How To Raise Anti-Racist Kids, with Dr. Nzinga Harrison

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In this critical episode, Dr. Nzinga Harrison outlines ways to talk with kids of all ages about racism and shares ten action steps on raising kids who are anti-racist. “Anti-racist kids are kids that don’t have to pretend to be free of racism, but kids who make the commitment to fight racism wherever they see it, including when they see it in themselves.”

Show Notes

You can follow Dr. Nzinga Harrison on Twitter at @naharrisonmd

Here are some the references mentioned in this episode of Good Kids:


[01:03] Hey, everybody, this is Dr. Nzinga Harrison, and you’re listening to Good Kids. This week we wanted to spend some time, in light of everything that the country is going through right now, to talk about how to talk to your kids about racism. And more intentionally, how to raise anti-racist kids. So let’s start with a definition of anti-racism. And I wish I had been smart enough to come up with this definition on my own, but these are the words of Ijeoma Oluo. She says, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” So that’s the definition of anti-racism that I want to talk from about how to raise anti-racist kids. 


[02:05] So basically I try to come up with — it is 10, because I started with the number zero. This is our 10-step plan for how to raise anti-racist kids. Anti-racist kids are kids that don’t have to pretend to be free of racism, but kids who make the commitment to fight racism wherever they see it, including when they see it in themselves. And so Number 1 is to start the dialog early. You think your kids at four and five years old, one, don’t know what’s going on, or two, don’t need to know what’s going on? If you are being affected, they see that and they want to know what is affecting you. And you don’t want to lie to your kids because we want to try to raise kids who are able to accept and validate and respond to their own emotions, and the effect that the world is having on them. So Number 1: start the conversation early. Literally children as young as four years old. This conversation is appropriate for them. In fact, that’s when you’re starting the dialog, but the way you start raising anti-racist kids in the very first place is from the time they are born. The books that you read them, make sure they are books with a rainbow of people. Make sure you are reading books about different types of people, different cultures. Make sure you’re taking that baby to different cultural experiences. Make sure you’re having that toddler have play dates with kids that don’t look like you, or are not like you for whatever reason. That diversity is incredibly important. So this really great research study showed that babies start to develop a race preference for faces that are the same race as their caregivers by six months old. Six months. Now, those are not little baby racists, ok? That’s just the way the brain works. 


[04:20] And so if we want to start letting our babies develop a sense of security for faces of other races, they have to see those faces of other races in positive and nurturing roles in their life. So that starts in infancy. The books, the toys, the play dates, the people, the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, all of that — that starts from the very beginning. Now, when they get to the age that they can talk, practice first. OK, practice first, because I want you to roll into this conversation with confidence. So the way you practice first, we have this great resource for you that we’re going to drop in the show notes, which is The Children’s Alliance. They actually have a resource that is like a guide to talking about racism for parents and caregivers. And so read that guide, make yourself a little outline. Practice what you’re going to say so that you can roll into this conversation with confidence with your kiddo.


[05:23] Step Number 2: ask their opinion. So the first thing as parents, we always open up conversations like, “let me tell you something.” I want you to actually take a different stance and just ask your kids, “have you heard what’s going on?” Now, this is for kids that are probably like nine and up. They’re on social media. They watch TV. They see the news. They see what’s going on. So have you seen what’s going on? Are you and your friends talking about it? What are your thoughts about it? Start from there. For kids that are younger, that may actually not know what’s going on — so, this is within the context of what is currently going on, but also, let me encourage you to have this conversation in an ongoing way that’s not just when we’re at the peak of of of racism crisis rearing its ugly head. 


[06:20] But so for your kids who are younger, let’s talk about how people are different and how we value people who are different. And so that’s where I encourage you to get a book on diversity, or a book that shows kids that are the same age as your kid, but they have a different background, that have a different culture. The other thing is that hopefully your kids do know people, or have friends their age, that are of different races and ethnicities. So when you talk about this, you want to pin it on somebody that they know. Like, we immediately develop compassion for the people that we already know, and it makes it our own issue, not just something that’s happening out there. And so ask them like, “let’s talk about your friend Marcus.” 


[07:11] “How do you think Marcus is doing right now? What do you think Marcus is thinking about what’s happening? How would you feel if this happened to somebody and Marcus’ family?” Because the goal is, one, to develop the empathy, and then the empathy drives the motivation to act, and then you give the resources for how to be anti-racist. So compassion develops the motivation to be anti-racist, and then you give resources, which allows the kid to actually operationalize or implement anti-racist behaviors. So quick recap: practice. Start the dialog as early as possible, and that means as soon as that baby comes out of the womb. That’s showing them faces. That’s letting them hear the voices of people who are not like them as they become toddlers and to five years old, that’s actually accessing the Children’s Alliance resource and starting the conversation, into teenage, as soon as they can talk, starting with which is Number 2, their own opinion. 


[08:14] Once you have their opinion, be affirming. Like what thing that our kids need from us is that we are validating their thoughts and their emotions. And so you don’t want to say no, that’s not right. Or. Oh, my. OK. That’s actually racist. And you might hear some things, like, oh, snap! I have not done the job I intended to do. It is an opportunity. And so when you hear that, then you approach it. So be affirming. “What do you think are the experiences you’ve had that lead you to the way you’re thinking about this? What are the experiences your friends have had that lead you to the way you’re thinking about this?” And if you see some part of their thinking that you want to challenge, or that you tweak or you want a massage, then you enter that very gently, like, “oh, that’s differently than how I would have thought about it. Help me understand what you’re thinking and what do you think about the way I’m thinking about it?” And I know this sounds like a sophisticated conversation, but I’m telling you, five years old, six years old, your kids can have this conversation.

[09:24] You have to talk about history, period. The history that we learned in school is a whitewashed history. Straight up, my friends. So you need to talk to your kids for real about how America came to be. You need to let them see the pain. And I’m not talking about like, you know, don’t sit your five year old down in front of Roots the movie. And don’t, you know, show them people getting lashed by whips. But there are books that at every single age-appropriate step can help your kids feel some of the pain that black people have gone through in this country as a result of racism, Jim Crow, slavery, continued racism, systemic racism that still exist today. So give them a walk through history using the resources that I have pointed you to. It’s going to guide you. Once you walk them through history — this is crucially important — it’s not over.


[10:25] Because that’s where, as parents, we want to protect our kids. Like, we don’t want to be dumping this pain on them and we want them to know things have gotten better. And so the message is like things have gotten so much better, this is still a work in progress. And then you talk to them about current events. Do I recommend showing your seven-year-old George Floyd taking his last breath with the police officers knee on his neck? No, I do not recommend that. Do I recommend you telling your five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old, “this police officer kneeled on this black man’s neck and killed him. And that happens three times more often to black men than that happens to people of other races.” Yes, I recommend you saying it exactly like that. Because then you bring it back to, what do you think if you have a friend — and I hope you have a friend. And if they don’t have a friend their own age that doesn’t look like them from racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender identity, then that’s on us as parents. We have to create those opportunities and go in those spaces where we can diversify our friend sets. “So how do you think Jenny would feel if that was somebody in her family?” Develop the empathy, the empathy drives the motivation for anti-racism, and then you give them the resources so that they can act on that motivation to be anti-racist. 


[14:27] So let me start from the top. Zero: practice. One: start the dialog as early as humanly possible. That means from infancy. Number 2: when you open the dialog with your kids who have language already, ask their opinion. Number 3: be age appropriate. So for your older kids, you probably can show them the short version of that clip. For your younger kids, we don’t want to give anybody nightmares. So I struggled with this back in 2016. My kids were relatively little. They were like single digits then. And I struggled with having this conversation with them without making them afraid of police. And it was a delicate balance. And so what I did was straight-up half the conversation with them at an age appropriate level. But then I intentionally created spaces where we were in friendly interactions with police officers in uniform. 


[15:21] Number 4: talk about the history of slavery, oppression and racism in this country. Number 5: make sure you emphasize that while slavery, yes, is over, racism and oppression are not. And so it is our responsibility to constantly be working towards the end goal, which we will not get to in our lifetime, but that we will diligently work towards. Being anti-racist so that we can reduce the negative consequences of racism as much as humanly possible. 

[16:04] Number 6: when you talk about racism as it exists today, ask them to think about a friend who may be experiencing racism. This is an empathy strategy to develop their empathy, which will then drive their motivation to act in anti-racist ways. It will bolster their ability to look at themselves. And when they’re making mistakes that are racist, divorce that from them and say, “yes, guess what? As white people, we have had a privilege to not have to have these experiences. With that privilege comes the responsibility to reduce the chance that people of color, black people, have to have these experiences. You love your friend. You don’t want your friend to have to experience this. You don’t want the people in your friends, family. You don’t want the people your friend knows to have to experience this. It is our responsibility because we are in the position of power purely by appearing white. And so we’re going to use our power for good.” 


[17:08] Number 7: don’t be afraid to get emotional. So this is one of the biggest mistakes that I see parents make, is that we feel like we have to always be in control of ourselves when we’re talking to our kids. Let your kids see your pain. Let your kids see you cry. Let your kids see you get angry about this. Because they’re learning what their emotional responses will be from what our emotional responses are. And so if you deliver it in a way that is detached, like, “yep, this is something you should do.” That is not as powerful as delivering it with the emotion that you actually feel, because guess what? They don’t want to see you hurting. So when they see you hurting on behalf of black people hurting, then they’re like my black friends are hurting. My mom and my dad or this adult who cares about me is hurting. I clearly need to do something about this. Develop the motivation to do the hard work of being anti-racist. 


[18:09] Number 8: talk about what you are doing. Make sure you’re doing something before you just start talking to talk to the kids. To raise anti-racist kids, you have to be anti-racist. And to be anti-racist is to be doing something. Do something. So that when you get down to Number 8, you can talk to your kiddo about what you’re doing. And so this is what I’ve been doing. This is what I plan to do. This is what I read on the Internet about what we can all be doing. And then you hope the question that comes out of that is, “well, I’m a little kid. What can I be doing?” Or “I’m just a teenager. What can I be doing?” And that’s when you hit the Google. 


[18:57] Number 9: Give them resources. What can teenagers do? What can seven-year-olds do? You literally pin it on the exact age that your child is. I’m telling you, you can search Google for your exact child. You are a Hispanic family living in Nebraska and your child is seven. Put in “what can a seven-year-old Hispanic child live in in Nebraska do?” I promise you. I promise you something is going to come up and, you know whatever comes up, the name of the article might not be, “this is what a seven-year-old Hispanic kid in Nebraska can do.” That’s not gonna be the name of the article. But just that your kids saw you search their own identity, when you click on that resource, they are immediately going to receive that as this is something people like me can do. And then you give them the resources to do it. 


[19:55] If you would like to, you can find me on my show In Recovery with Dr. Nzinga Harrison. It’s an advice show about all things addiction. And yes, we talk about racism as an addiction. You can also learn more about my work by visiting and find me on social. Twitter is the best way. My handle is in a @NAHarrisonmd. Thanks for listening.


[20:25] Good Kids is a Lemonada Media original. Andrew Steven is our producer, and the show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Music is by Dan Molad. Westwood One is our ad sales and distribution partner. Like us, give us a five-star rating, and recommend us to a friend. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at


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