How to respond to race questions from your children

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"Why am I white?"
"Why am I white?"

Race is a sensitive topic regardless of how we look at it.

Now that we know WHY it’s important to have the 'race talk' with our children, we need to understand HOW to respond to questions that might arise during this talk. How do we instill the right values without shielding our children from the reality that racism still exists and is something they are likely to face in their lifetime?

We equip them with the right information and take into consideration their age and the type of information they can understand and relate to.


Must read: South African stories that teach kids about race in a positive way

Toddlers to 8/9 years of age

It’s very important to understand that children at this age are only starting to notice differences like hair texture and skin tones. They are becoming aware of a lot of things and have a lot of questions to ask. The questions might be shocking but you need to avoid overreacting so they are comfortable asking more questions in the future.

Take time to find out why they are asking specific questions and this will allow you time to think about the right answer to give them. Below are a few questions you can expect and response suggestions:

1. "Why am I white?"

This might come up when children get exposed to people of different races or even in interacial families, they might ask why they don’t look like mommy and daddy. It's important to respond with an answer that makes them see some sort of similarities between them and the person they’re referring to. Make them understand that people may have different skin tones and different features but they are all important.

An answer like "Even though daddy's skin is darker, you have his eyes and his smile" - this allows them to understand that even though people are different, they can relate to them or share similarities; or a response like "people are like colours, even though there’s different kinds, you need all of them to make a beautiful rainbow".

2. "Which shade of skin colour is better?"

Sometimes children get the idea that one race is better than another, this can be caused by influences around the child such as TV, to conversations they are exposed to in and out of home. Parents need to respond to this question without creating a negative image of other races but rather an image of equality.

"You are beautiful just the way you are. Imagine if everyone looked exactly the same, the world would be boring and we wouldn’t know who’s who" or "Imagine if the rainbow only had one colour, then it wouldn’t be nice now would it?" These responses make children understand the importance of diversity.


Also see: WATCH: Should white people adopt black children? Kristin Davis opens up about her experience with interracial adoption

Tweens/teens to 10-19 years of age

Teens and twins are inundated with information from multiple sources. They are starting to spend time online and are getting access to more TV shows that influence their views on social issues such as racism. At this age, they can understand more complex in depth information and the history of racism can be explained to them.

Dear Parent, this is your time to EDUCATE.

Talk to them about the recent history of racism, starting with the German Nazi’s extreme dislike of the Jews, the history of colonialism and how Africans were looked down upon because they had flatter noses, shorter hair, and darker skins.

A parent would have to explain that as much we have moved past that era, its roots are still evident in the society. It is very important to teach them to understand that not every information source is a good source, even if opinions are supported by a large group of people, that doesn’t make them right.

At this age, children start forming their own opinions and your responsibility as a parent is to make sure those opinions are formed with a foundation of real information and intentions to instill good values

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