Educating Our Kids Around Race
Friends have been asking me, “How can we better educate our children around issues of race?”
As a Jewish black mom, this is what I told them:
Make the effort to introduce your kids to more diverse materials; like books and media. The subject of the material doesn’t have to be centered around race. So often, when kids encounter conversations around people of color, it can be relegated to the “issues” of racism, crime, or violence.
We should consistently present our children with multi-dimensional stories and images of people of color. Otherwise, children are offered one-dimensional versions of people that makes it easy to stereotype. When we read stories about people and we can understand from shared human experience, it doesn’t pigeon-hole black people into specific negative stereotypes.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge race. By avoiding the topic of race, we lose the opportunity to openly discuss sameness and differences between people. Colorblindness is not a compliment — it means that one might not see the various lived experiences, histories, and cultures that contribute to every individual’s identity development.
If issues surrounding race are never discussed in the home, when children get older and they begin to hear negative stereotypes, there is no information or value system to challenge what they might hear from peers or people who don’t share your values.
In conversations about race, don’t forget to talk about racism. Kids understand principles of fairness and equality and it is important that they are integrated into the conversations as well.
Start talking about race early. By doing so, race becomes a natural part of a child’s perspective of the world, and not something scary or to be avoided out of awkwardness. They may have a richer understanding of the different types of people they will encounter. They will feel comfortable to be open to connection with diverse members of their own community and engage in a mentchlich way with everyone.
We always talk to children at their level. There is a way to discuss race at any age. As kids get older it’s important to talk about the societal and historical implications around race. A child that is fluent in the language of race can create bridges across different communities and is better equipped to be a part of a changing attitude towards the inherent diversity of our Jewish communities.
They can create spaces that are welcoming to everyone, and that’s a powerful shift that we are all working towards. We must continue to work together to develop ahavat yisrael and achdut– and educating our kids around these issues is a beautiful step forward.
Work to improve our own education by learning about diverse histories and listening to stories of communities of color. A great place to start is reading black stories- our libraries are full of books that cover important topics.
Within Judaism- there are many communities from around the world. Learning those histories of difference and similarity is a great place to start.
My daughter is six years old and she has already been the recipient of racially charged comments from her peers — not because children are inherently racist, but because they are picking up on things they don’t understand. Our kids need us to be actively engaged in the conversation.
My hope is that we can create space in our community for more connection and empathy for all our children, and for each other.
Chava Shervington is a current board member of the Jewish Multiracial Network, where she became a recognized voice on issues of racial equity and inclusion in the Jewish community. A recent west coast transplant, she lives in Los Angeles with her family.