Teaching kids about race is arguably more important than it’s ever been. We’ve seen a resurgence of racism and racial tension in the United States. Yet like most other hot button topics in society, adults often avoid the issue. Teachers are scared to have frank discussions about race in class, and many parents feel uncomfortable discussing the topic or are unsure of what they should say.
Teaching kids about race doesn’t need to be this hard. Whether your child is six or sixteen, everything kids need to know about race can be summed up in 4 simple talking points. These facts can go a long way towards helping kids understand race and racism without stirring up undue controversy.
1. What is race?
When people use the tenn ‘race,’ they’re referring to physical distinctions between different groups of people who originate from different areas of the globe. For example, people from Africa have a darker complexion we refer to as ‘Black.’ Those from Sweden typically have paler skin and lighter colored hair. Those from Asia have light brown skin and narrower eyes.
2. Race isn’t real, it’s an illusion
Although people may make distinctions based on physical appearance, biologically speaking, we’re all part of the same human family, and there are no separate races. ‘Race’ is a sociological construct that has absolutely no basis in reality. In other words, race becomes real only because we imagine it to be.
“‘Because races are open and gene flow has taken place among them for millennia,'” note professors William Thompson and Joseph Hickey, “‘no race has exclusive possession of any gene or genes and there are no ‘pure races'” (Thompson & Hickey, 2008) In fact, “there are more genetic differences among Africans from different regions of Africa than there are between Africans and Europeans.'” (Fox, 2003) If you took a black person and lined him up next to a white person, his genome might be more similar to the white person’s genes than they would be to another black person, and vice versa. Trying to divide people into separate races is like trying to undo a batch of chocolate chip cookies after they’ve already been baked together: we’re all a unique mixture of everything, and we all come from the same core ingredients.
When people see race, they are paying attention almost entirely to skin color. But skin tone is only one tiny part of the variations in the human genome, and there are many other differences:
People have different eye colors. So should we separate people into different races based on the color of their eyes?
Some people have blonde hair and others have brown or red. Should they all be different races too? People have different blood types, should we create separate races based on this, too? After all, blood type differences are a more tangible biological difference than skin color, in that you can’t put one blood type into a person with another.
Some people are taller and some are shorter. Should they be separate races?
When you get right down to it, there are dozens of different variations in human traits, and viewing race by skin color is no more valid than it would be to divide a family into different races because Dad has red hair,
Mom is blonde, and the children are brunettes. There are no separate human races. We only think there are because we’re used to making superficial judgments with our eyes. Race exists only because we see it. So let’s look past these skin deep differences and stop creating unnecessary divisions among people.
3) Skin tone differences are a result of geography
Differences in skin tone are a result of the geography our ancestors lived in. Those living close to the equator evolve darker complexions, which protect against the sun. When people settled into Northern latitudes, their skin tone and hair color progressively gets lighter, because there’s less sun in those regions. Darker skin therefore isn’t necessary, and lighter skin helps absorb more vitamin D in areas where the sun isn’t as strong.
Skin tone is determined by how much melanin a person has. Melanin is what tints skin and makes it darker. We all have some melanin, and the amount of melanin can even vary within the same person at different times, which is why a white person’s skin will get darker and more ‘tan’ during the summer
4) We’re all part of the same family
Every human alive today can trace their lineage to the original humans who lived in Africa. Scientists have traced people from all over the world to a ‘bottle neck’ in the human genome (a time when humans nearly went extinct) that occurred around 200,000 years ago. So technically, if you go back far enough, we’re all African-American, and all part ofthe same family tree.
See our next section: Teaching kids about racism