Acknowledge your own learned stereotypes, generalizations, and attitudes first. Keng Ruiz, a Filipina married to a German national, shares, “My husband sometimes makes jokes about the immigrants [in Germany], and I tend to shush him up especially when the kids are around. He says his words are harmless, but the kids won’t see it that way because they haven’t really realized that different races exist.”
However, simply shushing might be counter-productive. A child whose questions are answered responds differently to racism compared to a child whose questions are simply ignored. As the American educator Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., writes, “Children who have been silenced often enough learn not to talk about race publicly. Their questions don’t go away, they’re just unasked.”
2. Have an open-door policy—encourage your kids to discuss problems with you.
Not talking can be damaging in the long run, says American race researcher Dr. Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson: “When we fail to acknowledge race with them, [children] will recognize discussions of race as off-limits with adults…and will harbor stereotypical interpretations of the cultural differences they do, in fact, observe.”
Be media-conscious. Offer a valid counterweight to the racial messages that might be coming under the radar from television, movies, and their reading material.
3. Have ongoing interactions with people from different racial and cultural backgrounds.
“My daughter is biracial (half Filipino and half Caucasian), and at 5 years old, she is aware of that,” explains Karingal. “We have to re-affirm to her the basic principle of respecting a person regardless of color or race. So we decided to invite an African-American family friend to come to our home and have dinner with us. We’ve done so regularly since then. Our daughter has come to see our family friend as he is. It’s easier to teach her this because we live in a diverse society.”
Karingal believes she has set a bedrock principle for her daughter that can only be confirmed with every future encounter with different races. “It starts with the basic principle of respecting human dignity of every culture or race. Only when parents stand on this foundation can they convince their kids.”