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How to Talk to Kids About Race


Talking about race with kids is important, and it doesn’t have to be hard or scary. You can take the first step by reading A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion together. This new advice book by author Deanna Singh is packed with helpful information and actionable ideas for standing up to racism and building a better world.

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Q&A with Deanna Singh, author of A Smart Girl's GuideTM: Race & Inclusion.

Deanna Singh is obsessed with making the world a better place. She has spent more than two decades researching, designing, and building solutions to social challenges while raising awareness for underserved populations. Her extensive experience with coaching and empowering individuals and businesses to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion led her to write A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion. Here, she talks about key ideas from the book, what inspires her work, and how she and her family celebrate diversity.

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Q. Why is A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion important now?

A. In order for us to create a more inclusive world, we must help people gain racial fluency. Racial fluency is the ability to talk about race without shame, guilt, fear, or defensiveness. Too often, when children are curious about race, adults shush them. We try to change the topic, gloss over the details, or answer their questions with bumper sticker slogans. These negative reactions teach children that race is a taboo topic and that it is wrong to talk about race. These misconceptions follow people into adulthood, and it is why so many adults struggle to have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We want to change that reality! As the world changes, it becomes even more important for young people to be able to discuss differences in positive and productive ways.

A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion provides opportunities to engage in those kinds of conversations. It is structured in a way that encourages internal dialogue through individual reflection and also conversation with others. Readers will have the opportunity to look at the world around them through a different lens and be prepared to share their new insights. The potential for ripple effects gives me chills!

And the book goes beyond just learning and talking about race to also challenge readers to take actions! The book is full of ways for readers to engage more in the world around them, to learn more about themselves and about others. We can only develop our skills if we are able to continuously practice them. So, by giving readers the chance to learn and implement the concepts right away, my hope is that this book will be a catalyst for creating change within their spheres of influence!

Overall, this book is a tool for those who are curious and want to create a more inclusive world. Equipping young people with these skills early gives me hope that we will be able to make more progress.

Q. A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion uses the term “anti-racism.” What is anti-racism?

A. If we were informed that there was toxic gas in our community that was causing mental, physical, social, and economic harm to everyone, how would we respond? What if we found out that our actions and behaviors were causing the toxic gas to grow stronger and hurt more people? Would we settle in and try to get more comfortable with the emissions of a toxic gas or would we take active steps to protect ourselves and one another? Just because we could not see the toxic gas, or because we were not the ones who created it, we would still feel a sense of responsibility to combat it.

Well, racism is like a toxic gas. It impacts where people live, go to school, and work. And it is so prevalent that it is often, like a toxic gas, invisible. It can be hard to see and though it impacts all of us, the effects are more noticeable on some than others. But the fact is that racism negatively impacts the quality of life for all of us. Even if we agree that racism is wrong, inaction can sustain it. The only way to stop it is to actively resist it. We have to learn how to retrain our eyes to see it, and we have to create more inclusion.

So, the most important characteristic of being anti-racist is that it requires action. Anti-racism is the practice of opposing racism. To be anti-racist, you cannot be passive. You cannot pretend that there is no toxic gas. You can’t ignore it and hope for the best. You have to actively improve the situation.

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Q. What inspires you to talk to and work with groups on the topics of race and inclusion?

A. I do this work because it is an extension of my purpose. I define my purpose as shifting power to marginalized people. Right now, I see too many people being pushed to the margins, where their voices and ideas can’t be heard. This is problematic, but I fundamentally believe that we have all of the solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. The reason we do not see many of those answers is because we have marginalized the people who could bring them forth. Through this work, my hope is that we can break down the barriers that currently exist, so that we can improve our world!

I also believe that most people want to be better but just are not equipped with the skills that they need to do it. At one point or another, everyone has felt the sting of being treated like an outsider. It is not a good feeling. It is not something we want to do to others. But how do you go about creating more inclusivity? It is not something that we are often explicitly taught, but it is a skill that we can strengthen if we are intentional about developing it. A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion helps to fill that gap for people who want to learn more about others and be more inclusive. Through the book, we shed light on techniques that can help them achieve these goals in all aspects of their life.

When this work is done well, everyone wins! Because when you have these skills, you are better able to “human”!

Q. How early should you talk to kids about racism and anti-racism?

A. The research shows that children make race-based decisions as infants. They are deciding who is friend-worthy and who can be trusted. Because so many biases form at such a young age, it is imperative to start talking about race and celebrating diversity as early as possible. It is also important that you have conversations about race regularly.

What is interesting about this question is that it is often poised with the underlying presumption that when we talk about race it has to be negative. But that is actually one of the greatest mistakes we can make when engaging children in conversation about this topic. To break down the assumption that talking about race causes harm, we should not reserve these conversations for times when we are only talking about traumatic events. Rather we should normalize talking about race, especially the wonderful things that make us different.

We must use these conversations to discuss the harsh realities of racism, but we should also make sure that we are encouraging positive associations with diversity even more so. We should normalize the conversation by being intentional in our daily practices so we can do more to create racial inclusion.

Q. How can White people become better allies for standing up to racism?

A. Through my “How to Be an Ally” summit and training, we have helped thousands of people on their allyship journey. We define ally as “uniting yourself with another to promote a common interest.” There are three components that are really important in that definition, so let’s look at each of them to address how people can be better allies:

  • First, let’s talk about the word “yourself.” Allies recognize that they have to be consistently learning and self-reflecting. All anti-racism work starts with the self. You have to spend the time understanding your own individual relationship to race before you can start practicing allyship. This work is a constant journey. I have been working in diversity, equity, and inclusion for a long time, and I am still actively pushing myself to learn more. Reading books like A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race and Inclusion, listening to podcasts, and engaging in ongoing conversations is part of the process. You can only become a better ally if you are willing to put in the individual effort it takes to challenge your own biases.
  • Second, allies pay attention to the “uniting...with another” part of the definition. They realize that being an ally means that you have to unite with others in order to make a change. Doing the individual work and stopping there benefits no one but yourself. Allyship requires moving beyond yourself to serve others. Allies recognize that they have power and they must use that power in concert with others.
  • Last, allies look for opportunities to “promote a common interest.” They have a sense of urgency around creating more inclusivity. They recognize the big systemic changes that need to happen and they look for ways to bring their talents and resources together with others to move closer to equity. They go beyond patting themselves on the back for “saving” others to recognize the ways that inclusion benefits everyone.

Q. How can parents support schools as they expand their curricula on race and inclusion?

A. Supporting educators who are looking to expand their curricula on race and inclusion is a phenomenal way to create more inclusion. Here are some simple steps you can take right now to help your educators!

  • Ask for your teachers, school or district to offer more curricula on race and inclusion. Many decisions get made based on requests. Let it be known that you want your educators to engage with students around race and inclusion.
  • Advocate for your educators in their quest to learn more. Many educators bypass these topics because they feel uncomfortable leading them. So, in addition to asking for your educators to teach the material, also advocate for them to get upskilled in their own understanding and knowledge building.
  • Share resources with your educators. There are surprisingly few resources to help educators expand their offerings, so make sure that you are sharing the resources that you come across with them! For starters, share this book and the learning guide we have created!

We can’t do this alone. Our educators can’t do this alone. So, show up and support them!

Q. What are anti-racist actions that families can easily commit to?

A. One easy step is to intentionally diversify your experiences. Think about the things that you are already doing and then bring an anti-racist approach to them by choosing things that challenge what is considered “normal.”

Here are some examples of how I encourage conversations about race in my family.

  • At breakfast, our family talks about what is happening in some other place in the world. Again, not just headline-grabbing, traumatic news, but often inspiring things that people from different backgrounds are doing.
  • When our children have freedom with homework assignments, my husband and I encourage them to consider the voices of marginalized groups. Not only do they learn something new, but we do too.
  • We also make sure that we are constantly finding ways to step outside of our comfort zones. We choose food to eat, places to visit, and events to attend that will help us learn about different cultures. One question to ask, as you think about how to do this, is what can we do to more frequently be “the only” ones from our identity group.
  • A super simple but impactful area we pay attention to is entertainment. We diversify our media with great intention. On any given Saturday you might find us playing music from around the world, learning how to cook a new dish, or watching a subtitled movie. We strive to be citizens of the world, and that keeps us open to learning about different cultures.

Creating diverse experiences is not all that it takes, but it is an important first step. Be intentional about normalizing the conversation about race for kids at an early age. Contextualize these discussions in ways that balance critique and celebration. Taking these steps can help children be comfortable with having conversations that will change the world!

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Download an excerpt of A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion here.

Download a parent's and teacher's guide for A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion here.

Purchase A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion here.


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