4 Tips To Raising Anti-Racist Kids
We want to believe that we are past racism. After all, many more kids attend racially diverse schools. We have passed laws that are supposed to give equal protection under the law. We have even had a Black president, for goodness sake. Surely, we don’t need a parenting guide for how to raise anti-racist children! Sadly, as recent events have made us all painfully aware, guides, discussion, and change are still needed.
This guide focuses on resources to help white parents raise anti-racist white kids. We do recognize that many in our community are white parents raising kids of color and black parents raising black and white kids. Much of the information shared in this guide will be relevant to all these families, and many of the resources, especially the children’s books, will be directly on point. For more specific resources aimed at parents who are raising black and brown kids, we also recommend the following:
- EmbraceRace.org – Resource site formed by black and multi-racial parents with tools for parenting kids of color.
- One Talk at a Time – Providing support for Latinx American, Asian American, African American, and Black youth and their families to have conversations about race and ethnicity. In recognition that the issues may differ depending on the ethnicity, they have a separate section for Black, Asian, and Latinx parents.
- Creating a Family’s Transracial Adoption resource page – a variety of resources specific to families created through transracial adoption. We have an extensive collection of blog posts, news articles, expert Q & A’s, and radio shows/podcasts specific to multi-racial families formed through adoption.
- Between the World and Me – by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter to his teenage son about being Black in the United States.
“What’s the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist?”
Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University and author of How to Be an Antiracist, sums up the difference as a matter of degrees. It’s not enough, he says, to simply be not racist. “The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, it is anti-racist.”
No one is born racist or anti-racist; these result from the choices we make. Being anti-racist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making anti-racist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or anti-racist is not about who you are; it is about what you do. ~ Angela Davis, in an article for the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Being an anti-racist requires whites to actively fight against racism rather than passively claim to be non-racist. Being an anti-racist parent means proactively bringing our kids along on our journey for all of us to become anti-racist. It means parenting in ways that daily and actively counterweight the strong tide of racism that is baked into our systems, institutions, and daily behaviors.
White families have the luxury (read: privilege) of ignoring racism because it makes us uncomfortable, and we assume that it does not directly affect our children or us. But racism does affect our children and us because living in a racist society dehumanizes and destabilizes all of us. And our discomfort with the conversation is part of the problem.
Children notice race starting at a very young age. At around two years old, children use race to understand behavior. One study found that at around 2.5 years, children use race to choose playmates. Very young children also start to interpret white and lighter skin with positive character traits such as niceness, intelligence, and likability. It is never too early to begin to raise an anti-racist child. This process will last throughout your parenting, and there are limitless opportunities in everyday life to do this!
We will share four tips on how white parents can raise an anti-racist child. With each suggestion, we will include a few parenting resources and books for kids directly relevant to that tip.
The Importance of Children’s Books
Children’s books are one of the best ways to start and continue the raising of anti-racist kids. They are also one of the easiest ways for parents to jump in. Make sure your home library and the books you check out of the public library contain a diverse array of characters and heroes. This diversity takes effort and intention because children’s literature heavily reflects the default in our society to whiteness.
Look for a wide variety of genres and voices when choosing your children’s books:
- Black main characters that are positive
- Asian, Latinx, East Asian, and Indigenous main characters
- Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) characters in everyday life
- BIPOC characters overcoming oppression/racism
- Black and white kids crossing a racial divide and showing positive interactions across differences
- A mix of books set in the past and the present
- A mix of fiction and biographies
- Books that specifically talk about racism
Give particular emphasis to authors who share the same race as their characters. #ownvoices
Here are three of our favorite resources for finding diverse children’s books:
- Diverse Book Finder is a fantastic website that allows you to search for children’s books based on specific categories (e.g., biographies, oppression/resistance; crossing divides, etc.), race/culture (e.g., African American, brown-skinned but race unidentified, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern, Bi/Multiracial, etc.), country, religion, etc.
- The Brown Bookshelf highlights Black voices writing for young readers.
- The Conscious Kid is an education, research, and policy organization that promotes children’s books centered on underrepresented and oppressed groups. They have a book of the month subscription service and a terrific list of books that center, reflect, and affirm Black boys written by Black authors. You can also follow them on Instagram to learn about these books.
Tip #1 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Racial Diversity
The starting point for raising an anti-racist child is to acknowledge and celebrate racial diversity with your children. Arguably this is the easiest of the tips, and the opportunities are endless.
Conversations about race don’t always have to be about racism. Openly and freely express and call your child’s attention to the positive attributes of black skin, hairstyles, and facial features. Verbally express admiration for the abilities of many different people with a range of skin tones. Modeling for your children that you see blackness as beautiful and black people as positive helps counter the many moments when your child will get other messages that blackness is associated with negativity.
Seek out opportunities to include people of color in your life through the professionals and businesses you choose to use, the organizations you belong to, and the friends you make. Talk with your kids about the black and brown movers and shakers in our country’s history. Move beyond Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and extend the conversation past Black History Month. Include art in your home by artists of color, featuring subjects of color. And perhaps the most fun of all is to diversify your children’s book collection.
Pre-school through Elementary Ages:
All Are Welcome – by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman – a picture book for the pre-school through early reader crowd that acknowledges and celebrates diversity in encouraging ways.
We’re Different, We’re The Same – by Bobbi Kates (Author), Joe Mathieu (Illustrator) – a picture book featuring the Sesame Street characters talking about the importance of differences and our differences make us – and the world – special.
Sulwe – by Lupita Nyong’o (Author), Vashti Harrison (Illustrator) – a vibrant picture book for the pre-school and early readers age-group to help young readers understand that real beauty is about who you are inside. #ownvoices
God’s Big Plan – by Elizabeth F Caldwell (Author), Theodore Hiebert (Author), Katie Yamasaki (Illustrator). For families that want to include a religious book in their library. Talks about how the diversity in our world is part of God’s big plan. For pre-school through early elementary years.
Islandborn – by Junot Díaz (Author), Leo Espinosa (Illustrator) – A colorful picture book for the preschool through early reader ages that tells a story of diversity and strength. The character’s fantastic imagination weaves a tale that no matter where we go, the place we come from, is in us and with us always. #ownvoices
We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart – by Walter Dean Myers (Author), Christopher Myers (Illustrator) – this father/son project reads like a love letter to the ideals of “America.” It is a great read for the upper elementary school set. #ownvoices
Middle School through Young Adult Ages
Another Brooklyn – by Jacqueline Woodson – A beautiful YA novel (ages 12 to young adult). This is a story of a young girl coming of age while growing up in 1970’s Brooklyn. It covers friendship, boys, parents, and race. #ownvoices
My People – by Langston Hughes and Charles R. Smith – Langston Hughes’ poem is illustrated with sepia photographs by acclaimed photographer Charles Smith. The book captures the beauty and soul of being a black American today, appropriate for ages: 9 through adulthood. #ownvoices
- The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences by Dr. Joy Harris and Carolyn Helsel.
- We are different, we are the same: Teaching young children about diversity (activities to do with young children)
- Teaching Diversity: A Place to Begin
- 8 Ways to Show Young Children that Diversity is a Strength
Tip #2 – Start Talking about Race and Racism Today
Racism thrives in white silence. And many white people are more comfortable being silent. Even those of us who want to be allies—who believe ourselves to be allies—are silent. We are silent for any number of reasons:
- We don’t want to stick our foot in our mouth and say something that will sound wrong (or be wrong).
- We haven’t done the internal work necessary to recognize our privilege based on being white in America
- We feel guilty, even if we aren’t sure exactly what we have done.
- We are afraid of the cost of speaking up about race. “Cost” can take the form of loss of friendships, social standing, and comfort.
White silence can take many forms:
- Silence at a racist joke to not make waves.
- Silence when others are expressing racial bias.
- Silence by not talking positively about black and brown people.
- Changing the channel when protests are being aired.
- “We are one race—the human race.”
- “I am colorblind.”
If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity. ~ Albert Einstein
Growing up, I was told that race didn’t matter and that all people are equal. If only saying it would make it so! The problem with the colorblind approach is that our society is anything but colorblind. It is a falsehood that belies the reality for people of color, and it discounts the beauty and strength in diversity.
Talking about race with our children is not a one-time conversation. It is not a conversation to start at age 10. It is an ongoing conversation that begins in infancy and continues for a lifetime. Similar to raising a child within a particular faith tradition or a value system, these are daily practices and ways of life that must be ongoing in our homes.
If you haven’t begun, it’s never too late to start.
Preschool Through Elementary Ages
Where Are You From?– by Yamile Saied Méndez (Author), Jaime Kim (Illustrator) – it is a question that kids of color have to field often in their interactions with the world. A little girl learns that simple questions have big answers. Perfect for preschool through early elementary kids. #ownvoices
Milo’s Museum– by Zetta Elliott (Author), Purple Wong (Illustrator) – Written for ages 4-7, this is a bright, colorful picture book about diversity, creativity, ingenuity, and representation. #ownvoices
The Day You Begin – by Jacqueline Woodson (Author), Rafael López (Illustrator) – a story for the early elementary age range, about feeling like an outsider, looking or living differently than others around you. It encourages kids to be brave and try to make connections anyway. #ownvoices
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family – by Ibtihaj Muhammad (Author), S. K. Ali (Author), and Hatem Aly (Illustrator) – Suitable for preschool through early elementary. A story of a young girl and her sister getting ready for their first day of school. She watches her sister struggle with wearing her hijab for the first time and learns valuable lessons about family, faith, strength, valuing differences, and self-love. #ownvoices
Three Balls Of Wool – by Henriqueta Cristina (Author), Yara Kono (Illustrator), Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Translator) – a fable about a child’s family leaving their homeland due to unrest and oppression. It also includes themes about immigration, uniformity, differences, and diversity in bright graphic colors. Suitable for early elementary readers. #ownvoices
The Other Side – by Jacqueline Woodson (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator) – For Ages 5-10, this picture book pairs lovely illustrations with Woodson’s beautiful lyrical style to tell a story of friendship and understanding in the midst of segregation. #ownvoices
Momma Did You Hear the News? – by Sanya Whittaker Gragg MSW (Author), Kim Holt (Illustrator) – a picture book with easy to understand language. It’s meant to open up conversations with preschool through early elementary-aged kids – about racism, encounters with the police, and how to get home alive. #ownvoices
The Story Of Ruby Bridges – by Robert Coles (Author), George Ford (Illustrator) – The true story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges who became the first black child to attend an all-white school in 1960 – amidst terrible racial tension across the whole country. This book makes hard concepts easy for pre-school through early elementary readers to understand.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice – by Marianne Celano, Ph.D., ABPP, Marietta Collins, Ph.D., and Ann Hazzard, Ph.D., ABPP Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin – Available on Amazon as an audiobook, this is the story of two families – one white, and one black, who discuss a police shooting in their town and what they can do about it. There are also read-aloud videos available on youtube if you search. #ownvoices
Middle School through Young Adult Ages
Ruth and the Green Book – by Calvin Alexander Ramsey (Author), Gwen Strauss (Author), Floyd Cooper (Illustrator) – Young Ruth and her family are traveling to Alabama and on the way, she learns about Jim Crow laws and The Green Book for the first time. This is a great book for middle to upper elementary ages about a less frequently told story. *A good chapter book for middle-school aged kids to use with this book is the superb, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963)
The Parker Inheritance – by Varian Johnson – A letter in the attic leads to a mysterious story of shame and injustice, family secrets, and a town’s forgotten history. Ages 9-12 #ownvoices
Genesis Begins Again – by Alicia D. Williams – Good storyline for the 9-12 age group. The main character has to face her own ideas of racism and how to overcome them to be true to herself and find her identity. #ownvoices
Clara Lee And the Apple Pie Dream – by Jenny Han (Author) – A plucky Korean girl who wants to be her town’s Little Miss Apple Pie. She’s just not sure she’s “American enough” to win. Explores issues of identity, race, and community, as well as self-confidence and family-strength. For ages 7-12. #ownvoices
Also, these resources offer lists of #ownvoices books suitable for Young Adults:
- #OwnVoices YA Favorites – book list by The Seattle Public Library system
- 25 of Our Most Anticipated #OwnVoices YA Books of 2019 – blog post by Barnes & Noble’s BNTeen blog
- 6 YA Fantasy Novels by #OwnVoices Authors – article by BookRiot.com
- Talking About Race – tools from the Museum of African American History and Culture
- How To Talk To Your Kids About Race, Racism And Police Violence – podcast from OnPoint Radio
Tip #3: Recognize Systemic Racism and White Privilege
Raising anti-racist kids requires us to help our kids understand the invisible power structures and overarching system of racial bias the exist in most aspects of our society and the privileges white people have as a result. The first step is to recognize this privilege ourselves.
First and foremost, it’s critical for every American to stop saying terms like, “I’m not racist.” And I think it’s critically important for Americans to admit the racist ideas that they have likely been raised to believe. It’s critically important for Americans to admit the racist policies they’ve supported that have led to inequality and injustice and death. And it’s critically important for them to admit the times in which they were being racist because there’s no way they can change themselves if they’re still in that denial. ~ Ibram X. Kendi
Coming to understand this privilege is often an uncomfortable experience and requires us to check our tendency to become defensive. Two excellent starting points are Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism and White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son by Tim Wise.
TIP When talking with our children about structural racism and white privilege, a good place to start is with the concepts of fairness. Even very young children inherently grasp fairness.
Preschool Through Elementary Ages
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment – by Parker Curry (Author), Jessica Curry (Author), Brittany Jackson (Illustrator) – The charming story of little Parker and her first glimpse at the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Appropriate for pre-school through early readers. #ownvoices
Smoky Night – by Eve Bunting (Author), David Diaz (Illustrator) – Written for the early elementary ages, this story is based on the real-life events of the Los Angeles protests and riots after the Rodney King trials. The child will get a sense of the racism, prejudice, and pain that sparked the protests. #ownvoices
Across the Alley – by Richard Michelson (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator) – Charming story of two little boys who are quite different and how they navigate their friendship in spite of their differences and their grown-ups. Good for preschool through early elementary ages. #ownvoices
Middle School through Young Adult Ages
Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness – by Anastasia Higginbotham (Author) – for the older elementary crowd, through middle school ages. This book is a candid look at race, racism, power, privilege, and social justice. Good for parents to read with their kids to spark conversations about how to effect change together.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library – by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author), Eric Velasquez (Illustrator) – A law clerk who loved the books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and wanted to share his love with the world. His world-renowned collection, at the New York Public Library, is now called Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Inspiring for ages 8-12.
Brown Girl Dreaming – by Jacqueline Woodson – For the 10-and-up crowd, this memoir is written in verse about growing up black in both South Carolina and Brooklyn, NY in the 1960s and 1970s. The book does not specifically address institutional racism, but evidence of this systemic oppression is evident in every word. #ownvoices
A Kid’s Book About Racism – by Jelani Memory – Currently only available in Kindle version, this is a quick read that defines racism and can be used to start conversations from elementary ages all the way through young adult ages. #ownvoices
- Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America – by Dr. Jennifer Harvey – addresses a broad audience of families, churches, educators, and communities trying to train up kids to navigate the racially diverse country that America is while living in a way that is committed to equity and social justice for all.
- How to not raise a racist white kid – article in CNN Health, written by Dr. Jennifer Harvey.
- “What Is White Privilege, Really?” – a toolkit designed for teachers, but the advice and activities are also useful to parents to unpack the concept of whiteness and white privilege with themselves and their children.
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies” – by Resmaa Menakem – useful for white parents to understand the need to heal from the generational trauma of systemic racism that is deeply embedded in both black and white Americans before we can heal the divide in society.
Tip #4: Talk About Violence Against People of Color and Protests
I was raised to be polite, not make waves, and not get angry. That’s what good girls do. But not making waves in matters of racial injustice is just another form of white privilege. And sometimes, anger is the only sane and healthy response. Righteous anger should be expressed by raised voices and marching in the street.
While our children should not consume a steady diet of news coverage, they are very likely already hearing about violence against BIPOC and the protests if they are school-aged. Parents should use these opportunities to talk about the violence, the resistance, and how change happens in a democracy — both in current days and in our nation’s history. These are not one-time conversations.
Start by asking your children what they have heard. You can gage the best starting point to share the facts at a developmentally appropriate level, but make sure you continue these conversations beyond those facts.
Ask your child open-ended questions to spark more in-depth conversations.
- “How do you think people are feeling?”
- “Why do you think they are angry?”
- “What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?”
If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. ~ Bishop Desmond Tutu
Preschool Through Elementary Ages
AntiRacist Baby – by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky – considered to be a groundbreaking new board book for ages 0-3. Includes colorful pictures and easy to access language for anyone who reads to their baby. #ownvoices
A is for Activist – by Innosanto Nagara (Author) – a board book for baby, but useful to introduce your whole family to conversations about diversity, human rights, equality, and social justice. #ownvoices
We March – by Shane W. Evans (Author, Illustrator) – Colorful and simple language for kids as young as three, up through early elementary school years about the power and importance of peaceful protests told through the eyes of a young person whose family is getting ready to march to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will deliver a historic speech. #ownvoices
A Sweet Smell of Roses – by Angela Johnson (Author), Eric Velazquez (Illustrator) – This book for early elementary-aged kids tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of a young girl, her teddy bear, and her sister. It highlights the role of children in the movement for freedom and equality. #ownvoices
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers – by Sarah Warren – For ages 6-10, a story of an amazing civil rights activist who fought for better working conditions for migrant workers and protested for changes to labor laws. Her story will appeal to a young child’s understanding of fairness and justice.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez – by Kathleen Krull (Author), Yuyi Morales (Illustrator) – The moving story of one of America’s most famous civil rights activists, written in language that children in early elementary years can grasp. They will understand his compassion and desire to improve the working and living conditions of the migrant farmers trying to care for their families.
Middle School through Young Adult Ages
Betty Before X – by Ilyasah Shabazz – Appropriate for ages 10 and up, this is a fictionalized story of the childhood of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife. Written by their daughter Ilyasah Shabazz and traces the child she was to the civil rights activist she became. #ownvoices
The Boston Tea Party – by Russell Freedman (Author), Peter Malone (Illustrator) – Ground their understanding in the value of protest in US history. Let’s not forget that the United States was founded in the spirit of protests and civil disobedience. For ages 7-10.
Rise Up! The Art of Protest – by Jo Rippon (Author), Mari Copeny (Foreword) – Beautiful photography detailing the history of protests in America, to inspire young people to better understand the context and the power of peaceful protest. With Amnesty International. Perfect for upper elementary through middle school students.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices – edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson – A collection that will appeal to the upper elementary through middle school set with its inspiring poems, letters, personal essays, art, and other works about peaceful protest, standing up for oneself, forming identity and other pertinent issues that this age faces in today’s culture.
This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work – by Tiffany Jewell (Author), Aurelia Durand (Illustrator) – Written for ages 9 through adult, walks you through the definition of racism, how to spot it, where it comes from, and how to do the work of an anti-racist. #ownvoices
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide – by Carol Anderson and Tanya Bolden – Written like a handbook to understand the source of racism throughout America’s history. It is a young adult adaptation of Anderson’s best-seller White Rage that gives teens the context and resources to equip them to be anti-racist.
- 7 Ways to Highlight Resistance Efforts When Discussing Oppression with Children
- How to respond to “riots never solve anything!”
- How to talk to your children about protests and racism
- 7 Reminders for White Parents Talking to Their Kids About Police Killing Black People
If you haven’t listened yet, we also recommend our recent podcast, How to Raise an Anti-Racist Child, with Dr. Ann Hazzard, a clinical child psychologist who was on the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta and co-author of Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice; and Dr. Joy Harris, a Full-time Lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary and co-author of The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences.
The Responsibility Belongs To Us
The responsibility of raising the next generations of anti-racist Americans belongs to white parents, and most of us have work to do. While we can’t change the past, we can start today to do our part as parents to change the future for our children and their black and brown friends who will inherit this planet. Use this guide to spur you to take action. At the very least, over the next two weeks, choose three books to buy for your children and three parenting resources to read.
We can make a difference. We have to make a difference.
Special thanks to Creating a Family board member and friend, Dr. Gina Samuels for her valuable insight and contributions to the content of this guide.
**All the books listed have been linked through the Amazon Affiliates program. As an Amazon Associate, Creating a Family earns from qualifying purchases. However, we only recommend books that we value. Thanks for your support.