Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom Looking At Camera Sitting Down
Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom Looking At Camera Sitting Down monkeybusinessimages

How to talk about racism

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.

We also found that children were often confused about differences between racism and racialisation. Is talking about racial and ethnic difference racist? Is observing that someone has dark skin racist?

Critically, avoiding conversations about difference and diversity does not help children from groups likely to experience racism and discrimination develop positive coping strategies for dealing with such experiences.

Useful teaching tools

Some newly developed tools are available for schools, teachers and parents to help navigate these conversations in a more helpful way.

Reconciliation Australia's Narragunnawali program supports reconciliation in early learning centres and schools.

An app for primary school children helps them identify and challenge exclusion and racism and provides resources for teachers to use in their classrooms.

The Australian Human Rights Commission also has a series of resources for schools as part of the National Anti-Racism Strategy. It has materials for promoting diversity within early childhood settings, curriculum materials and an online resource for teaching students about human rights.

An audit tool to assist schools to review existing policies, procedures and practices to support diversity and address race-based discrimination is also available.

Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to ensure all children learn to navigate the complexities of our diverse world with empathy and respect. We must do all we can to ensure children are free from discrimination and unfair treatment on the basis of their cultural background, language or skin colour.

This article is originally from and courtesy of The Conversation.

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