Babies aren’t colorblind. I’m teaching my infant to be anti-racist.
I’m starting to teach my baby about race. That’s right, my baby.
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to infants and their awareness of racial differences. Many people believe they’re too young to understand.
Others claim that babies are “colorblind.”
Whether we consciously decide to teach our babies about race or not, they’re learning on their own. They learn every time they see another human being in the world who looks different from them and their caregivers.
They learn from everything they’re exposed to, like books, toys, and television. They learn from us — their parents or caregivers — every time we interact with another person.
Though they are preverbal, babies learn when we speak to and about other people. They’re paying close attention to the tones and language we use.
My son’s 6-month birthday happened during the week of worldwide civil rights protests, fueled by the untimely death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man killed by the police.
It felt like a particularly powerful time to teach this budding human that though people may be different races, racism is intolerable. He needs to know that regardless of socioeconomic status, culture, or skin color, everyone deserves love and respect.
The time to teach him to celebrate our differences is now.
Research shows that it’s never too early to teach our kids about race.
A 2017 study found that infants from 0 to 3 months old can already recognize race differences in faces and they more readily recognize faces of their own race.
This means that, as parents, we have to actively teach our children to embrace diversity.
I always had strong opinions on matters of injustice, but I never considered myself an activist. Not like my father, who has spent most of his life fighting against and speaking out on racism.
When the Los Angeles riots happened, he all but ran to South Central to be of service.
He worked with the First African Methodist Episcopal Church to get basic supplies to families whose local grocery stores had been burned down. He ran the Los Angeles chapter of Communities in Schools, then called Cities in Schools, a program that helps ensure underrepresented youth receive an education. He chaired the LA Mentoring Partnership and LA Mentoring Coalition.
Although my life path has looked different, I’ve felt a personal responsibility to do everything I can to make this world a safer and more tolerant place for all children, especially as a parent.
When the recent protests happened, I wanted to get involved. I had a good role model to follow, after all. But I also had a newborn at home, and we were in the midst of a pandemic. What could I do to make difference?
I looked at my son and thought of all the sons of the world, especially those taken too soon, like George Floyd. The answer was right in front of me.
Our babies are the most powerful tools we have to effect change. With each child that we raise as an anti-racist, we are making this world a more tolerant and accepting place.
Our children can create real change in this world, but honestly, it begins with us as the parents or caregivers. We must do the work first as individuals in order to guide the way.
I learned by watching my father. Not just during the Los Angeles riots, but my entire life.
He always had friends and colleagues of all colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. He never claimed to be “colorblind” or denied their differences, but instead celebrated other ethnicities and cultures. He was also not afraid to talk about injustice or white privilege with his children.
I’m committed to raising our son the same way.
Race in our reading materials
I started by doing an overhaul of the materials that my son is being exposed to. The first step involved looking at the books on his shelves and asking:
- What are the races of the main characters? Are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) represented frequently?
- What messages are these books sending when it comes to accepting differences and standing up to injustice?
- Who are the “heroes” and why?
- Even if they’re “classics,” do they represent our values around race and diversity?
We made a conscious effort to diversify our library to include more texts by and about BIPOC and weed out those that weren’t up to snuff when it came to inclusivity.
When reading to our baby, we now take the time to explain different people’s races and cultural backgrounds. To explain that although people may look different on the outside or live differently than we do, we are all human beings and our uniqueness is what makes us special.
I’m always adding more books on anti-racism to my own reading list to continue my personal education.
My experiences influence my baby. This means when I take anti-racism courses and join learning circles to continue to do my own work, he’s getting educated indirectly.
Exposure to diversity
Unfortunately, my son’s infancy is falling during the COVID-19 pandemic, so his exposure to people outside of our home is limited. To remedy this, we bought a book with baby faces of varied skin tones.
As the world around us reopens, we’ll begin traveling again. This is an amazing way to educate and expose our children to different cultures, worldviews, and lifestyles.
I’m also becoming painfully aware of the lack of diversity in our social groups and family. When group classes are reopened, I will seek out more diverse baby classes and groups to ensure that our son is exposed to people of all races.
Don’t freeze up
It can feel paralyzing trying to figure out where to start when you want to help to create change. Issues of racism are so deeply systemic that you may question what difference your individual action can make on the larger system.
But change begins with us, in our homes and in how we live our lives.
Yes, there are deep-seated issues within our entire society and generational beliefs that feel unmovable. But looking at my son, I can see that babies do not come into this world with these issues or beliefs.
They are learned — and that means they can be changed.
Our babies can be the change that this world needs.
By teaching them about race and raising them as anti-racists, we can create a world of diversity and inclusivity that celebrates all people.