Laura Henry-Allain on Educating Children About Anti-Racism
An award-winning international writer, speaker and consultant - not to mention the creator of the hugely popular CBeebies show JoJo and Gran Gran - Laura Henry-Allain has teamed up with illustrator Onyinye Iwu to create My Skin, Your Skin. Accessibly presented and highly engaging, the book is the perfect way to open discussions with young children on the topic of racism and how to respond if they have either been a victim of a racist incident or witnessed racist abuse being directed at others. In this piece, Laura explains why educating children about these issues is so vital.
Over the last year or so, racism has been discussed much more than in previous years, on a global level. Since George Floyd’s murder in 2020, more and more people have been shocked at how racism negatively impacts black and brown people, affecting their wellbeing and mental health.
During the summer we saw the awful racism that Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka received at the end of the UEFA European Football Championships and again, the nation expressed shock at how racist individuals can be – especially from behind the curtain of social media.
As a black person, I know that I am judged by the colour of my skin before I speak, and having watched the UEFA final, I knew that racism was going to play a part in the criticism that followed and that these three footballers would be targeted.
Many parents are keen to support their child’s understanding of race and racism and want to know what they can do to help their child to become anti-racist.
So how can you make sure that your child grows up to be anti-racist? As parents we must do rather than just say. One of the reasons I wrote My Skin, Your Skin was to give parents a tool to help them start discussions with children on race, racism and empowerment.
It’s important that we start with ourselves and reflect on our own past racist behaviour and attitudes. Do we honestly understand what racism is? Racism is believing that you are superior to others based on their skin colour or culture. This may show in your attitude, actions and what you say about others. It could be that we ignore someone else saying hurtful words, pre-judging, (what happened to the footballers) or violence to others. To support your children to be anti-racist it’s important to understand what your own attitude to racism is and be able to confront it if necessary.
Unfortunately, it’s not only adults who are exposed to racism. Children – even pre-school children – can also suffer. This can be from other children or even worse, from an adult. Hence, why we must discuss race and racism with young children.
If children are experiencing and witness racism in their early years we must discuss with them, in an age-appropriate way, what racism is and what they must do. Equally, it’s important to support your child with their understanding if they ask questions – I always say if your child asks a question from a place of curiosity or indeed concern, they are ready for an answer that mirrors their level of intellectual development.
If your child experiences racism, they will need you to support and lovingly guide them, as you always do. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions and explain clearly that racism is wrong. The person or people who were racist are ill-informed and need educating in their behaviour. Continue to offer support to your child in an age, stage and ability-appropriate way.
Empower your child to speak out safely against racism by sharing examples of how they can do this.
Explore with your child what makes them unique and amazing. This could be their beautiful hair and skin, or their special talents, such as drawing or swimming. Recall memories, for example, of when they were kind to Gran Gran and helped her with the shopping, or other similar acts. Reinforcing the positives will help your child to create a positive self-image and build self-belief.
All children need to be able to mix with people of different races and cultures. This shouldn’t be as a one-off experience, which is tokenistic. I use the term sensory diversity: children should experience differences not just in what they see, but also what they hear, taste, feel and smell. As a parent, reflect on the everyday experiences that you expose your child to and how your child is developing an understanding and appreciation of others who do not look, or live, like them.
Exposing your child to differences is just one element of your child becoming anti-racist. However, with your ongoing guidance and education as a parent you are heading in the right direction.
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