Understanding the challenges and opportunities of talking to children about race and racism in child-facing institutions

Leigh S. Wilton*, Jessica Sullivan, Analia F. Albuja, Sylvia P. Perry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Researchers from a range of disciplines emphasize that effectively socializing children about race and racism is vital to promoting positive outcomes, such as disrupting the development of racist attitudes and beliefs. While parents and guardians influence children's racial attitudes and beliefs, children also learn about race and racism from many other important adults in their lives, such as teachers, community leaders, and librarians. Yet race-related topics are largely absent or underdeveloped from child-facing programming, policies, and procedures. In this paper, we describe three major barriers to effectively socializing children about race and racism within child-facing institutions like libraries, museums, and schools: (1) adults’ (often inaccurate) beliefs about children's social and cognitive race-related development, (2) adults’ knowledge and comfort discussing race and racism with others, and (3) social norms that minimize explicit discussion of race and racism in institutional and interpersonal contexts. To contextualize these barriers, we address how children can process and reason about race across childhood and outline the evidence-based benefits of socializing children about race and racism inside and outside the home. Finally, we provide recommendations aimed at translating this research to child-focused spaces and provide general guidelines to consider when implementing such practices in their own spheres of influence. In sum, we argue that effective socialization about race and racism benefits all children and can (and should!) be achieved successfully outside of the home; and that adults who interact with children must interrogate their own beliefs, biases, and perspectives, work to develop cultural competence, and invest in and continually reassess practices and policies to facilitate effective socialization about race and racism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-124
Number of pages36
JournalSocial Issues and Policy Review
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Applied Psychology

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