Teach Your Children to be Anti-Racist
By Tracey Dowdy
For Gen X and the generations that followed them, the United States feels more racially divided than it has in our lifetime. The good news is that many Americans have realized that not being a racist isn’t enough – we need to be actively himselanti-racist.
After George Floyd’s death in May 2020, Doyin Richards, an author and public speaker based in Los Angelos, saw a need for more anti-racism resources directed at children, so he created the Anti-Racism Fight Club. Its purpose is to empower kids and their families to boldly stand up and speak out against racism and social injustice whenever they see it, even if it feels uncomfortable.
“It really culminated when George Floyd was murdered and I looked around and thought, ‘What resources are out there? Not only to help white people, but to help kids become anti-racists? There were no places I could find that were adequate, so I created one…I call it the Anti-Racism Fight Club because we have to actively fight against racism,” Richards explained. “This is not a passive activity, it’s a truly engaging activity and requires effort. It’s often confrontational, messy and uncomfortable.”
Richards one-hour seminar directed at children aged 5-12 (there’s a separate track for parents and adults) “explains the nuances of racism in a way that children can understand and will empower them to be anti-racist in their own lives.” Since its inception, thousands of families have completed the seminar that explores the history of racism in the U.S. and explains terms like “white supremacy” and “white privilege.” Each child that participates gets a “Fistbook” filled with resources, activities, data, and real-talk presented in a frank but age-appropriate style.
Because racism is learned behavior, Richards recognized the need for children to learn how to stand up to family members who hold racist opinions and beliefs. “Sometimes one of the biggest obstacles for kids being anti-racist is it’s happening right under their own roof,” Richards says. “Kids don’t feel empowered to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to talk about this,’ or ‘That’s not OK. But I tell students they have to stand up and say they don’t want to talk about racist things. We talk about what they can do to fight against racism and to be a better human being.”
Amy Grant, mom to two sons ages 8 and 5, took her family through the seminars last year. “My main takeaway was that I need to listen more,” she said. “And, that anti-racism is a verb. It’s one thing to have an anti-racist viewpoint, it’s another thing to actively be an anti-racist.”
Richards himself is dad to two mixed-race daughters, and he sees the impact racism continues to have on their generation. “My hope for my kids is that this whole racist wave that we’re seeing in America gets squashed quickly by the people who know better. I want my daughters always to speak up, whether it’s the boardroom or the classroom or the living room; wherever it is, let them know this is not okay.
Back in November 2020, Richards gave a TEDx Talk about his own experiences called “Racism from the perspective of a non-threatening Black man.” In his Talk, Richards describes what it was like to be a “preppy Black kid” growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Connecticut. As a youth, a white friend told him racism wasn’t real, and despite experiencing racial bias repeatedly, he felt conditioned to think it was his fault. These experiences led to severe depression and suicidal ideation. These experiences made Richards determined to educate people about the negative effects racism can have on long term mental health and provide the tools to fight those feelings of despair.
Richards’ ultimate goal is to end discrimination once and for all. “Racism is the most pervasive problem in American history,” he says. “It’s as pervasive as apple pie and baseball and it’s been here for centuries and has become normalized. We have to have an active way to fight against it and show it doesn’t have to be this way…I want my kids to grow up knowing in 2020 and 2021, when things were crazy, their dad did something about the racism situation,” he said. “I want them to have countless examples of things I’ve done to make their world a better and more equitable place.”
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.