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Ten Ways to Develop Racial Awareness with Primary Aged Children

By Rebbecca Hemmings

Children are born without prejudices but as they become more influenced by the outside world, they begin to form views about it. Some believe that since this is the case, racism should not be discussed for fear of planting ideas in children’s minds but actually what is more likely to happen is that as the child grows and learns, any racist views held will be strengthened if not challenged. Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, we have created a list of our top tips for talking about racism with children. This is targeted at primary schools but most points can also be utilised by parents/carers and for young people.

  • Have conversations about culture – do not be afraid to discuss the obvious. There are people with different skin colours, who eat different foods and dress differently but ultimately, we are all equal and valid members of society.
  • Acknowledge racism. Children need to know that it exists and that treating someone badly because of their skin colour is wrong. What constitutes racism? What words are not okay to use?
  • Expose them to people of different cultures as much as possible. This goes further than just talking, it is important to know that people who come from other cultures are real. Visit a multi-cultural city centre, a place of worship or invite people to your establishment.
  • Do your research. If you don’t know much about other cultures, how can you expect your children to know? Read books, speak to people of other cultures (the best way), go on a diversity course, visit another country.
  • Be aware of your own prejudices (we all have them). Ask yourself some honest questions: what do I really think about Pakistani people? What judgements do I hold on Polish people? What gets on my nerves about Jamaican people? If you find your views are quite negative, challenge them by digging deeper and finding out the root cause of your belief. Quite often you will it is based on an isolated experience and is not indicative of all people from that culture. If you do not challenge your own prejudices, you could unconsciously pass these onto your children.
  • Be aware of the images by which your children are surrounded. If they are mono-cultural, you might want to ensure that they truly reflect the diverse world we live in. This applies to posters, books, dolls etc. It is well documented that most children associate images of white people as positive and people who are brown as negative (Example: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/)
  • Ensure that your children are proud of their heritage and identities. Having a strong sense of who you are, builds confidence and self-esteem and children are less likely to be negatively affected by racism.
  • Treat them with respect. Children are much more likely to understand the idea of justice if they are treated with respect on a regular basis. In turn, the likelihood of recognising unjust behaviour and opposing it, increases.
  • Teach the consequences of racism. No one likes to think that racists incidents occur, but they do and in the eyes of the law racism is a hate crime, illegal and punishable. What are your school’s procedures? How far is a parent (for instance) likely to go if their child becomes a victim of racism?
  • Create a plan of action. If a child witnesses or is a victim of racism, what should they do? Who do they report it to, what will happen as a result? What is the difference between a silly mistake and a genuine hurtful and deeply offensive racist remark or microaggression? Create a plan they understand and are happy to follow.

If all else fails, get in touch and we can discuss the types of antiracism work we facilitate for schools. Our antiracism training course for teachers, enables teachers to learn more about the experiences of their pupils and to understand racial discrimination in more detail.

Check our our children’s antiracism song.