Talk About Race and Justice With Kids Using EmbraceRace

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EmbraceRace is a parent-founded online organization with a mission to help caregivers talk to children about race and racial justice. Wife and husband duo Melissa Giraud, who is multiracial, and Andrew Grant-Thomas, who is Black, started the web community in 2016 because they couldn’t find enough resources to help them discuss race with their daughters.

Photo Credit: EmbraceRace

EmbraceRace offers webinars, conversation guides, videos, community forums, and other materials for adults who know they need to talk with kids about race. Giraud draws on her experience as a K-12 educator and radio producer to further the organization's mission, while Grant-Thomas contributes his know-how as a racial justice researcher and advocate. EmbraceRace’s national advisory team is composed of social justice experts from diverse fields.

In the next five years, Giraud tells CircleAround, “We’d like to see a huge growth in the number of caregivers, educators, media, and policymakers, librarians, and other caring adults who understand that they must take an active role in supporting the kids in their lives to be informed, thoughtful, and brave about race.”

Educator, administrator, and researcher Dr. Nicol Russell, who has contributed to EmbraceRace’s resources, says the work the organization is carrying out is important. She says in the years since President Obama’s election, we have seen “a nation being forced to confront its racist history and racist present, and considering how it wants the future to be.” She says EmbraceRace works to “equip people with resources to have these critical conversations, from providing foundational information like definitions of keywords and concepts, to creating spaces where curious, like-minded folks can come together to learn strategies for acting on a race-focused agenda,” with and for young children.

A wealth of research has shown that we develop conceptions of race early in childhood. For example, one study found that babies as young as three months exhibit preferences for people with their own skin tones, and another reported students starting kindergarten have already adopted cultural racial biases. As young people absorb and adapt to their societal surroundings, parents can take an active role in guiding them to understand race and racial inequity, according to EmbraceRace.

EmbraceRace states it’s important to start discussing race when kids are young and to view the work as a marathon, not a sprint. “Opportunities to talk about race with kids abound. It’s definitely been an ongoing conversation in our house for years,” Giraud says.

For example, if your child asks, “What is racism?” Giraud suggests this response: “Racism is the wrong belief that white people are smarter, more beautiful, more important, and more deserving of power, good schools, money, and care. It is an untrue idea. We’re all equally valuable no matter what we look like.” She would add, “But racism has been a part of how our society works for so long that we have to work to undo all the harm it’s done to all of us, especially to Black and brown communities.” She says parents can also ask 

Photo Credit: EmbraceRace

Here are a few more tips on discussing race from EmbraceRace, summarized from their blog and resource page:

1Uphold and Choose Diversity Throughout Your Life

 You can do this by choosing a diverse neighborhood, school, and circle of friends for yourself and your child. Another way to boost diversity-awareness and racial literacy is by introducing books and other media that center diverse and marginalized lead characters, especially #ownvoices books, which are written by members of the featured groups.

2Explore and Celebrate Your Family and Community’s Identities, and Acknowledge Struggles

EmbraceRace encourages families to, “Talk about the histories and experiences of the racial, ethnic, and cultural groups you and your family strongly identify with.” Share family and community stories, contributions, and joys, as well as the difficult and painful parts of your cultural past and present.

EmbraceRace also says it’s okay to tell kids if you have “‘big’ or complicated feelings about race,” and to share why. And if you don’t have an answer to a racially-oriented question, admit that, get some help, and return to the topic later on.

3Encourage Children To See Their Own Power in Building Racial Justice

 “Be sure your child knows that the struggle for racial fairness is ongoing, and that your family can take part in it… Connect the conversations you have to the change you both want to see, and to ways to bring about that change,” EmbraceRace advises.

Race and racial justice can be tied to broader socio-emotional topics for kids, like fairness, self-love, and friendship. “They may not know the word ‘race,’ but they do know differences. They do know justice. They have a sense of that,” Dr. Russell said in an EmbraceRace webinar.

One way to focus on the positive and the potential for progress is by celebrating justice leaders and activists like Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ruby Bridges (all of whom have had children’s books written about them).

However, remember to also read books that portray kids of color in happy, everyday situations — not always in the depth of struggle. “Just last week, my 11-year-old, Black-multiracial daughter expressed dismay that a white friend of hers wrote a story featuring a person of color and many narrative generalizations about how hard life is for people of color,” Giraud says. Her daughter said, “I like my life,” and expressed that she didn’t identify with the characters. Giraud discussed the tendency of authors to overfocus on racial justice narratives with her daughter and told her, “We need those books, but we also need books about all the cool, normal, and joyful experiences we have.”

“Yeah,” Giraud’s daughter agreed. “That’s why I write a lot of my own stories!”

“Keep on writing! I love your stories!” her mom replied.

More Resources: EmbraceRace shares many helpful materials, including this list of picture books “to Embrace Race, Provide Solace, Do Good.” Recent webinars include, “I Love Me! Positive Self-Identity in Young BIPOC Children,” and “The Attack on ‘Critical Race Theory:’ What's Going on?”

A core message from EmbraceRace is that kids will inevitably learn about race and racism from media, friends, other family members, teachers, and other sources, and it’s important that parents help their children explore and shape these understandings with compassion, honesty, and purpose. It’s a hard job but EmbraceRace exists to connect parents and offer expert advice.

Other organizations that support racial literacy and racial justice dialogue in parenting and education include Doing Good TogetherThe Conscious KidThe Brown Bookshelf, and Learning for Justice.

Tags: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, parenting

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Written By

Julia Travers

Julia Travers is a writer who often covers social and cultural topics. Find her at NPR, Art News, YES! Magazine and other outlets. See Full Bio

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