How to Talk about Racism; What's the Best Approach for Children?

The Queensland Times (Ipswich, Australia), November 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

How to Talk about Racism; What's the Best Approach for Children?


Byline: Naomi Priest Australian National University

ISSUES related to racism and racial discrimination feature in our news and social media feeds with alarming regularity.

This year more and more stories have emerged around "black face", hotly contested debates about cartoons, free speech and who gets to decide who and what is and isn't racist.

Teaching children about racism

So how do we talk to a new generation of children about complex issues of racism, discrimination and prejudice? What does the scientific evidence tell us about the best ways to support children to navigate the increasingly diverse contexts in which they live, grow and learn?

A strong discourse still maintains that we shouldn't talk to children about issues of race, racism and diversity.

Myths persist that children don't notice difference or "see" race and so we shouldn't unduly bring it to their attention. These "colour blind" approaches instead focus on a shared, common humanity without explicitly recognising that difference and diversity are pervasive. In other words, that sameness and difference co-exist.

Critically, this also ignores the incontrovertible evidence that some groups in society, including children and young people belonging to those groups, are treated unfairly on the basis of this diversity and difference.

Scientific evidence, including from experimental studies, also documents that colour-blind approaches that avoid talking about difference tend to reinforce rather than counter prejudice in children.

Perception that Australian = whiteness

Our research in Australian schools shows this also tends to communicate that being Australian equals whiteness. …

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