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When should parents talk about race? It’s never too early

Jasen Frelot is co-founder of Kids and Race Seattle.

Photo courtesy Jasen Frelot

Jasen Frelot has worked as an educator for 15 years and leads workshops teaching parents and educators how to talk about race. He founded Kids and Race three years ago when his wife was pregnant with their first child. In addition to leading Kids and Race, he is the founding director of Columbia City Preschool. Frelot has two young children and lives with his family in Seattle. Find out more at talkingrace.org.


Why do we need to talk about race?

I can tell you, as a black father, it’s an essential conversation to have with my daughter, with my son, for their bodily safety. For white people, the future is black and brown, and we want our children to be able to exist in an increasingly diverse world.

Is race an issue in liberal Seattle?

Most definitely. Seattle is among the whitest cities in America. So it’s easy for white Seattleites to say they love black people when they don’t know any. That said, I do think there is something special and exciting about Seattle. Seattle is unique in that it acknowledges that racism is an issue. A lot of cities don’t. We’re having real conversations about how race plays into our education system and our criminal justice system.

I believe the conversation about race needs to be normalized and integrated into every conversation — how we eat our food, how we go about in society, how we do our business. Race impacts all of these things.

How early should parents start talking about race?

Research says that as soon as a child can communicate, they are showing signs of racial bias. When I say it’s never too early, it is never too early. Children often demonstrate racial bias before parents are ready or think they are capable of talking about those things.

My daughter is 2½ years old. I told her I was black, and she said, "I’m not black." Our skin is different, but in this country, I told her, "she’s black." Now she’s excited about it. The fact that she is excited shows me that I'm doing a good job raising her to be proud of who she is.

How do parents frame that conversation for small children?

We want to teach our children to notice racial disparities. This helps them to be critical thinkers who can recognize when a person is being silenced or disrespected. 

I do this with my child while reading books. I point out whether there are people of color in the books, and I ask her to observe what they are doing. If there are no people of color in a book, I point out how that doesn't match what we see around us. You can do this with all forms of media and with different areas of your child's environment.

Children recognize racial differences, and they assign meaning to difference. It’s best for the parent or educator to explain differences to their children. If parents don’t, the kids are going to look at the media and the world around them and come to their own conclusions.

Our job as parents is to point out how race is impacting people of color in this city, to point out how this isn’t the way things should be. A lot of parents will say that their kids don’t notice race. They do.

Color blindness makes black and brown people invisible. We want to teach our kids to see people and to have empathy for people.

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