When to talk to children about racism

A study by Monash University suggests kids want to talk about issues of race and racism in the classroom, but parents and teachers avoid it.

Racial bias develops early in childhood based on what children are exposed to. But the code of silence around talking to primary students about racism, generally implemented by adults, can affect this exposure.

The study, published in Social Psychology of Education, showed that instead of kids being sensitive to the topic, it was adults that didn’t like talking about race, especially with children.

Yared explains that school can expose children to both positives and negative messages about race.

“Racial bias begins in childhood, slowly develops across the lifespan, and becomes deeply ingrained and resistant to change by adulthood. Children also experience racism regularly. In fact, the most common place where children experience racism is in school settings,” says Yared.

“This happens at systemic levels, from teachers, and when other children engage in these behaviours.

“Although children are capable and in need of discussions about race, parents and teachers are actively avoiding these conversations and maintaining a colour-evasive view that children don’t see race. Refusing to talk about race does nothing to combat the issue – negative views go unchecked and continue onto adulthood.”

The study uncovered four main themes in primary school attitudes about race: A lack of teacher confidence and competency regarding racial issues; White normativity; Colour-evasiveness; and silencing.

The study suggested that teachers felt ill-equipped and unconfident when responding to culturally or racially diverse classrooms, but children showed competence when discussing race.

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