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Parental Arts

Why Language Matters When We Talk to Kids About Race

Over the past few weeks, amidst conversations about racial injustice, one thing has become very apparent to parents: We need to talk to our kids about race, and we need to do it now. As we’ve read and researched about how best to approach these topics, we’ve learned so much about how the language we use matters, and what it’s teaching our children.
Instead of the word: Prejudice
Use the phrase: White supremacy


“Understand how our words uphold systems of violence for BIPOC communities. Name the injustices happening towards the Black community,” writes @shiftingtheculture, who also encourages using “freedom fighter” instead of “thug” and “uprising” instead of “riot.” It’s impossible to fix a problem without naming it, adds The Conscious Kid, who says: “Naming also empowers young children with the vocabulary and shared language needed to identify inequity and take action on their own as they become more experienced around issues of race and social justice.”


Instead of saying: What’s on the outside doesn’t matter
Say: You can’t tell by looking at someone what kind of person they are


“What’s on the outside very much does matter, and always has in our country,” writes Madeleine Rogin at EmbraceRace. Emphasize that you need to get to know someone in order to learn about their qualities.


Instead of using the word: Slave
Use the phrase: Enslaved person


“‘Enslaved person’ is preferable to ‘slave’ because a person is not a thing,” says Teaching Tolerance materials for educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Conscious Kid features other related language changes when speaking or writing about slavery, like “enslaver” instead of “slave master.”


Instead of saying: “I don’t see color” or promoting “colorblindness”
Do this: Recognize differences


By preschool age, kids will often notice and point out differences in people, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who recommends affirming that people are different and highlighting diversity. An “I don’t see color” mentality lets you off the hook for discussing racial issues and dismantling prejudices, while minimizing the struggles of BIPOC, writes @ohhappydani.


Insead of: Ignoring stereotypes in books and other media
Use these words: “Fair” and “unfair”


Reading picture books together is an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about race with your kids. When you notice racial stereotypes or exclusion, talk about what’s fair or unfair about the depiction, suggests EmbraceRace, as it’s a framework young kids can understand. Ask your child questions like “whose story is this?” to get kids talking.