves positively in terms of race because they’re not given good messages about what it means to be a Black person or a Latinx person or an Asian American person. It does start in the home, but again, it’s reinforced through schools. So the curriculum, the materials, the policies, the practice, the attitudes, the belief all matter and how racial identity develops. Even if you’re at home and you’re parenting and you’re doing all the positive things on the left hand side, you’re giving those racial affirmations, you have diverse books at home, when they go to school, if that’s not matched, if there’s a mismatch between what’s happening at home and what’s happening at school, that’s an opportunity for a child’s racial identity development to go from positive to negative. And so we want that matching. We want what’s happening at the home, the support for positive racial identity development to also be happening in the school.

What about White children? What do they learn from seeing Black people on TV as gang members and criminals or seeing Latinos as dirty and vagrants and coming for their jobs or seeing Muslims depicted as terrorists? These children are also socialized to believe in white superiority, which is a negative form of racial identity development for white people. So people of color, when they’re negative — have negative racial identity development, they tend to develop feelings of racial inferiority, that they are not as good as people of another race, while white children can develop racial superiority where they feel that they are better than others because of their race. Both of these are outcomes of negative racial identity development. And so all children need support in developing positive racial identity development. But again, given the history in this country of racism, xenophobia and discrimination, the negative racial identity development is often reinforced through these socialization factors of our society. So the media images that tend to portray people of color in certain ways. The laws even that sometimes discriminate against people of color for their natural hair, things like that. So we have to combat those society factors along with our parenting, along with our school environment to really support children.

And this has been studied and documented. All of this has been looked. But one of the first people that really used this information to change the laws was in the 1940s. Psychologists Mamie and Kenneth Clark conducted the doll test that was used to demonstrate how racial segregation and prejudice damaged the self-esteem of young black children. And then that research was then advocated by attorneys for the civil rights laws that we saw. So the end of segregation of public schools. And if you know about the doll test, they presented black children with a black and white doll and asked them a series of questions. Which doll is a nice doll? Which doll do you want to be friends with? Which doll is the mean doll? Which doll is the ugly doll? And in the end, they asked them which doll look like you. And all of the negative depictions, the kids constantly pointed to the black dolls. And then at the end, they pointed to the black dolls as looking like them. So we learned that, one, they associate themselves as a black person and the black child, and they can see the similarities in the doll and themselves. But then they also harbored all of these negative views about the black doll, which then they harbor about themselves. And this was linked to the time to segregation, to attending segregated schools. So you might think, well, segregation is over. What does that have to do with 2022? Well, a few years ago, a young Black psychologist student recreated the doll study. And the results were the same. Black children routinely labeled the black dolls undesirable, but a representation of themselves. So unfortunately, not much has changed, because although it is 2022, and our laws have changed, we still have attitudes and beliefs and racial discrimination happening and children experiencing this in schools. And so we know that if children have a positive racial identity development, they tend to have better self-esteem, self-confidence and higher levels of perseverance when dealing with adversity. And children also do better in school. And they lead happier lives as adults when they fully accept themselves. And they have all of those things, the positive self-esteem and the positive racial identity development. So again, we all want the best for our children. And so we should be supporting them and getting that. And this is one way to think about that.

So as I just mentioned, positive racial identity development is linked to self-esteem, self-confidence through perseverance and to leading a better fulfilling life as well. So the research on racial identity development has looked at — has looked at the stages. And different psychologists have identified stages for different groups So Janet Holmes in the 1990, looked at racial identity development in white students, while Alexander Krause and others looked at development in people of color. And they’ve broken that down, but the stages are pretty much stayed the same. So there’s research on racial identity development in African American youth, racial identity development in Indigenous youth, Asian American, Latinx and so forth. But this is just an overview for you to kind of see the stages as well, too. Though the stages tend to be aligned with older youth, we know that young children develop ideas about race and the racial identity. If we parent for positive racial identity development, we can support children as they enter the various stages of racial identity development. So let’s talk about these stages. And I’ll give you some examples of how, as a parent, you can support that. So we’ll start on the left side with the white students. So typically, the context age is when white students are unaware of their own race and little to no concept of racism. Now this can be prevented or downplayed if we just are consciously talking to children about race. And they’re aware. They’re aware, but they’re aware of color and skin color, but often we don’t have the conversations that give them meaning, so they don’t know what to do. And so when they finally get into Stage 2, the disintegration, and they become aware of racism and discrimination, they’re uncomfortable with this topic. So typically, what we tell young children what parents might say, you know, everyone is equal. They’re no different. Black people and White people, Spanish people, Asian, we’re all the same. And we tell kids that. And so they grew up thinking that. But then something happens. And they might see a Black friend of theirs being discriminated against or being followed in a store, being denied an opportunity. And they become aware of this. And they don’t know how to process it, because what they’ve been told is it that is not true. But then they’re seeing it happen. So they don’t know how to deal with it.

As they get older, when this happens, the third stage is called reintegration, where they typically turn to victim blaming because they’re trying to cope with this understanding of racism and their role in it as a white person. So what they tend to fall back on is this idea of saying, well, maybe people of color are to blame for their situation. Maybe if they weren’t like this, this, you know, x, y and z, this wouldn’t be happening to them. And unfortunately, that is a stage where a lot of people end up in. A lot of White people get stuck there when they first learn about racism. They fall back into that victim blaming, and they don’t go any further and that’s problematic because we don’t want to be in a position where we’re blaming people of color for the racism in our society, that they’re being targeted. But there are other stages that they can go through. So hopefully, if you are talking to your young white child about their own race and about racism, they won’t be in that Stage 3 because they’ll be getting support from you to understand that we don’t blame people for their circumstances, that we have to understand that that’s not the goal of this. Or if they do, they can come to you and you can talk with them about why that’s not the healthy part of this, that’s not what anybody is looking for. And how did they — how did you as a parent, as a white parent maybe move past that stage of reintegration would also be helpful.

The fourth stage is called pseudo independent. Here, there’s a pool between feeling that change must happen and confronting one’s own discomfort. So here is the situation where, yeah, you know, they get racism is wrong, but do they really want to confront their uncle who’s going to say something racist at Thanksgiving dinner? Do they want to be put in that situation? So they’re growing in their awareness, but they’re not really comfortable challenging racism when they see it. Emerging — in the immersion stage is where they’re realizing they need help. They seek out white role models who typify an antiracist stance. So they want to look for support. And there’s tons of support out there. And there’s such a rich history of the role of white people in abolitionist movements and anti-oppression work that they can learn about and should learn about. And I encourage you, if you don’t know of this as a white parent, then please take the time to educate yourself because there’s just so much that can really support them. We don’t want white children feeling that all white people are racist, and racism is all the fault of white people. But if we don’t provide role models to show, actually, white people have been fighting against racism since this country’s founding, they don’t know that. That’s not routinely taught in schools, the abolitionist movement and the history of it. And honestly, it was led predominantly by a lot of white people because they outnumbered other people and they supported black people in the abolitionist work. So it’s important to tell those stories so that they have a really clear picture, that there is a place to play in this where they don’t have to blame the victim, and they don’t have to pretend that racism is not there or be on the other side and be actively racist. There is a role model for them to see themselves in.

And then they get to the fifth stage, which is autonomy, where they’re comfortable in multicultural settings, and they have a positive association with change. But more than that, they have a positive association with themselves as a white person. They don’t feel guilty about being white because, again, that’s not positive racial identity development for white children. Guilt is not something that people should feel. And so they don’t feel guilty, but they do understand the responsibility that as a white person there, the history associated with that. And they recognize that they want to be on the side of that history. They want to be along with the role models of other white people who have fought for racial justice in this country. And so they’re more comfortable in these settings. They can understand. They learn how to listen to the voices and experiences of people of color and center those stories and to be really good allies in this work.

So now for students of color, it’s similar, but the stages are slightly different. And again, a lot of these studies, I think, focus a lot on children of color who are in predominantly white spaces, which is slightly different than a child of color who might be in a predominantly community of their own . I grew up in a predominately white space, as I mentioned before. But other children of color don’t. And so that internalizing of the racist messages, that first stage, may or may not happen depending on where they’re located. But let’s assume that they are a person of color as a minority in an environment where they are not the majority. So typically, they might have internalized some of the stereotypes, the socialization that they are encountering, the images of, you know, black people is bad or Latinos or Mexican is lazy. These messages that come through in our stories in our media. And they might try and distance themselves from that by saying, ‘I am not like that. I am either not that type of African American or I’m not that type of Mexican or I’m not Mexican at all. I’m just me,’ because they want to disassociate themselves from those internalized messages.

However, then they get to the encounter stage where something happens to now shake their foundation. They either witness or hear about or see something that’s racist, and they start to really now question whether they can just disassociate themselves from that view. And they have various coping mechanisms here. They might feel more isolated and want to push back against being associated as a person of color. Or they might turn to people of color, which is in the next stage, our immersion stage where they desire to be with members of their own race and learn more about their experience, whether it’s African American experience or Latin American experience or Asian American experience. But they typically have this desire to be with their own. And in her book, Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, Beverly Daniel Tatum uses this as the reason why. If you go to a school where it’s predominantly white, but there are, you know, a small percentage of people of color, you know, we noticed that they all grew up together. And there are reasons for that. A lot of them are in this stage. And so they’re linking with each other because they want to develop that stronger identity about who they are. And then they get into the internalization stage where they might reframe those internalized messages with positive self-images of one’s race. So now that they see well, yes, the media says that Black people are criminals. But actually, I see in my community and my group of friends, I see black lawyers, black doctors, black barbers, black businessmen and women, black military, soldiers. So they get to change those messages, and they reframe them. And then they move into their commitment stage where they’re committed to solving the problems faced by one’s race. So they acknowledge who they are as a racialized person. And they’re committed to working with other racial groups to end racial oppression. So they’re in this space where they’re validated as who they are.

And so thinking about those stages, what can you do as a parent? How can you support a child who is unaware of their own race, maybe pointing things out and saying things? Oh, look at that child with that lovely brown skin. It’s so beautiful. So they can be aware, yes, people have different skin color. And that’s a really good thing, too. Or if you hear a child saying something that might sound like it’s racial inferiority or racial superiority, you might counter that. I typically hear children say things like, “You can’t be a princess” to the only black child in the group. And I’ll say, “Well, why can’t she be a princess?” And they don’t come out and say because princesses are white. But they might, or they might give different reasons. And so I might try and counter that with pictures of black princesses and say — and they might be surprised and say, you know, princesses come in all different colors. And they — you know, anyone can be a princess if we allow them. So we give them the tools to kind of think through those messages they are receiving in different ways.

So young children develop a lot of ideas about race. Children are curious about the physical and cultural characteristics of themselves and others. Children think that race can change, and they do not understand that race is constant until about age six or seven. I remember teaching kindergarten and having a young boy tell me, “I don’t want to drink chocolate milk, Ms. Jones, because my skin will end up dark like you.” And after laughing, I said, “That’s really funny because I don’t drink milk. I don’t drink chocolate milk. I don’t drink white milk. And my skin is pretty dark. So there’s got to be another reason for this. And the milk is safe.” So they don’t understand that until they get a little bit older. Their comments and questions about differences should not be dismissed because of their age. A lot of time a child might say something about skin color or hair texture. And teachers just say, oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about. And they don’t, but if we don’t give them the tools to understand what they’re talking about, then that’s problematic. Often, when I’m doing these in person, I tend to ask people to reflect on their first memory of race, typically because white people tend to have memories where they said something or something was noted. And they were immediately silenced. They were told not to talk about it. So they learned at a young age that we should not talk about race. And that kind of sets them up for not being able to talk about race as adults as well. And so it’s important to think about, how do we respond in the moment to these things. Instead, teachers are afforded a unique opportunity — I’m sorry — teachers and parents are afforded a unique opportunity to use this natural curiosity to kind of root out bias and teach young children to embrace diversity. Our personal identity includes things such as our name and our age and our place and our family and our personalities, talents and interests. And kids are very curious about their social identities. So how do we help them understand that there’s our personal identities and our social identities?

Our social identities refer to significant group categorizations assigned to us by society. So again, these are our racial, ethnic or cultural identities, gender, religious identities. So think for a minute, what are your personal and social identities? My personal identity is my name. My name is Denisha Jones. I have four sisters. I have two brothers. I have 10 nieces and nephews. I’m the middle child on my mom’s side and the oldest child on my dad’s side. I love to read and dance. I’m a teacher educator. My social identities, as I said before, I’m African American. I was born in Panama. I was born into a poor, working-class family. But now, with my education and work, I’m considered upper middle class. I’m heterosexual. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. So those are thinking about that. And children don’t have all those terms. But as you think about your own social and personal identities, you can help them as they’re thinking about them. And you probably hear kids say things all the time, like, ‘I’m good at soccer,’ or ‘I’m not good at math.’ So they’re all already conflating things they do well and like to do with their identity and who they are.

Families and educators who understand the role of both personal and social identities in child development as well as in their own lives are better prepared to support children’s healthy development and to teach children how to resist bias that may undermine any aspect of their ability to thrive. Some biases are explicitly stated to children by other children and adults. Children often hear things like, “boys don’t cry” or “be careful playing with her because she’s a girl.” Other times, children learn some hidden messages. So if we think about the fish in the water, do the fish notice the water around them? Probably not because they’re surrounded by them. Hidden messages are often hard to see like that — but they reinforce biases if they’re not addressed. Often, parents tell children — again, I mentioned if they tell children that everyone is equal and that we all should be treated equally, but this child lives in a community where only people who look like them live. They realize that people who do not look like them are not welcomed in their community, even if they’re supposed to be equal. There’s a reason why those people don’t live here. And in their mind, they’re thinking something is wrong with those people that they don’t live here. And so these hidden messages teach children about who is and isn’t important. And unless we challenge them, they kind of form the basis for the biases and the discrimination that may occur later.

Children develop theories about how the world works. And sometimes these theories are rooted in biases that were explicitly taught or conveyed in a hidden message. As teachers, we must help children correct these stories by helping them to make sense of what they see and hear. So again, when a child says something, and we don’t ask, well, tell me more about that, or what were you thinking about that, or why would you say that, then we’re missing that opportunity to further develop it. Vivian Paley was a kindergarten teacher for a long time in Chicago who passed away a few years ago. And in her book, White Teachers, she talks — she gives an example of reading a story to a small group of children. And one girl is pointing at a group of kids in the picture and saying, oh, they all are poor. And she was kind of struck because the only difference was that the group of kids in that picture were black. And the other group of kids in the other picture were white. And she didn’t realize that this girl had associated poverty with black kids. Their clothes were all the same. There was nothing else . And so that was a realization that this child is making ideas and definitions about what it means to be black and what it means not to be black and so it’s her job as an educator to come back to that. Even in the moment, if you don’t know what to say, you could always come back to the next day. “You know, yesterday, you mentioned something, and I — and it caught me off guard. Can we talk about that a little bit?” And it’s okay because kids can understand that sometimes we need time to talk about these things as well. But the idea that we do listen to what they’re saying closely — we don’t pass judgment right away. That’s not something that’s going to be helpful for young children if they think you’re trying to scold them for what they said, but that you’re curious, and you want to know more and you want to enhance their thinking by giving them new information to think about. And it doesn’t have to be complicated information, but it could help them.

So once when I was a preschool director in California, I was covering a class, and during nap time, one of the little boys did not want to go to sleep. And he’s just trying to, you know, engage me in conversation to not go to sleep, which is fine. And so we were laying there. And I was, like, stroking his back. And, you know, my hand was on his hand. And so he’s looking at my hand. And he starts talking about my skin color and wanting to know why it’s so much darker than his, but his dark skin was not as dark as mine, but it was darker than another child. And so he didn’t understand. And the next thing I know, I’m having a conversation about melanin with a four-year-old, because he asked me, “Well, why is your skin darker than mine but my skin is darker than someone else’s.” And so I said, “Well, there’s something in all of our skin called melanin. And I have so much in it that it makes my skin super dark. And you have less than me, so your skin is lighter than me, but you have more than her. So your skin is a little darker than hers.” And he kind of got it. There was something in our bodies. We all have it. And it determines the color of our skin. And I had to let his parents know in case he brought it up. And he did. And they were thankful that I explained it that way because no one had ever explained it that way before. But that is the truth. Right? Our skin is colored based on this thing in our bodies called melanin. So having that conversation with young children and just helping them think through it and, again, just responding to what he was saying already but giving him that knowledge and information is okay at that age. He took it. Eventually, he fell asleep, and we moved on.

So as I mentioned, there are so many myths about talking with children about race. Typically, we hear they’re too young to talk about race. They don’t know anything. They’re color evasive, which is our new way of saying colorblind. It’s a more positive way of saying that. They’re color invasive. They don’t know. If you don’t bring it up, they don’t mention it. But actually, that’s just not true. The research tells us many different things. And this graphic, this image which you can find online, is really helpful in thinking about that. So I’m just going to summarize some of the things that it says and other research that I’ve uncovered as well, too. By six months of age, children find skin color and gender differences interesting. So these are studies. Imagine a doctor, you bring your baby in for a little study, and they’re showing images. They can respond. They can look at their eye. They can measure brain activity and they can tell that they find skin color and gender differences interesting. By 18 months, many toddlers can correctly place a photograph of themselves in their racial ethnic group. And some can select their own picture correctly in responses to a group label. So I think this is really fascinating if we think of an 18-month-old. And they’d be able to do that, be able to understand that they belong to this group, and then maybe even select their own picture in response to that label. However, they cannot do either of these tasks consistently for pictures of other people. So it’s really them in their — that they can identify their family, but not quite strangers at this age. And so that develops later.

By two years of age, children are not only noticing, they’re also curious about and asking questions about differences. These questions reflect both children’s individual life experiences and their cognitive stages of development. So they might say something, notice something, and they have questions about it.

By two and a half to three and a half, children also become aware of and begin absorbing socially prevailing negative stereotypes, feelings and ideas about people, including themselves. This is when we see children, all of a sudden — my friends felt very conflicted at this age group when their daughter was the age because all of a sudden, she didn’t want to be around me. When she was a baby, I was there all the time. We were hugging her. When she was about this two-and-a-half, three stage, she kind of got turned in a little bit. And they were fearful. And I said, no, this is typically what happens at this age. As they start to be aware of the differences in other people, they tend to want to be around people like their family and themselves. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. And we’re still really good friends and she loves spending time with me. But that’s a stage that children progress through. So they might show discomfort, dislike or fear for the person whose skin color is darker than their own, who speaks a different language or has a physical disability. And again, it’s just their natural progression to want to be like people they’re familiar with, like their family. And so hopefully, that stage won’t last. And there are lots of things you can do to make sure that it doesn’t. They may tease or refuse to play with a child because of their skin color, gender or how he or she dresses or talks. And again, we want to address that when it happens. I remember stories of, you know, white children not wanting to hold a black child’s hand in preschool, being afraid of these different things. And so having these conversations with them about it and attending to the child who’s being rebuffed is also important because they might feel a certain way. Well, why doesn’t he want to hold my hand? So you’re going to want to talk to that child and also talk to talk to both children and have conversations about that as well, too.

By the time they are four years old, children are seeking labels for racial and ethnic identity. And they have their own theories about what causes a disability, skin tone or gender. Again, they don’t think skin — they don’t think race is constant. So they think skin color can change. As you think about it, for some people, it does. Right? White people might get darker when they tan. So they might equate that to being a person of color and not realize that no, that’s different. Again, but that is the sun reacting to the melanin in them. So it’s important that we understand where they’re coming from and have these conversations with them.

By five years of age, children have developed a core sense of racial ethnic identity and begin to explore what it means to be from one race compared to another. As they settle into their racial ethnic identity, societal bias can undermine their self-esteem and ability to build a positive identity within their ethnic group. So I think this is super important because typically they’re at home, or they might be in preschool, or maybe not, but they’re getting all this positive racial identity development, especially for children of color. But then the societal bias might come in and undermine that. They might see on the news that an unarmed black person was killed. Or they might hear a story, the experienced stories of racial discrimination. And now they’re starting to question their self-esteem about who they are. And that’s where we need to step in as parents and caregivers and reassure them about who they are as a racialized person and help them develop that positive racial identity.

So what does this support look like? And so first, we’ll start with children of color. So how can you support the racial identity development for children of color? One, complimenting children’s dark skin color or curly or kinky hair early and often. Often, there’s a lot of shame around having dark skin or having hair that is not straight. And so if young children constantly hear these affirmations about themselves and other people, they’re going to be more receptive to seeing those things in the positive. So we want to spend time, and not in a fetish way, but in a way that’s just natural. I’m like, “oh, my goodness, I just — look at that skin. I love it. It’s so dark.” It’s so clear in pointing these out and their skin as well too and their hair — looking at different types of hair. And it’s okay to have curly or kinky and straight hair because, of course, all children want the hair they don’t have. Kids who have straight hair want curly hair, and kids who have curly hair want straight hair. But the society kind of reinforces a certain type of beauty, which is light skin and straight hair. So we have to compliment those children and other people who have different skin colors and different types of hair. You want to provide access to a collection of diverse books and dolls. I think this is super important for your home and the school that your child attends to.

Ibram Kendi, who is the author of How to Be an Antiracist and Antiracist Baby, recently wrote a book — an article about his experience with his daughter at a preschool where he — him and his wife were picking her up. And they noticed that she kept clinging to this white doll. And he’s African American, and so is his wife. And they were getting a little worried at what’s going on, why is she clinging to this doll. So one day, they — she didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to leave the doll. She was starting to get increasingly more and more upset. One day, they picked her up together. And that kind of ended the problem. She was happy to have both of them. But then they realized that that was the only doll to play with. There were only white dolls. They gave her diverse dolls at home, black dolls, but she didn’t have any inner school. So she was cleaned to the one doll that she could find. And so they talked to the director, and the director realized that that was a problem and they bought more diverse dolls. So we want to make sure that in our homes, in our schools, children have access to books where the kids look like them or look like them in different ways. And so that’s important for them to see that.

We want to listen for signs of internalized racial inferiority and respond appropriately. There was an Instagram story a couple years ago, I think it was in 2020, of a young black girl getting her hair done by her hairdresser. And the mirror is in front of her and she says, “I’m so ugly.” And she just starts crying. And the hairdresser is shocked and, you know, hugs her and you’re not ugly, you’re beautiful. And a lot of people were like, oh, someone told that little girl she was ugly. And I was like, I don’t remember anyone telling me, “Hey, you’re an ugly black girl.” But I know I felt that most of my life. And so that’s how internalized racial inferiority happens in young children of color. They tend to see themselves as not pretty, not beautiful, and as ugly. And they say things like that, or they’re not smart, or they’re not capable. And we have to think about that and respond. And the response to that young girl was amazing. We saw a community of black artists start making digital depictions of her and cartoon characters and how beautiful she was. And there was a huge response. I think she even went on a talk show. And that’s the kind of things we see — we need to see. Today, I see all these images that are great or cartoon images of black girls, and they’re beautiful. But I can tell you back in my youth, they were not there. There were no images of pretty black girls in books and things like that that I remember having access to. So it’s important that we listen to those signs, we respond to them. And having those materials complementing their skin color, their features are going to help combat that internalized racial inferiority.

Depending on the community you live in, you want to find racial mirrors for your child to see themselves in. This is something that’s big in the adoption community. I’m in the process of a transnational adoption of two siblings from Colombia, Afro Colombian siblings. So I spend a lot of time in adoption groups, transracial adoption groups, which are predominately white people adopting children translationally. So different groups, you know, Asian, Spanish, other African American. And one of the things they talk about is typically, you bring that child home, and no one looks like them, and then the importance of finding racial mirrors. And so this is the same thing. If you’re parenting a child of color in a predominantly white community, where are the racial mirrors that the child can use to see themselves in? Hopefully, they’re in their family, but what about outside their family? So thinking about schools and other places, churches, organizations, those are really important. And so they’re out there. We just have to look for them, so finding those racial mirrors within your circle of friends in your community are going to be really important for your child.

And you want to talk openly and honestly about what it means to be a member of your racial group. What does it mean to be a black person in this country? What does it mean to be a Latino person or an Asian American or indigenous person? And have these conversations in age-appropriate ways. I don’t talk about — you know, I wouldn’t sit down with a four-year-old and say — you know, my first thought about being black is not thinking about the history of enslavement. That’s not where I’m going to start with that conversation. I’m going to talk about how I think it’s cool that I belong to the history of people who have done amazing things in this country and across the world, despite all of the things that have happened to them. We can talk about that and what are some of the differences in our family and how we celebrate our love for each other, so that they can understand what that means. Because the goal is to instill racial, cultural and ethnic pride in children of color so that they feel that their race, their culture and ethnicity are good things, good things to be looked upon and good things to feel about. And so that’s — these are just some of the ways that you can do that.

Now let’s talk about supporting racial identity development for white children. So again, we want to provide child appropriate explanations of why people have different skin colors, as I did with the melanin story. We want to let them know that it’s okay that people have different skin colors. Underneath the skin, we’re all the same. We all have blood. We all have all of our muscles in our bones. But our skins have different colors. They also need to have diverse books and dolls. If White children only have books about — and pictures of other White kids or they only have doll that are white, they are learning racial superiority, that it is better to be white, and only white things belong to them or are good for them. So again, we want to listen for those signs of racial superiority and respond appropriately. And what does those signs look like? Sometimes they’re out saying things like, “You can’t be my friend because you’re black.” Most early childhood teachers have heard these stories, even if parents have not. Parents are aghast when they hear their child said something like that. And they freak out. And they say, “Oh, he must have picked that up from his racist uncle.” That’s not what this isn’t about. They’ve been socialized to these messages, and they’re just acting them out. And as long as we challenge them from a place of love and support, they will let them go. Often, we see this a lot with gender, but we don’t always pick it up on race. But we will hear a young boy telling a girl you can’t play with us. This game is just for boys and not for girls. And we’re quick to respond. But we don’t always respond when it’s about race. So it’s the same thing. We want to look for those attitudes of superiority around race, and we want to help children deconstruct those. Yes, your friends can be black, and your friend could be Spanish, and your friends can be Asian. And yes, we can all play this game together and there’s things that we can do together. And it’s okay to let people lead. That’s a big sign that we see in early childhood where we notice that white children do not let the black kids or the Spanish kids or any of the other kids lead the activity, the game. They want to be in charge. And so that’s something we want to say, “Well, how about giving someone else a chance to be in charge. Let’s see how they lead the game, and they lead the activity. And it’s okay to let other people lead.” And so helping them think through that and respond to that is important.

You want to introduce your White child to diverse people. And I get that, you know, our families may be white, and your friends may be white. But do you know any people — diverse people? And if not, that’s something to question about your own self. And then if you do, like show your children that it’s okay. The kids that I’m adopting, I was hosting them last summer. And one of them said, in the feedback, what they liked that I had a very good diverse group of friends. I had my black friends and my black family. I had my Spanish friends. I took them to me all different friends all across the area. And they love t.hat, that I had this diverse group of people that I kept introducing them to. And so your children will appreciate that, too. And if you don’t have it, that’s something you need to work on, to think about, you know, what messages does it say to your child if there’s no diversity in your life and their life.

And then you want to talk openly and honestly about what it means to be white and how white people contribute to anti-racist work. And this is important to them to hear you saying it. I have a friend who’s a preschool teacher in New York City and we were interviewing her for our research on the Black Lives Matter schoolwork. And she was saying how it’s so important for the white kids — it’s a predominately white school in Brooklyn — for them to hear her the white teacher talk about how she feels about the Black Lives Matter movement, why it’s important to say that. Some of the kids have said, “Well, don’t all lives matter?” And she goes, “Well, they do. That’s a great point. But why do we say Black Lives Matter?” And she talked about how we say that because we keep hearing examples that people not believing Black Lives Matter. And they talked about what they hear. And we may think kids don’t hear about it, but they do. They all use the names of what are some things you hear that black lives don’t matter? And they were like Eric Gardner or, you know, Trayvon Martin. They hear these names, these stories, and although they don’t understand it the way we do, they get it, so she used those examples. And the kids were really appreciative to hear it from her, another white woman, talking about these issues. She was scared. She told us in her interview she was very scared. But you know, kids accept things a lot quicker than we realize. When they had that conversation, they were like, okay, cool. That was it. They weren’t pushing back. They weren’t demanding more. Now some of the parents did not accept it that well, and the administrator backed her up and said, look, this is how she teaches. We are in full support of that. You know, this is what we’re doing. And so, you know, at the end of the day, it was great for the children. It was great for her to have these conversations. They’re likely not to end up in that reintegration stage because at such a young age of four, they are learning positive affirmation about people of color and about themselves as people who support other people. So they’re getting that positive racial identity development at such a young age. And that’s what’s important to this work.

So again, if you’re not comfortable, maybe you have friends who do this antiracist work as White people. And you can have them talk to your child about what it’s like and why it’s important. And there are groups that I will talk about as well as we get to the resource slide, which I believe is next. Yes.

So there are tons of resources out there. These are just a few that I wanted to share with you. First is the Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education work out of Pittsburgh called P.R.I.D.E. So please click on the link. I hope you have — you should have access to the slides, and you’ll be able to click on the link. They have amazing resources. They looked at a full study on racial identity development of young children in Pittsburgh. And they came up with tons of resources. And so I highly recommend it.

Embrace Race is another organization that I use a lot of the resources. They’re designed for parents, and they talk about — a lot about racial issues and racial identity development. So that’s great.

There’s a wonderful book called Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race. Picture book. It’s a hard cover board book, although it’s for young preschool and kindergarten aged children. And it’s great. It has a great story. It talks about melanin. It also talks about how racism got started for young children to understand that they were people who believe that, you know, people of color were not as good as white people and they talk about that in a very age-appropriate way. They have a series of books about these first conversations, one’s on race, one’s on gender, one’s on consent. And I forgot what the fourth one that’s coming out is going to be on. But I highly recommend them as a great starting place.

There’s another organization called Woke Kindergarten, which is led by an amazing black educator, Akiea Gross. And they put out so many great resources. One that I love is called Sixty-Second Text. And it’s just a really short minute video about a topic. That’s just beautiful. One of them is on play. It’s just so great to see black children playing and all of these different things. So lots of good resources there.

And lastly, I mentioned briefly the Black Lives Matter at school work. We have 13 guiding principles that we use to talk about the movement. And two of our educators, the teacher, an early childhood teacher and an art teacher put together a wonderful collection of resources for the principals, which was published into an activity book. So it’s called What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles and Activity Book, published by Lee & Low. It has all the principles, beautiful artwork and spaces for children to draw, and for questions. There’s a letter to adults and a letter to teachers about the work and the movement. And so I highly recommend it.

And again, these are just a few resources, but there are so many more. But mainly, you just have to know and understand that everybody has racial identity. And it’s our job as parents and caregivers and teachers of young children to support them through that development so that it is positive, so that they grow up and they work well with other people from different racial groups, they see themselves positively in their racial group, and they are ready to continue supporting the movement for racial justice in this country and beyond.

Lastly, I just wanted to end by saying Trying Together supports high-quality parent education for young children by providing advocacy, community resources and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and individuals who interact with them. You can sign up for their newsletter, and you can also follow them on social media.

Lastly, you can contact me at Thank you so much.