Experts share importance of discussing race issues with children

A young girl stands with her fist in the air at the Edwardsville protest on June 6. Many protesters, of various age groups and racial backgrounds, showed up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Conversations about race look different in white households than in Black households, but can still lead to change. 

Alexandra Hughes, assistant director of student rights and responsibilities at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said she remembers how her father talked to her about race at a young age.

“He actually basically sat me down, showed me video footage of the marches and different things like that … and he didn’t do a lot of it at the time because, you know, I was still young, but he showed me where the firemen were spraying hoses at people who were marching, and dogs, and they were kind of going and attacking people,” Hughes said. “And that was kind of my first introduction into this whole world that we live in.”

Hughes said, now, she talks to children differently than adults when it comes to race. 

“I’m a professor, and I teach, of course, of cultural humility, race, all that type of stuff. But I’m teaching it to adults, essentially. So master’s level students, what I’m doing with these conversations or different areas … they’re college-age, for the most part,” Hughes said. “And the way that I talk to them is very different from the way that I talk to children.”

Hughes said in Black households, conversations about race are centered around survival. 

“I think we’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Why is it that we have to talk to our children about race? But the conversations of race are, ‘This is what you need to understand in order to survive. This is what you cannot do,”’ Hughes said.   

 Sammie Ratz, a child psychology graduate student, said parents play the primary role in teaching their children about racism. 

“I fully believe when it comes to education and teaching kids about certain things, it starts at an early age. You have to almost educate them instead of sitting them down one time and talking about individual differences and everything about that,” Ratz said. 

Ratz also said exposing children to characters of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities is one way to educate them.

“So, history individuals that had shown significant, very good findings in the past or done really good things and you can include heroes from different backgrounds [and] different ethnicities,” Ratz said. 

Ratz said it is important for black parents to let children explore their fears.

“Identify that it is being targeted toward a certain race and allowing them to kind of think that through and ask questions when they’re confused about things, because you don’t want them to bottle up the questions or the fears that they have in their head,” Ratz said. “You want to give them the opportunity to kind of release and fully understand what’s going on, but also not placing blame on specific individuals, just addressing the history behind it, in a sense.” 

Lisa Dumoulin, a preschool teacher in the Cahokia district, said teaching about race in a classroom differs from teaching at home because teachers cannot control what children are taught from their parents.

“We can’t control what’s said at home or what the feelings are at home. I think they learn by example, what’s set forth and what they’re exposed to and … then at school I think it’s more situational,” Dumoulin said. 

 According to Dumoulin, preschool-aged children are harder to teach because they are still in the egocentric stage. 

“Everything is about themself. So they’re just starting to be among people that are different from them, outside of their family, their first exposure to school,” Dumoulin said. “So we try to set those good examples for them to be accepting of others.”

Hughes said while Black families must talk about race for safety reasons, other races should also have those conversations. 

“I think that’s where, as Black parents and Black people, we have to have that conversation with our kids because it can mean survival, right? Or not. But I think that those conversations can be happening in other races’ homes — white, whatever — as well,” Hughes said. 

 

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