Talking to Children About Race

At what age should you start talking to your children about race?

Birgitte Vittrup of the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas tried to answer that question in her 2006 study. A recent article in Newsweek focused on the results of her study — See Baby Discriminate. Kids as young as 6 months judge other based on skin color. What’s a parent to do? [btw, I hated the title of the article–it begged for a small readership].

While the study was extensive, and I didn’t agree with much of it, it showed that the majority of [white] families simply could not bring themselves to discuss race with their 5-7 year olds. “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.” 

According to Vittrup, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences. They wanted their children to grow up “colorblind”.

The article also mentioned that in homes of people of color, race is discussed much more openly. I can attest to that in our home. I know from a very early age, we have been careful that our children don’t buy what the media sells (i.e. beauty = blond hair + blue eyes + white skin). It is very much apart of our lives on a daily basis. I personally think efforts are misguided if children are raised to be “colorblind”. Color is the very first thing people see and our society and history dictate the inability to be such.  

I’m curious to hear what other families have to say, how do you talk to your children about race? at what age do you begin?

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Tracy

Mom in a multiracial family, owner of iCelebrateDiversity.com, DiversityJellybeans.com, and MultiracialFamily.org.

2 thoughts on “Talking to Children About Race”

  1. My kids are biracial, and we started discussing race when they asked about it. My daughter was about 3 and my son, currently 4, hasn’t asked much yet. We talk about it as part of our lives as an interracial/intercultural family, so sometimes they’ll ask if they here us talking about something as well. I definitely think it comes up much early in families who are in the racial minority. Many of my white friends have told me their kids don’t notice race at all. I tend to think this is because they don’t need to – everyone around them looks like them. My daughter, on the other hand, noticed very early because she didn’t see many reflections of herself.

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