Fighting casual racism starts with our children—here’s what parents can do

To build a more inclusive future, we must not shy away from having regular conversations with our kids about race, prejudice and diversity.

With the death of the Queen, there has been much interest in Harry and Meghan’s return to the UK. Like many, I have been deeply saddened by the accounts of how Meghan Markle has been racially targeted for being a woman of colour. Worse yet are Harry and Meghan’s concerns that their children will be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin.

I’ve spent more than 20 years working on the front line as a child psychologist with children who have some form of difference: mental health challenges, developmental/learning challenges, changing families, variances in sexual and gender orientation or race, and so on. I have heard countless heartbreaking accounts of bullying, prejudice and discrimination.

We must never be complacent. We must always fight for what is right. We must stand for equality, fairness, respect, and kindness. We can never take our values for granted. We must unite in our fight for social justice. We need to live the way we want the world to be. We know we must.

But how do we actually do it?

I find myself thinking as a psychologist again—and particularly as a developmental psychologist. If we are going to truly make a difference in the world, we need to start in our own homes, in our own families, and with our children.

There are key steps for raising children who embrace inclusion and fight racism:

1. Start talking with your children about racism, prejudice, and discrimination as early as possible.

2. Model inclusive values and language for your children.

3. As your children grow up, talk with them about the world’s problems.

4. Encourage your children’s advocacy.

Overarchingly, the idea is to not shy away or hide from the discussion, but rather to face it head-on, empowering your children to ask questions, share their feelings and figure out what they can do to help make the world become a kinder and more equitable place.

Beyond our homes, this kind of teaching needs to happen in childcare, preschools and elementary schools, as well as community programs and organizations. We need to talk about it. Children need to read about it and see it in their cartoons. They need to play games that promote diversity and inclusive thinking, and understand that when we see something we feel in our bones to be wrong, we cannot just sit there and let it happen. We need to speak up. We need to do something about it.

We can extend the message to encourage our children to stick up for other children in our schoolyards and playgrounds. Let’s teach our children to stick up for a classmate who has been told to “go home” because they come from a different part of the world. Empower our children to stand alongside a child who is bullied because they look different in some way or because they have a different level of ability. We can praise them for sitting beside the child who is made fun of because of their religion, the colour of their skin, or for having two moms.

We need to ensure that our children are raised with healthy values and with an inclusive worldview. Our children need to grow up with a mindset that has inclusion as a default setting. We will know that we have truly progressed as a global society if children are surprised to encounter prejudice in any form and know exactly how to squash it.

It is in our children where we will find hope.

Dr. Jillian Roberts is the author of “What Makes Us Unique?: Our First Talk About Diversity” and “On the Playground: Our First Talk About Prejudice,” both of which are available on Amazon.

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