Why we should talk about race.

In the past year, several headlines highlighted the importance of conversations about race for the youth of America.  It is projected that with the Census 2010 data, people who identify with more than one race will become the fasting growing demographic in America.  For the first time in U.S. history, we have a bi-racial President.  Yet, there are countless news stories of racial tensions across the country like the reason behind Shirley Sherrod, Agricultural Department Rural Development Director’s forced resignation to the controversial billboard in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Documentaries and several news segments have acknowledged multiraciality and what that means to people who identify as multiracial.  In 2005, Kiri Davis became popular through her documentary A Girl Like Me which takes the perspective of several African American young women about how they feel about their skin color and where they receive those messages.  A segment in the documentary interviews 21 black children about their preference between a white and black doll.  Fifteen out of the 21 black children preferred the white dolls. 

Last fall, Newsweek ran an article on how susceptible children are to skin color and the meaning they play out in society.  From early on, children acknowledge and react to a person’s skin color.  The article reveals that even though parents claimed a color-blind approach in raising their children, their children placed value on different skin colors during a Racial Attitude Measure. 

The article also discusses the red shirt/blue shirt experiment.  Researchers randomly gave students in 3 preschool classrooms red and blue shirts.  For three weeks, the students wore the shirts and teachers never acknowledged that difference.  During the three weeks, the children intermingled but when asked about which color was better, they chose their own color.  The researchers argue that this shows the disservice of color-blindness to youth.  Children will use the visible difference between themselves and other children to develop a preference for their own group based on gender or skin color.  Just like the preschoolers did when they chose their shirt color.

Recently, a research article from Psychological Science was published about how color-blind approaches to diversity actually stunt student’s ability to acknowledge racial discrimination.  One set of elementary students were presented with a message of embracing diversity though a picture book with characters that displayed no overt differences.  Another group of students were presented the same message with characters with different skin colors.  Afterwards, the latter group was able to identify and communicate about an incident of discrimination more so than the first group.  

With the prevalence of multiracial identity, racial tensions and how children perceive race, parents and their families are fighting a new facet for racial equality in their homes.  Educating on their intersecting identities and promoting a positive self-image becomes a juggling act when messages for and against different skin colors still loom. 

What does this have to do with education?

Our students make meaning about difference from the messages they receive about race from society.  As educators, we should acknowledge the societal messages our students receive and counteract them with conversations about race to build positive relationships and self-image. 

What can I do in the classroom?

There are several websites that provide tips and activities on how to have conversations about identity and race with youth. Here are some tips and activities:


Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children: A tool for having conversations on race with young students.
Multiracial Sky: A website that has resources that can be incorporated into activities discussing multiracial issues.


All Together Now: A resource on how to integrate these discussions into different subject curriculum.
Talking to Our Children about Race and Diversity: An in-depth break down of how to have a conversation on race with youth.

After reviewing some of the articles, research and resources provided discuss the following questions:

  • Can you see how recent news articles can relate to the educational environment? Why or why not?
  • What can you do in your classroom to counteract these messages in your classroom or school?
  • What activities have you already incorporated? What activities will work in your classroom or school?


Thank you for subscribing to our weekly discussion, please help us spread the word-- forward it to your friends and colleagues or encourage them to subscribe here.  Please visit the Center for Culturally Responsive Urban Education (CRUE) website at www.cruecenter.org for more information and resources on educational equity.




Culturally Responsive Urban Education
1380 Lawrence Street, 6th Floor
Denver, CO 80204