Anti-racist vs non-racist: 7 questions about racism parents need to ask & answer themselves now

By Rany Moran

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to be, and raise, anti-racists. Discover the 7 questions about racism that parents should ask and answer themselves now.

We all wear many hats, but being a parent is by far the toughest job around. Especially in a world that is increasingly open-minded and yet, also increasingly disparate and discriminatory.

Not only do we have to decide how to protect our children from a society plagued by bullying, we need to carefully nurture and educate our kids to be understanding, adaptable and respectful of everyone’s differences (including their own) to prevent any form of discrimination—be it inflicted upon or by them.

Discrimination is rampant, and spreading. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to be, and raise, anti-racists—bright young minds who are strong, positive and willing to fight against racism.

To do this, we first need to understand what it is to be “anti-racist”, the situations or syndromes our children could potentially face (especially if they’re mixed or in a foreign environment), what triggers and instills discriminatory behaviours, and why we need to be role models and lead racially harmonious lives ourselves.

What is an “anti-racist” vs someone who is “not racist”? One’s a proactive changemaker, one is in denial.

It is important to recognize the distinction between being “not racist” and being "anti-racist".

A person who is "not racist" tends to avoid conversations or confrontations about race altogether. By disregarding these issues, it suggests that racism doesn't exist or is someone else’s problem—which is the complete opposite of effecting change.

An "anti-racist" is someone who is vocal about their views against systemic racism and how to overcome things like racial differences and disparities.

Parents should also remember that the first step to raising an anti-racist child, is to be an anti-racist parent.

Are children actually colour blind? Their upbringing & environment is what instills racism.

Children are most certainly not colour blind. One of the biggest misconceptions held by parents is that their children don’t notice race unless it is pointed out to them—and that children only become racist if they are taught to be.

However, research shows us the opposite is true. Kids can naturally develop racial prejudice unless their parents or teachers directly engage with them about it.

Babies notice physical differences, including skin colour, from as early as 6 months. Studies have shown that by age 5, children can show signs of racial bias, such as treating people from one racial group more favourably than the other.

Ignoring or avoiding the topic isn’t protecting children, it’s leaving them exposed to bias that exists wherever we live. Children who encounter racism, can be left feeling lost while trying to understand why they are being treated a certain way, which in turn can impact their long-term development and wellbeing, as well as trigger yet another cycle.

What exposes children to racism, and how to avoid it? Challenge your own biased beliefs.

Our upbringing contributes to our own ideas and beliefs about race and discrimination. Understanding your own attitudes is the first step toward confronting these ideas.

If you want to raise anti-racist kids, you need to begin practising what you want to see in your children. Modelling good behaviours include challenging your own biased beliefs and continuing to seek new information are good examples to set for your kids. Children learn through what they see from their parents.

Remember that being anti-racist doesn't mean that you have to be entirely free of bias yourself. A large part of this involves examining your own ideas, confronting your biases, and then actively working to change those beliefs.

Should we shelter or censor our kids from racism? Anticipate questions and answer them.

Parents often shush children when they ask questions about skin colour. But silencing them—because perhaps they don’t want to avoid being racist or insensitive—may lead kids to believe it’s a taboo topic, even if their questions are almost always sparked by curiosity not discrimination. They will come to believe that it is inappropriate to talk about.

Rather than avoiding curious questions from kids, prepare yourself to answer them. Talk about current and historical events. Give your kids the chance to learn more about people who are different from themselves. Instead of shying away from conversations that make you uncomfortable, spend some time examining why those kinds of questions make you so uneasy in the first place.

In the past, people were often encouraged to believe that simply denying that there are differences in how we see or treat people of colour is the best way to prevent racism. This actually disregards the fact that the problem exists or suggests that racism is someone else’s problem, and implies that racism is an individual problem vs something that the entire society faces—and in turn, can fix.

Denying that racism exists or simply hoping that it goes away won’t help your children learn to navigate the world. We must prepare our children for the real world they are living in.

Is there such a thing as minority and/or majority syndrome? Identify and inform yourself.

Majority-minority syndrome exists especially in communities that have been divided by poisonous discrimination—like countries with cast systems and extreme income gaps.

One way to prevent kids from experiencing or inflicting such views is to openly talk about privilege. Some families think ‘privilege’ is a dirty word. It shouldn’t be. Privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never struggled or had an easy life, but rather when you've reached a certain level where you can live comfortably and help others unconditionally. Race and religion should never be factors of privilege.

Racism: Why does it still exist and how can we break the cycle? Seek out multicultural education.

Racism still exists because many still view such topics as taboo, and tend to avoid conversations to address and potentially overcome racism. Many also disregard or deny that these issues even exist.

So how do we break the cycle? We need to confront it and start making the change from home. Change is painful but necessary, and it is worth it. We need to prepare ourselves and our children to understand the issues, what are the sensible and responsible responses to model after, and how to embrace and accept everyone else’s differences.

We are all brought up differently, speak different languages, behave and react in contrasting ways, but at the end of the day, we must approach diversity of every form from a position of understanding and empathy. This is how we will overcome discrimination.

How do we instil a sense of racial harmony and acceptance in children? Be a good role model.

Parents play a significant role in shaping their children's views on race, which can be directed or misdirected.

Research suggests that as children age, cross-race friendships become less common, so parents should look at their own social circles, because their children might be learning this from them.

With children, behaviour is learned and instilled in the mind, most impactfully from their parents. Engaging in meaningful, authentic relationships with people who are different from you is leading by example.