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How I've Learned To Reduce Racial Bias In My Children

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

I’ve worked as a media professional for more than 10 years and I often see decisions being made in business that are biased. Many leaders in the modern workplace may not knowingly make biased decisions or even acknowledge it, but it does exist. Here's a great read about why diversity in the workplace is essential.

"if we can get our children to be comfortable with other races, it will go a long way to influence their behaviours, in a positive way, around conversations about diversity later in life."

However, biases don’t just exist in the workplace. It’s everywhere, from the area that we live in, the friends we have and people we associate with, it's intuitive. Research suggests that being biased is formed throughout life and it happens mainly through how people are cultivated in society as well as parental conditioning. We are raising the next generation of leaders, doctors, lawyers, city professionals and business owners. Education starts at home and if we can get our children to be comfortable with other races, it will go a long way to influence their behaviours, in a positive way, around conversations about diversity later in life.

This is something I'm very conscious of because I've always felt like the odd one out and I would like to share my thoughts with those who can be bothered to recognise that these things do exist. With that in mind, here's some of my insight to help talk about racial bias with children.

Children diversity
Credit to Chayene Rafaela | Unsplash

Confront Your Own Racial Bias

Attitudes towards ethnic groups are assumed to develop due to the influence of socialisation, the evidence is clear as referenced. What we see in the media is explicit bias and it’s widely reported. Most people may not feel they fit in this category, however it’s the deep-rooted implicit bias we need to be aware of. Studies conducted by the NLM shows that implicit bias can impact children, there’s a clear link between how parents behaviour can again influence the behaviour of their kids. Children read these messages like they read languages.

Whether it is unconscious or explicit bias, we may unknowingly pass that same bias onto our children. Therefore, it is important to display empathy, and understanding when teaching kids about racial bias. As caregivers, we need to understand & value diversity to be a good role model for children.

Saying things like, “you’ve got to be nice to everyone” is not enough.

Speak Openly About Race and the Effects of Racism

Given the current awareness around black lives and the education about black people’s struggles, this is something we should be discussing with our children now, more than ever. Parents who take a colourblind approach to race, don't often translate to children. Saying things like, “you’ve got to be nice to everyone” is not enough. Research suggests that parents need to be much more explicit about racism and its consequences. When white parents were asked to have race-related discussions with their kids, their children showed more positive attitudes toward racial outgroup members. The study also revealed that some white parents had psychological barriers to discussing race with their children. If we’re going to achieve equality in our communities, then we need to educate our children about these matters, this in my view is the first step.

Celebrate Diversity & Embrace Inclusion

Kids are immersed in negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media and through culture. To offset this, parents can educate kids through stories, books, and films to portray more positive images of people from different ethnic groups. Including virtuous examples like Nelson Mandela & Martin Luther King might be a good place to start. Examples of white people doing great things to embrace inclusion also exists. Being South African, I love referencing Peter Hain. He is a member of the British parliament, who moved to the U.K. from South Africa as a teenager and was a familiar anti-racist campaigner in the 70s & 80s. During apartheid, he was chairman of the Stop The Seventies Tour campaign that disrupted tours by the South African rugby and cricket teams. Kids can learn from these strong role models.

Have A Culturally Diverse Social Group

Parents, as well as children, should have diverse groups of friends, unless you're in an area that is not very diverse. This lends itself to engagement in multicultural activities and experiences. In doing so, parents can help to normalise cross group interaction and be role models for their kids. We are fortunate enough to have a good mix of cultures here in Bromley, Kent. Studies show that children’s attitude towards ethnic minorities are less tied to their parents’ explicit messages as apposed to the racial makeup of the parents' social group. Studies with adults show that this type of intervention has appeared to be one of the most effective ways of decreasing bias.

How to Speak About Racial Differences & Racism

(Credit to UNICEF for this little titbit) -

For under 5’s - Your child may begin to notice and point out differences in the people around you. As a parent, you have the opportunity to gently lay the foundation of their worldview, but make sure to use language that’s age-appropriate and easy for them to understand.

For older children, 6-11 - At this age it’s important to have open talks with your child about diversity, and racism. They are also becoming more exposed to information they may find hard to process. Start by understanding what they know. Discussing these topics will help your child see you as a trusted source of information on the topic, and he or she can come to you with questions. Point out stereotypes and racial bias in media and books.

For Teenagers - They are able to understand abstract concepts more clearly and express their views. They may know more than you think they do and have strong emotions on the topic. Try to understand how they feel and what they know, and keep the conversation going.

If you'd like, take the Implicit Bias Test Here

It’s OK not to have all the answers. Education starts at home, and as parents, we need to be the change we want to see in society. Recognising one’s own bias could be the key to start a conversation about racial bias.

Let us know your thoughts.

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