Nature Vs. Nurture: Advice for Raising Anti-Racist Children


2010, Paris Metro, Passenger

Thomas Connolly, Opinions Editor

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It has been almost 56 years since these wise words were delivered at the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King Jr., yet it seems as though we have learned nothing in over half a century. 

Just last week, the country witnessed the murder of George Floyd in police custody. Contradicting what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of, Floyd was clearly judged by the color of his skin. As the unarmed Floyd laid face down on the pavement, not resisting arrest in any way, he was kneeled on by 3 former Minneapolis police officers including Derek Chauvin. Former Officer Tao Thou stood nearby, both physically and verbally defending the actions of his co-workers from bystanders. Floyd was heard pleading “I can’t breathe,” 16 times in a matter of 5 minutes. 

The year is 2020; it seems like such a futuristic number. However, it also seems like we are stuck in the 19th century. One would think that society would advance by now, and overcome the racist ideology of the past, yet we have not. 

The reason society has yet to advance is that so many people are still being taught to hate. 

As Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

Without wasting a single word, the late anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa stated why racist ideology still exists. 

Long-term, in order to end bigotry and racism, it is up to the current and future parents of the world. As Mandela said, no one is born racist. There is no gene nor chromosome that determines whether or not you are born a bigot. Racism is not a product of nature, it is a product of nurture. 

When raising your kids, here are a few things you can do to ensure your kids are not racist, nor non-racist, but anti-racist:

Children develop behavior modeled by the adults surrounding them. That being said, be careful with the language and body language you use when reacting to certain aspects of life. This includes, but is not limited to avoiding saying racial slurs or jokes of any kind, or even locking your car doors when driving through certain neighborhoods. Your children pick up on more than you think. 

Diversify your bookshelf and magazines in your house, so they are not all stories about white people written by white authors. Do this with the movies and shows that you expose to your children as well. 

Limit your child’s exposure to harmful media on the TV, social networks, and even by blocking racial ads. The media is often the worst enemy when it comes to racism. We often see a false narrative created on the news, as events are covered through the lens of race. 

Pay attention to the type of people you surround your kids with, including who you invite over to the house, your family friends, and the schools you send your kids to. 

Call out your racist friends and family members, and keep them from influencing your children. Call out and report racism and police brutality in your community. Have the uncomfortable conversations at the dinner table. Teach your children the importance of open-mindedness both directly and indirectly through these subtle yet essential actions. 

If you raise your kids with racist beliefs, you are single-handedly reversing any of the long sought after advancement in society brought to you by hard-working activists. Simply put, if you raise your kids with a single racist belief, you are doing a major disservice to the world. 

Short term, there are numerous actions you can take to end racism and racial profiling in America. Remember that your social media account is your platform and is a way that you can bring awareness to important issues. Posting on social media is helpful, but is not sufficient. Abby Wexler compiled a great list of resources, such as books to read, phone numbers and email addresses to contact, and petitions to sign.

However, it is equally if not more important to demand justice for everyone whose lives are taken unjustly by the police/vigilantes – not just the cases in the mainstream media. 

In the past few months, Americans brought immense attention to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. In the case of Arbery, the killers were arrested and charged 12 days after the video was released. Ahmaud Arbery was actually killed on February 23, however, the video of his killing was not released until May 9. Nothing was done for three months until a video was released.

Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd for nearly 9 minutes while he was suffering from a heart attack, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter just 4 days after the incident. Chauvin and the other three officers were fired from the police force. Four days following that charge, Chauvin’s charge was changed to murder in the second degree, meaning Chauvin intended to kill Floyd. The other three former officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

The reason these killers were charged so quickly was almost solely because there was a video of both incidents. There are a plethora of cases that are not caught on camera where victims are unjustly profiled and killed by police. Research these cases, bring attention to them and make those voices heard as well. Continuing to post on social media will also help to raise awareness of these lesser-known, but equally important cases. 

Change is going to start with people actively practicing the tactics explained in this article and so many others that weren’t mentioned. Now is not the time to be silent. In a racist society, simply being non-racist is not enough. You have to be anti-racist. In the words of South African churchman and politician Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”