Talking to Kids about Racial Stereotypes - Tip Sheet
Spotting these stereotypes is often difficult for children; to them, the tomahawk-wielding Indian or the Asian karate expert is a familiar, easily-understood and often funny character. So how do you help children understand these images for what they are – oversimplified, generalizations?
Here are some tips:
- Look closely at the characters children see. What messages do they send concerning race, gender, and roles? Voice your disapproval of stereotyped characters, and explain why you disapprove. Ask children to compare the images of race they see on television, with the people they know in real life. How are they different?
- Listen closely, with children, to the voices of the bad characters in cartoons. Do they have an accent? What about the good, kind, sweet characters?
- Deconstruct the "media reality." Talk with kids about the people behind the programs they watch. It can be an eye-opener for children to realize that TV shows, like books, are written and created by people with their own biases and experiences. When you watch a program with children, ask them to think about who created the show and whether they think the writers and producers really understood the types of people they are portraying or whether they're basing characters on preconceived notions about groups of people.
- Critique other media. Look at the ads for cars, clothing and sports equipment in newspapers, magazines and billboards. Talk to your child about how the product is glamorized and which audiences are targeted. Who is represented in these ads as the consumer? Why are certain ethnic groups linked to certain products? Take a look at running shoe ads, for example. Why are Black athletes often portrayed "shooting hoops" and goofing around the gym, while white athletes are shown doing serious training?
- Use history as a tool. Help your child understand the real-life history behind many fictionalized stories. While it is true there was a real-life Pocahontas, she was a thirteen-year-old girl when she met John Smith, not a grown woman, and she didn't look anything like the small-waisted, long-haired character of the Disney film. Seek out books or videos that recount the history behind popularized stories, and then compare the real-life story to the "movie version."
Find programs that counter stereotypes. As much as television can stereotype people, it can also help to break down barriers. Look for shows where the cultures and talents of individuals from different races are emphasized in a positive fashion.