I know too many parents who are afraid to broach the subject of race with their kids. They don't know the right age or the right time to begin the conversation, or they are scared of saying the wrong thing. So, they just keep putting it off until reality smacks them (and their kid) in the face and as a result, are unprepared to deal with race-related situations when they arise (keyword in that sentence is when, not if).
I began talking to my multiracial daughter about her racial background and identity before she could walk or talk. My goals, overall, were and still are to ensure she knows what she is/where she came from, is proud of who she is, what makes her different and how she can articulate her racial identity to the outside world. Here are some things we did and still do to help with these conversations.
- Keep it Simple: you want to start having these conversations early- like, even before your child can talk. Keep things simple and don’t think about it as “THE race conversation” but rather think about small things you can do every day to talk about race and differences. Children are perceptive and pick up on the smallest of things so the more you talk about race in your normal life and throughout your normal routine, the more they will understand it.
- Embrace and Celebrate Differences: point out differences as often as possible and teach your child to embrace these differences and celebrate them. Being different is a good thing! This can be as simple as reading a book and pointing out what makes one character different from another. Learning about animals? Talk about walking versus flying animals. One isn’t better than the other, they are just different and different is good. Out shopping and come across dolls? Mention that the dolls are different colors but that doesn’t make one better than the other. Point out how beautiful one of the dolls is and then tell your child how beautiful their skin is. Relate it back to yourself-- point out that Mom and Dad are different colors but that’s a good thing. This will get them to see that race isn’t a foreign, removed concept. It’s right there, in their everyday life. If you have a mixed-race child and live in an area where they are in the minority, it’s vital that they understand they are different (because they are, at least in that population) and embrace it. Differences are what makes each of us special.
- Give Them the Words and Actions: self-identity will come later, with age. For now, decide what you would like your child to identify as (biracial, multiracial, mixed, mixed race, one of their races, etc.). Give them the words with which to identify but make it clear that this is their choice. Society will identify them regardless, but it is vital that they choose how they identify for themselves. Teach your children to be vocal about who and what they are. Standing up and speaking out is a skill that must be taught. Encourage this in your children- they will do it when you are not around and will be able to handle situations that arise (and so will you). My daughter will often correct people who mis-identify her and say no, she has “mixed up skin, like my Mommy and Daddy” (we are both biracial). She is correcting people and asserting her identity already, at the ripe old age of 4.
The key here is to just start talking. This should not be “THE” talk, but a talk, one that happens on a daily basis.