Written By: Dr. Sheva Guy
As a white mom of two Black adopted sons (nine and ten) and a white biological daughter (three), I am conscious that while others can ‘check’ their antiracism journey at the door, not everyone has that privilege. Racism and white supremacy impact my sons’ lives all day, every day, and I am committed to my antiracist journey 24/7, 365.
What many parents fail to realize, though, is that we HAVE to talk about racism with our white children. We must integrate antiracism education into our everyday lives if we ever have the hope of dismantling white supremacy– after all, we are the oppressors, and it is the oppressors’ job to dismantle systems of oppression. As such, I have compiled a list of ways to raise children of all ages to be antiracist:
Educate Yourself: Read, read, read. Read the news, read books, and read academic articles. Start with the list of resources included at the bottom of this post. Follow antiracist content creators and pay them for their time and effort. Do not depend on your minoritized colleagues, acquaintances, friends, or family to teach you about their experiences. It is exhausting and traumatizing for them to do so repeatedly.
Check Your Bias: Raising antiracist children starts with YOU. Learn what your biases are and become aware when you exhibit them. Understand that EVERYONE has biases and that creating awareness of them is key to preventing them from impacting your behavior and the way you treat others. There are many ways to identify your biases, such as taking an Implicit Association Test. Keeping a bias notebook is also another option—log every time you realize you thought or acted in a biased way and identify ways to avoid this in the future.
Call Out Racist Behavior: White silence is violence; if you stand back and let racist words and behavior happen without intervening, you are part of the problem. This can include more obvious forms of racism like racist jokes or stereotypes, but it can also be subtle and in the form of microaggressions. When the boys first came to us, we noticed they were constantly being questioned for being in spaces where white children could be without given a second glance. Once, my oldest son, eight at the time, held a gate open at the playground for a white woman and her toddler; she said to her child, “Don’t be afraid . . . he is just helping.” THAT is how you raise racist children. At Costco, the boys were told they could not get samples unless their parents were present, and then they did not believe our sons when they identified my husband and me as their mom and dad (this was behavior from a vendor; we made Costco aware and they handled it swiftly and appropriately). At the new pool we joined, my sons were asked multiple times if they were “new here,” and not in a kind or welcoming way. You bet your butt I call them out. These are only A FEW examples of racism targeted at my sons during the times that I am around my children—most of the time, they are at school, sports practice, and camp, and in those scenarios, I am only privy to what they choose to tell me.
Start Early: Understand that no child is too young to identify and/or talk about race, and there are different ways to do this depending on their developmental level. The children’s books below are a great start. Make sure you are celebrating differences and not perpetuating a colorblind ideology when you do so (see numbers 5 and 8).
Avoid Colorblind Conversations: You may think that phrases like “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it is what is on the inside that counts,” or “We are all people, I don’t care if you’re white, Black, or purple” help, but they don’t. In fact, they are harmful. What they are really saying is, “I don’t see you for who you are or value who you are as a whole person.” It is degrading, insulting, and demeaning. We DO see color, and we should acknowledge, embrace, and appreciate differences (see number 8).
Diversify Your Entertainment: See number 4. In addition to reading books to educate children about racism, choose books and movies that have a diverse cast of characters, and discuss what it means when they don’t. Buy your children Black baby dolls and Barbies. Purchase Crayola’s ‘colors of the world’ crayons and cut out the outdated ‘flesh tone’ markers. Stock your kids’ cooking set with toy foods that represent an array of cultures and communities. Normalize media and toys that are not whitewashed. Who doesn’t love Doc McStuffins and Ada Twist Scientist??
Decolonize History: If your kids are enrolled in any kind of traditional school setting, their history lessons are likely to be skewed and centered on whiteness. Black history is limited to February. Native Americans and white settlers got along just hunky dory. Slavery is romanticized. While you may have some leeway (aka LEVERAGE YOUR PRIVILEGE) to encourage your school to diversify the curriculum, and, y’know, tell the truth about what really happened, by and large, it is up to you as parents to provide that education for your children.*
Celebrate Differences: Embrace cultural competency and celebrate differences. This can take many forms—it can mean learning about world religion and pushing back on Christian-centric practices. It can also be as simple as introducing your children to authentic foods from a variety of countries; depending on where you live, you could fill out a foodie ‘passport’ and visit a bunch of new restaurants (which pours into the local economy and supports global-majority-owned businesses). And, of course, encourage kids to celebrate their own uniqueness and embrace differences in their peers.
Proximity to Blackness does NOT make me antiracist. There is a disproportionate 'white savior' complex in the foster care and adoption communities, and it is disturbing. What makes me antiracist is doing the WORK—even after the workday is over, because white supremacy does not take vacations. The above steps are a start in educating yourself and your children to thrive as antiracist adults.
*Note: my experience is limited to life in the Midwest United States.
Books for adults: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy by Emmanuel Acho I'm Tired of Racism by Sharon Hurley Hall (she/her) White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D. (PSA: this is written by a white woman) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay Books for children: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry Furqan's First Flat Top and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy and literally everything else by Robert Liu-Trujillo The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson Teach Your Dragon About Diversity by Steve Herman
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison
Meet the Author
Dr. Sheva Guy
Dr. Batsheva (Sheva) Guy (she/her/hers) is a Change Management Consulting Senior Associate, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant, and Participatory Action Researcher. She is an alumnus of the Educational and Community-Based Action Research doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati. Sheva implements participatory and community-based methods to engage and support diverse groups and advocate for inclusive and equitable practices in the workplace to drive change management. Her strengths include organizational development, community engagement, and innovative research practices. To connect with Dr. Guy, visit her LinkedIn and follow her hashtag, #TheRealDrBatGuy, or visit her website.