9 simple ways to talk to kids about race that can help make the world kinder.

Administrators at Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill, Florida, recently fired a teacher who gave her sixth graders an assignment asking them to consider how "comfortable" they would be in the company of various people. Some of the 41 scenarios identified these "others" in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion.

For example:


"Your new roommate is a Palestinian and Muslim."

"A group of young black men are walking toward you on the street."

"The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is an Arab."

"Your new suite mates are Mexican."

"Your assigned lab partner is a fundamentalist Christian."

Many Fox Hill students and parents were upset. "They’re kids. Let kids be kids. Why are they asking kids these questions?" one mother to a seventh-grade student wondered. "I just don’t think it’s something that needs to be brought in school." Another parent said, "I just think that sometimes kids are just too young to start that at this age, and in school."

Such sentiments are familiar — and deeply misguided.

In the United States, a lot of us believe that children, especially white children, are racial innocents — completely naive, curiously fragile about the realities of race, or both.

Image via iStock.

The truth is that well before their teen years, the majority of children are well aware of prevailing biases, and most kids of all racial stripes have taken on a bunch of their own.

Researchers have been studying the development of racial and ethnic biases in children for a long time, and we know quite a bit. We know that within a few months of birth, babies prefer own-race faces, probably because most are surrounded by people who look like them. Sometime during the preschool years, however, this relatively innocent pull toward the familiar morphs into something else.

By age 5, black and Hispanic children show no preference toward their own group compared to whites. On the other hand, white kids remain strongly biased in favor of whiteness. By the start of kindergarten, "children begin to show many of the same implicit racial attitudes that adults in our culture hold. Children have already learned to associate some groups with higher status, or more positive value, than others."

So, in reference to the doubtlessly well-meaning mom quoted earlier, the crucial question isn’t "Why bring issues of racial, ethnic, religious, and other kinds of bias into our schools?" It’s "How do we constructively engage the harmful biases we know pervade our schools and just about everywhere else? And what can we do to shape our children’s racial attitudes before and as they emerge?"

In that regard, research and experience offer some promising guidance to parents, guardians, teachers, and all of us who care for or about children.

These guidelines were developed by members of the Embrace Race team.

1. Start early.

Let your child know that it’s perfectly OK to notice skin color and talk about race. Encourage them to ask questions, share observations and experiences, and be respectfully curious about race.

2. Realize you are a role model to your child.

What you say is important, but what you do — how diverse your circle of friends is, for example — will probably have an even bigger impact on your child. If they don't attend a diverse school, consider enrolling them in activities such as sports leagues that are diverse (if you’re able). Choose books, toys, and movies that include people of different races and ethnicities. Visit museums with exhibits about a range of cultures and religions.

3. Let your child see you face your own biases.

We’re less likely to pass on the biases we identify and work to overcome. Give your child an example of a bias — racial or otherwise — that you hold or have held. Share with your child things you do to confront and overcome that bias.

4. Know and love who you are.

Talk about the histories and experiences of the racial, ethnic, and cultural groups you and your family strongly identify with. Talk about their contributions and acknowledge the less flattering parts of those histories as well. Tell stories about the challenges your family  —  your child’s parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents — have faced and overcome.

5. Develop racial cultural literacy by learning about and respecting others.

Study and talk about the histories and experiences of groups we call African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and whites, among others. Be sure your child understands that every racial and ethnic group includes people who believe different things and behave in different ways. There is more diversity within racial groups than across them.

6. Be honest with your child, in age-appropriate ways, about bigotry and oppression.

Children are amazing at noticing patterns, including racial patterns (who lives in their neighborhood versus their friends’ neighborhoods, for example). Help them make sense of those patterns, and recognize that bigotry and oppression are sometimes a big part of those explanations. Be sure your child knows that the struggle for racial fairness is still happening and that your family can take part in that struggle.

7. "Lift up the freedom fighters:" Tell stories of resistance and resilience.

Every big story of racial oppression is also a story about people fighting back and "speaking truth to power." Teach your child those parts of the story too. Include women, children, and young adults among the "freedom fighters" in the stories you tell.

8. Teach your children to be "upstanders" for racial justice.

Help your child understand what it means to be — and how to be — a change agent. Whenever possible, connect the conversations you're having to the change you and your child want to see and to ways to bring about that change.

9. Plan for a marathon, not a sprint.

Make race talks with your child routine. Race is a topic you should plan to revisit again and again in many different ways over time. It’s OK to say, "I’m not sure" or "Let’s come back to that later, OK?" But then be sure to come back to it.

This story first appeared on Embrace Race and is used here with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."