Why to Talk to Children about Race

Why talk to children about race? Debunking five common myths with Randolph Carter, a progressive educator and consultant for Peninsula School.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a lunch for parents of students at Peninsula School on the topic of diversity. Though I am not a parent, I graduated from Peninsula, and I come from a multiracial, multicultural background, before being biracial became cool and when organizations such as Mavin were just getting started. I find the topic of diversity ripe for discussion in a variety of learning contexts.

The lunch featured Randolph Carter, Director of East Ed, a collaborative serving schools and agencies to support the establishment of equitable, anti-bias, multicultural environments. Carter touched on some of the popular myths that pervade the general culture of inclusiveness in the bay area, specifically relating to race: 

Myth #1 Young children do not see race.

Research shows that actually, they do.

Myth #2  Young children do not have racial preferences.

In a study done by Birgitte Vittrup at the University of Texas, the myth is debunked.

Myth #3 It is not a good idea to talk about race with young children. Pointing out racial differences can help create bias.

Phyllis Katz, at the University of Colorado found that “those children who were least biased at age 6 were the ones whose parents had talked to them about race in the earlier years.”

Myth #4 Placing children in multicultural environments will give them an opportunity for cross-racial friendships.

While the intention here is great, James Moody of Duke University found the more diverse the schools were, the more socially self-segregated they were. 

Myth #5 Multicultural curricula are educating children to be anti-bias.

With Rebecca Bigler’s research in mind, the importance should be on explicit age-appropriate discussions for a sustained attitude change.

So, why talk to children about race? Simply put, so children do not become racist, and they can learn from and engage with the differences around them, rather than pretend to be colorblind.


The five myths are from an Eastern Educational Resource Collaborative handout Edited by Reena Bernards, LGMFT, 2009

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (2009). “Why White parents don’t talk about race,” NurtureShock, (New York: Twelve).

Tony N Brown, et al. (2007). “Child, parent and situational correlates of familial ethnic/race socialization,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 14-25.

Phyllis A. Katz, (2003). “Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin?” American Psychologist, Vo. 58 No. 11, 897-909.

Birgitte Vittrup Simpson (2007), “Exploring the influences of educational television and parent-child discussions on improving children’s racial attitudes,” Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.

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Vanessa Castañeda February 06, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Very interesting, Lakshmi. Can you elaborate on Myth#5? What do you mean by "anti-bias?"
Lakshmi Eassey February 08, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Vanessa, thanks for your question. Instead of saying "ant-racism, anti-sexist...(and all the other ist and isms)" I understand that anti-bias education recognizes that everyone has a different background and focuses instead on how to acknowledge our own bias and move past them. In the same spirit of objective reporting, it is important to teach about all the prejudices a person may carry, and not even realize it.
Vanessa Castañeda February 09, 2012 at 12:59 AM
I see. Established patterns of existence are often challenging to overcome, given that people act upon them subconsciously. How do you teach a person to move past those?


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