At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the education department has been considering how to dismantle racism for the last decade, even before the museum’s doors opened in 2016. Most recently, they launched a web portal dedicated to “Talking About Race.” The museum decided to share it with the public at this critical moment to encourage people to commit to the lifelong work of being antiracist. The department considers the arc of a person’s life from birth until adulthood to understand how racialized identity forms and its impact on the individual’s life.
The work of supporting positive racialized identity development and talking about race with children is critical to dismantling racism. It is complex and nuanced work, and one of the most important things we can do. Much of how children figure out the world, even before they have words, comes from observing and listening. A concrete and powerful way to talk to children about race is activating children’s literature, which can be a great tool for sparking discussion with a child. Additionally, children’s books can often support adults in explaining concepts by providing visual examples and developmentally appropriate language. For children and teens, books addressing race are most effective when paired with conversation.