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Common Sense Media: 10 ways to use media to raise anti-racist kids

Common Sense Media
June01/ 2020

By Sierra Filucci 

Parents of Black and brown kids know that instilling their kids with a sense of racial identity and talking about how racism will inevitably affect their lives — and possibly even their safety — are essential life lessons. Parents of White kids, on the other hand, often don’t feel the same pressure. But as racist violence continues to erupt, discussing race, racism, and the history of racial oppression in the United States and the world is just as essential for White families. These are not easy conversations to have, but movies, TV, and books — as well as other media and tech — can be powerful tools to help you get started. Remember, media makes a big impression on kids. But the messages you send — from the media you choose, to the conversations you initiate — are what kids will hold in their hearts and minds long after the final credits.

Here are 10 ideas for how to use media to start and continue conversations about race and racism with your kids. This list is not exhaustive, so if you have other ideas, please add them to the comments.

1. Diversify your bookshelf

If you grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, you can still share these classics with your kids. But don’t stop there: Look for stories featuring and written by people of color. Here are some places to start:

2. Point out racism in movies, TV, and games

It can be easy to let stereotypes fly by when watching the minstrel-show crows in Dumbo or exaggerated accents in The Goonies. But by pointing out when something is racist, you’re helping your kid develop critical-thinking skills. These skills will allow conversations about race and stereotypes to deepen as kids get older.

3. Watch hard stuff

As kids get older, expose them to the harsh realities of racism throughout history and through the current day. That doesn’t mean nonstop cable news replaying gruesome details of violence but carefully chosen films like The 13th or McFarland, USA. You can also watch footage of protests to kick off conversations about anger, fear, oppression, and power. Be explicit about racism and discrimination being hurtful, damaging, and wrong.

4. Seek out media created by people of color

As you choose your family movie night pick or browse online for books, specifically look for authors and directors of color. Aim for stories that include people of color in lead roles and as fully developed characters. With older kids, take an audit of how many movies or books you’ve recently watched or read that were created by people of color. Discuss the reasons for any imbalance and the importance of a variety of perspectives.

5. Broaden your own perspectives

Follow and read Black and brown voices and media outlets. Use what you learn to inform conversations with your kids. Some places to start (and by no means a complete list):

6. Discuss hate speech and harassment online

Ask kids if they’ve seen racist language in YouTube videos or comments. For social media-using kids, talk about racist memes. Ask them to show you examples and aim to develop empathy without shaming them. Help them understand how following or sharing racist accounts helps spread hate. Brainstorm ways they can safely and responsibly speak out against racist imagery and messages online. Adapt this lesson on countering hate speech for your conversations.

7. Understand the online landscape

Read this account of a White mom parenting through her son’s exposure to online white supremacy. And read the son’s perspective. Learn more about places where White racist groups congregate and how they recruit, and keep discussions open and honest with kids who socialize on sites like Discord and Reddit.

8. Explore the power of tech tools

Use recent examples of how phones, video recordings, and editing tools affect our understanding of race and racism. Discuss how the release of video evidence can spur action, like in the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Explore together how photos and videos can both reveal truth and hide it — especially when context is edited out.

9. Build news literacy

Besides sharing news articles from different perspectives with your kids, use opportunities like protests in Minneapolis to discuss how news is presented. What kinds of stories get the most attention? How are language and images used differently to depict people and incidents depending on the news outlet, the people involved, and the topic? Look at news coverage of incidents where White people commit acts of violence and compare to when people of color do.

10. Teach your kid to be an ally

Learn about how White people can support people of color by being allies and then integrate these ideas into your conversations and actions with your kids. Talk through scenarios your kid might encounter online and discuss (and model) when it might be best to just listen, to call someone out, to amplify someone’s voice, to share resources, etc. Share mistakes you’ve made around talking about race and racism – in person or online – with your kids so they know it’s OK to not be perfect or have all the answers.

Common Sense Media

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