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Are “racist" kids necessarily raised by “racist” parents? (Part 2)
Episode 618th March 2024 • The Embrace Race Podcast • EmbraceRace
00:00:00 00:36:15

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In this conversation, we continue to counter the myth that if our kids express racist ideas they must have gotten them at home, from their caregivers. There are so many sources from which kids learn about race. Last episode we looked at one source: children’s media. On today’s episode, we look at another source of children’s racial learning: the racial inequality kids see all around them. 

Melissa and Andrew are lucky to be in conversation with developmental psychologist Marjorie Rhodes for this episode. Among her research interests, Marjorie has studied how kids make sense of systems of racial inequality. She and her colleagues have found that when trying to make sense of these systems, kids are inclined, developmentally, to come to wrong conclusions on their own. She explains why and shares helpful language for helping kids understand systemic inequality. Learn more about this episode and find related tools and resources on our website.  

The EmbraceRace Podcast is an extension of the work of EmbraceRace, a community of support for caregivers, parents, educators, and other adults in the lives of kids who strive to be informed, thoughtful and brave about race so that their kids can be too. At EmbraceRace, we create and curate the tools, community spaces, and networks we all need to raise a generation of kids who are resilient, empathetic, critical thinkers on race and who are committed to racial justice.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: So I'm surfing YouTube the other day, come across this clip. Honestly, I don't even know how I got there, but I come across this short clip that shows Senator Ted Cruz in the Senate hearings for the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Melissa Giraud: I remember seeing that.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And he is challenging her to say whether or not she believes that all babies are racist. And we close out the clip, you know, with seven, eight, nine seconds of her looking and, and pondering this question. And you really want to know what she's thinking.

But the reason I'm bringing this up is not that. It's one of the comments that I saw. in response to that clip, and especially the one by Linda.

Melissa Giraud: Uh oh…

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Linda's first grade son has a friend who's joined the school. The two boys have become friends, and they run into the boy and his family at a grocery store, and guess what? The little boy is Black, and Linda's son never mentioned that fact. And she says, “my son never bothered to mention it because” – and this part is all caps – “When skin color is a non issue with parents, it becomes a non issue with their children.”

Melissa Giraud: Oh my goodness.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: There it is. Right? And the flip side, implied is, if it is an issue with their parents, then it becomes an issue with the kids.

Melissa Giraud: We're here to tell you that's not always true.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Hello, I'm Andrew Grant Thomas. I'm a Black man who was born in Jamaica on the 4th of July and came to the U. S. at age 7. I'm also a dad to two kids, who are 13 and 15 as we record this episode.

Melissa Giraud: I'm Melissa Giraud, a multiracial woman, Black and white, raised by immigrant parents, one from Quebec and one from Dominica, which is not the Dominican Republic. And I'm a mom to those same two kids. And you're listening to the EmbraceRace Podcast, a show about how to raise kids who are thoughtful, informed, and brave about race.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Mmhmm.

Melissa Giraud: This season, we’re looking at popular misconceptions about race and raising kids. And on today’s episode, true or false – our racist kids necessarily raised by racist parents?

Melissa Giraud: Welcome, Marjorie.

Marjorie Rhodes: Thank you.

Melissa Giraud: And we are super happy to introduce our guest today, Marjorie Rhodes. She's a professor of psychology at New York University, and she's currently studying how children categorize people and how those categories influence their behavior. And important to our conversation today, Marjorie is also a mom – a white mom to three young white kids. Marjorie, thanks for being here.

Marjorie Rhodes: Thank you.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Marjorie, it's great to have you here. We start where we typically love to start, which is, how do you connect personally to the work that you do? We find that there's almost always that personal connection. What is it for you?

Marjorie Rhodes: Well, my training, uh, is in cognitive psychology. I'm interested in how kids develop the basic concepts they use to understand the world. And a lot of the work in this field has looked at how children do this really well. How they learn language and number concepts and to understand emotions and everything else they learn so rapidly in early childhood.

Marjorie Rhodes: What always struck me was how the same learning abilities that lead kids to learn so many accurate and helpful things about the world must also underlie how they develop problematic beliefs and attitudes as well, like gender and racial stereotypes, and biased beliefs and attitudes that reflect and perpetuate racism.

Marjorie Rhodes: Uh, once I started having my own children and had many conversations with my children and with other children and other parents, I've grown more and more interested in and committed to thinking about how we can use what we learn from developmental science about how concepts develop to think about new ways to prevent these problematic beliefs from emerging in childhood and for addressing them as they come up. And so that's how I got interested in this work. And I'm excited to talk to you guys about it today.

Melissa Giraud: Thank you. Marjorie, in, uh, seven years of doing this work with EmbraceRace, a lot of people think that kids who say or do racist things must have racist parents. End of story. Um, have you come across this belief as a researcher and as a parent?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah, I think I most often hear an expression of that idea, is kind of the flip side of it. So when I share what I study with other parents, um, parents of my, kid's friends or parents who are visiting our lab, people often tell me that their kid doesn't see race at all because their family emphasizes that everyone should be treated equally and they don't talk about people in terms of race.

Marjorie Rhodes: And so I think that idea is based on a few myths. One being that children won't notice race if you don't talk about it. And the other that you mentioned here, that kids would only develop racist ideas and attitudes if their parents express those ideas at home.

Marjorie Rhodes: So on that view, it would be kind of easy to prevent because all you have to do is avoid being explicitly racist in front of a child. Um, and unfortunately, I think developmental science tells us that it's very much not that simple.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Melissa, of course we know she is absolutely right. It is not simple, right? Kids, all of us, are getting our messages about race from multiple sources.

Schools, the neighborhoods, from TV, from movies, from who comes over to our house. But you know, the story that's coming to my mind right now is the one that you and the kids, the adventure as it were, that you and the kids had in Target. I wonder if you could tell that.

Melissa Giraud: Oh my gosh, yes.

We go into Target to get toilet paper, toilet paper, and I'm trying to lead the kids past the toy aisle, and one of them pulls the other down a particular row of these knockoffs of the prestigious American Girl dolls. And so I follow them, and we notice this aisle had been freshly stocked, not a doll missing, dolls all over.

Like one side of this big Target aisle, and there was only one doll of color. And we found out later that was the only doll they stocked of color. And in the meantime, they had, um, many dolls, uh, many blonde white dolls, maybe five different kinds, right? And they had all kinds of white dolls – brown hair, red hair, black hair, cool outfits. The doll of color – black, straight hair, brown skin, and a pretty plain outfit.

She was really standing in for maybe all people of color, and she was the only doll of color, visibly of color, available at that Target. And so our five year old looked at that doll and looked around her and said, “Well, I guess they don't like Black people.” And that really started, or continued a conversation that we'd been having. And we complained to Target, and the older one wrote a letter. And, uh, we started thinking more about where we shopped and what dolls we wanted. It was something. I mean, you, you're definitely not looking for racial messages when you go by toilet paper.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So that's the point of this story. What message are kids getting? And the youngest one made it really clear what message she was getting. Maybe they don't like Black people.

Melissa Giraud: We got a lot more than toilet paper that day. Let's get back to Marjorie.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Marjorie, you point to something else, uh, what you call systems of inequality and, and the influence that systems of inequality have on what kids think, you know, what their racial beliefs might be. But let's start with the basics. What exactly do you mean by systems of inequality?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah, so kids in the United States are growing up in communities that are defined by rampant racial inequality. So just to give one, put one statistic on the table, we know the median yearly income for Black families is about $46,000, whereas for white families it's about $75,000. And of course, these gaps are much larger…

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, Melissa, Marjorie's numbers are right on point, but they're a few years old. I have some updated numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Melissa Giraud: Lay them on me.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Want to hear those?

Melissa Giraud: Yes, I do.

income for white families in:

Melissa Giraud: It’s a big gap.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: It's reflected in what kids see in their own neighborhoods. And as Marjorie said, in many places in the country, those gaps are actually way bigger than that.

Melissa Giraud: So true.

Marjorie Rhodes: And we see racial inequality not just in income, also in access to high quality education and healthcare, which then leads to striking disparities in educational and health outcomes, including life expectancy. So when I'm talking about the systems of inequality that shape how children think, I'm talking about everything they observe about how money and education and healthcare and political power and many other correlated things are unequally distributed across groups and the historical and ongoing laws and norms that have created those inequalities.

Marjorie Rhodes: And that might all sound very complicated for thinking about how young children think. but what's important for our conversation is that kids notice these things really young. So in some of the research studies that I and my colleagues have done, we've shown kids pictures of houses. So we'd show them a fancy looking house in a fancy looking neighborhood that if you were to take a look at, you would guess a wealthy family lives in that house and owns that house.

Marjorie Rhodes: And then we show them houses that look a lot less fancy in less fancy neighborhoods that you would guess most likely a poorer family lives in that house. So, we could, we show kids those different houses and we show them photographs of children of different racial backgrounds. And already by age four, kids are more likely to guess that a white child lives in the fancy house and that a Black child lives in the less nice house.

Melissa Giraud: Oh my gosh, by age four.

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah, by age four.

Melissa Giraud: Wow.

Marjorie Rhodes: And in the United States, those guesses reflect the statistical reality of who lives where in this country. And so what these data are showing is that kids are picking up on that really young. And they pickup on how wealth is unequally distributed across racial groups before they even get to kindergarten.

Melissa Giraud: And so I'm assuming that if kids, um, are picking up on that at age four, I mean, I’m not really assuming this, but that, they also think, heck, that's really unfair.

Marjorie Rhodes: Well, so that's the thing. I think, um, what's really important is that kids also try to explain what they notice. And whether they think it's unfair depends on how they explain it. So what they think the reasons are for, for the inequality. If we don't help them understand why racial inequality exists, they come up with their own explanation, and those explanations are going to be ones that feel really easy to a young child, like, some people just want to live in nicer houses, or some people just work harder to get the money that they need.

Marjorie Rhodes: So I think we need to realize as parents, uh, is that kids are going to come up with problematic ideas about racial inequality just by living in the world we live in. It takes work to undo or prevent those ideas, not to create them.

Melissa Giraud: Hold on a second, Andrew. You know, listen ing to Marjorie talk about how kids have these biases, how they're prone to blame individuals for their circumstances. It makes me think. Yeah, and don't a lot of adults do exactly the same thing, you know? So, so it strikes me that it, it's really hard to interrupt kids' biases if you have the same biases?

So it's a thing we're talking in this conversation about interrupting, but there's work that adults need to do first, which is to understand how race works, to understand structural racism. And you need to do that. You need to, to do that in order to be able to successfully interrupt your kid's bias towards blaming individuals.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I love the point, because what I hear you saying is that part of the challenge for adults is to, uh, understand race and racial inequality such that they can then translate it for their kids, which reminds me of the study that came out of Yale, Jennifer Richardson and some colleagues. And what they did is they did a national survey of Americans in which they said to people, you know, compared to, the wealth that white American families have, how much do you think Black American families have?

far off. Right? The answer in:

Now it's about 13. But the point is this, if we are that far off on just what racial inequality looks like, how can we expect folks to really understand how that inequality was produced in the first place so that they can explain that to their kids? But let's put a pin in that right now. Let’s go back to Marjorie.

Andrew Grant-Thomas And Marjorie, a big, an important concept that you've used here is the one about cognitive bias. Can you say a little bit more about exactly what you mean by that?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah, a cognitive bias is a rule of thumb or a simple heuristic. So in this case, it's like when I have no idea how to explain what's going on, what's my default explanation for why something likely happened? So, you know, in this case, say, say, you know, you were asking your child, “Oh, look, that kid over there went and picked up a cookie. Why do you think he did that?” Well, there's lots of reasons for why a kid could pick up a cookie. He could pick up a cookie because he liked the cookie and he wants to eat the cookie, but he could pick up the cookie because his mom asked him to, or he could pick up the cookie to share it with a friend. Um, all of these things are possible. Your, the cognitive bias would be towards your default explanation, which for most kids in early childhood is just, he wanted the cookie, so he picked it up. That's the simplest explanation for what he did. Yeah, for sure.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: That's why I would do it. Yep. Let's hone in on what you elsewhere call the cognitive biases of kids, in particular, the ways they may explain the patterns that they see.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: How do we get this pattern of racial inequality, right, in housing, in education, unemployment, you know, criminal justice, the whole thing? And what we know, and you've already begun to allude to it, is, well, it's way more than individual choices that people make, right? It's really about policies and norms and laws and, you know, all sorts of things, uh, that aren't obvious, certainly, to children and not obvious, for that matter, to many adults.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, how do children's cognitive biases play into the kinds of explanations they're likely to favor?

Marjorie Rhodes: Kids’ cognitive biases lead them to explain patterns they see in terms of, what feels easy and simple and straightforward to them. And that is it. What is easy to a young child, what's easy to a four year old, for example, is often to think about things that are inside people, that people live where they want to, do the jobs they're good at, and are friends with people who they like.

Marjorie Rhodes: You know, those are sort of straightforward, everyday explanations that we use to explain people's behavior, you know, all day long as we're trying to navigate the world.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: What we might call individualistic explanations.

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Mmhmm.

Marjorie Rhodes: Individualistic explanations, intrinsic explanations, you know, they're about the person and that person's choices and beliefs and work and abilities and, and that kind of thing. Those kinds of explanations are familiar to children, you know, that's how they explain why one person chose one game over another game, why they invited one kid over to play at their house instead of another kid over to play at their house, you know, why those are explanations kids rely on all day long to make sense of the world.

So it makes sense that they would rely on them here, too, to explain why some people and what appears to be some groups of people tend to live in some houses and have certain kinds of jobs and that kind of thing. So those, what we need to know as parents is even if we have never told them, a kind of individual person based explanation for racial inequality. So we have to work to help them understand that there are external factors that determine what's available to people.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, and Marjorie, you talked about how we know this in, uh, with the example of the study in the houses. Can you give us a little more information on how we actually know what, how four year olds are thinking about this?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah. So these sound like really complicated ideas, but in some of our research studies, we've actually just asked children. So we also ask them why, and we can ask them in an open-ended manner, and then just kind of code what they say. But we can also give them choices. So in one study, we asked them, you know, Why do you think some people live in fancier houses? Is it more because of things that happen outside of just those families, like rules in the world?

Marjorie Rhodes: And we found that some kids agree more with the intrinsic explanations, the person centered ones, like what they want or how hard they work, and other kids agree more with the ones that have to do with external factors outside the family, like there are now or have been in the past, rules that favored some families over others. And we've also found that kids who agree more with those external reasons actually develop less racial bias over time. Uh, and those explanations are especially important for how much bias kids end up developing if they're growing up in neighborhoods that have a high degree of racial inequality.

Marjorie Rhodes: So if kids are growing up in a neighborhood that has a lot of racial inequality in it, if they think that inequality reflects intrinsic differences between people, how hard people are working or what they want to do. That's associated with developing a lot of racial bias over time as they get older throughout childhood.

Marjorie Rhodes: But if kids in those neighborhoods endorse more of the extrinsic explanations are aware that there are things outside the lives of particular families that constrains what's available to those families, they show less race bias over time.

Melissa Giraud: Andrew, so, this brings to mind again, this question of how to talk about unfairness that's built into social structures when you're talking to kids.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: It's an important question. there's never going to be a formula, right? We're never going to offer a formula. But there are some basic guidelines like speaking simply, making it a conversation, and making it an ongoing conversation.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, I have an example. Okay, so I was talking to a neighbor of ours who also had young kids in the nearby elementary school. This was some years ago. And she had overheard her kids talking about how the quote unquote “Spanish speaking kids” at the school needed a lot of quote unquote “help.” So that generalization made us both quite curious.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Yep, I remember this one.

Melissa Giraud: Yep, and it turned out that at the time, there had been an increase in Spanish speaking kids from Central America at the school, kids who were refugees. So, they didn't speak English, of course, and in fact, they hadn't had the opportunity to go to school recently, if at all.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: They had come through a ton of stuff.

Melissa Giraud: A ton of stuff that our kids weren't seeing, right? And kids like ours basically saw kids speaking Spanish who needed to learn how to hold a pencil, how to write letters, how to hold a book. So I had to remind our five-year-old that they had learned to do all those things in preschool. And that these kids didn't have that help. Our kid went to a quite amazing preschool.

A lot of kids who were born in the U.S., I told our child, don't have that help either that they had, do not have that help because preschool is not universal, is not open to everyone. You really have to be able to pay for it usually. And they just looked at me, realizing, as we talked about it back and forth, conversation,and many conversations that followed. But in that moment, just looked at me, eyes wide and said, “But that's not fair.”

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So going back to what Marjorie said, here's what I'm hearing, right? That that was a case where the kids looked at the Spanish speaking kids and the difficulties they were having, the help they needed, and like kids often do, they look for a really simple explanation. And in this case, it's that somehow Spanish speaking kids were maybe less able.

Melissa Giraud: Mmhmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: At least that was our concern, right? And what you did is really just provide context.

Melissa Giraud: Yep.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Right? And kids get context. They can get that in this case. There's a real unevenness, a real unfairness to the context in which our older kid was raised, right, with preschool support, and the lack of support for those kids that they were looking at.

Melissa Giraud: Exactly. Let's get back to the conversation with Marjorie.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So let's say that kids learn that racial bias and racial inequity exist. Then what? What do they do with that information?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yeah, that’s um, that’s really interesting and important. So one of the main behaviors that we test in our research studies that relates to kids doing something about it is, you know, we'll study children's willingness to rectify inequalities. So if they now have resources to give out, are they going to give those resources more to a group that's been historically favored, more to a group that's been historically disadvantaged, or are they going to give them out equally?

Kids are, you know, from age four, they have a kind of tendency on these tasks to want to give resources out kind of equally, um, even though the more sort of equitable and just thing to do is actually to give more to a group that's been historically disadvantaged. We have found that in order to get kids to, um, as you said, not just show less bias, but actually be willing to rectify, they have to understand not just that something extrinsic to the families caused the inequality, but they have to understand the role of the high status group in creating those unfair systems.

Marjorie Rhodes: So they have to understand in the case of race that it's been white people in the United States who, you know, enacted and perpetuated laws and policies that favored their own group and disfavored others. Um, and kids can understand that again from quite early in childhood, that kids need to know more than just there's something extrinsic to these families that causes inequality. They really need to understand a bit about privilege and power for it to get them to actually be willing to rectify, that is, to favor, um, a group that's been historically disadvantaged.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: We need to name names.

Marjorie Rhodes: Yes, that's exactly right.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So here's my question, Marjorie. Suppose we lived in a society where adults actually gave structural answers to the questions that kids have about racial inequality. So, for example, suppose kids asked, why are so many Black, brown, and Native American people getting COVID? And adults said, look, it's because people of color are more likely than white people to work in jobs that don't provide good healthcare, which is true.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Right? Suppose they said, because people of color are more likely to have jobs where they have to go to work to help other people, which exposes them to more people. And suppose adults said, Because people of color are more likely to live in places where it's hard to get tested, right? So all of these are true structural reasons why people of color are more vulnerable.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, in other words, if more adults gave structural explanations for lots of things, including COVID, would we still see this bias in young people toward the simple and individualistic explanations you're describing?

Marjorie Rhodes: This is an interesting question. This is something that developmental psychologists from different theoretical backgrounds would debate a lot about. I think that in a society that focused on structural causes, and relational causes, more, in early childhood and in general, not just in the context of thinking about inequalities, but in thinking about the causes of human behavior generally, that it's likely we would not see this cognitive bias.

Marjorie Rhodes: So, I think children in the United States and in many western cultures develop this cognitive bias really early. So yeah, I think that this is manifested in lots of ways in language and in the explicit explanations and that we give children for why people do the things they do and in the kinds of questions that we ask children, which tend to emphasize personal autonomy a lot in this country.

Marjorie Rhodes: So it is a conceptual bias in the sense that when kids don't have any other information, they're going to rely back on an individual level explanation for things. But I do think the tendency to do that is culturally situated, and that in a society that emphasized more relational explanations for why people do the things they do, more about social structure in shaping people's behavior that we would not see that conceptual bias as strongly.

Melissa Giraud: Wow, that's fascinating.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And really, you've been talking primarily as the high flying researcher that you are, but as we noted earlier, you're also a mom of three kids, the youngest of whom I believe is a toddler,

Marjorie Rhodes: Yes.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So three at home kids, and we wonder, you know, how do your researcher hat and parent hat come together at home in the actual raising of these kids, given what you know, but right, the complexity, the challenge of actually raising real life human beings? What can you tell us about that?

Marjorie Rhodes: I feel like I'm the greedy recipient of that more than that. My children are the benefit. I benefit more as a scientist from having my children in terms of how I think about these things than, I mean, I definitely don't do everything right all the time as a parent, very far from it. But my kids are sort of constantly reminding me of the limits of what I know as a researcher, and pushing me to think more about what we should be studying, of how we need to look from the child's perspective, how because of where children are in their development, they sometimes interpret what we and their teachers say in ways that we don't anticipate or intend.

So one time I was walking a group of kids, uh, first graders home, after school. And they had a lesson that day about Martin Luther King. And I asked them what they learned, and one of my kids friends said, “Martin Luther King wanted to make sure that Black kids could go to the libraries, but I don't get it.”

And I said, “What don't you get?” And he said, “Why couldn't Black kids read already? If they could read, they would have been allowed to go to the libraries, right?” And so here we have another example of the kind of explanation we've been talking about an explaination that might feel easy to a young child in order to understand something surprising when they aren't giving enough context.

And so again, this shows how young children look for simple explanations. But with this also really made me think about for the first time as a researcher, something I hadn't really thought about before was how the idea of an unfair law or rule is actually pretty tricky to a child. So, you know, I had been thinking we should be telling parents, talk more about rules being unfair and, and the rules that existed that lead to the inequalities that we see today, but of course, we often tell kids that they have to follow rules and rules are there to keep them safe.

And so the idea that a rule existed that was there to harm a group of people is not the first thing that's going to come to a child's mind. And again, this doesn't mean they can't understand it. We just have to explain it with more context, that the laws were bad and they're to do harm. And that's why people had to fight to change them. And to us as an adult, and I think to the children's teacher, that part of the story might be obvious. We think, of course, they'll understand if we tell them there was this rule, they'll understand the rule was wrong.

And what that child's question told me was that that actually was going against some of his intuition. And so we have to be just even more direct in, in how we talk to Children. So I feel like I'm constantly learning from my kids the limits of, you know, what I'm understanding about what's going on here. And then hopefully that pushes us to do better science.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So you're saying that your, your kids and their friends should be tenured professors at NYU.

Marjorie Rhodes: I think, you know, that would be great, might be an improvement.

Melissa Giraud: Or maybe they should, you know, have, uh, credit on your papers or something. A great lesson in that is kids really need to understand, right, that, uh, conditions were created and it also helps them, um, understand that we can also change those conditions, right?

Marjorie Rhodes: Yes, absolutely.

Melissa Giraud: I wonder how often that's happened around Martin Luther King Day and stories. We had a story, at our kid's preschool where, a friend of ours came home after hearing about, doing a lot of Martin Luther King, activities that were really thought out and everything, but the lesson that he took home was, I, as a person of color, can only have certain jobs.

Marjorie Rhodes: Right. I think that happens quite a bit that when we're telling stories to children about history, which of course it's incredibly important for them to learn about, some of what we're expecting them to learn from those stories that we think is obvious is just not obvious to the kids. So they hear it was that way, they think.

It was supposed to be that way. And that's the way the world is supposed to be structured. Maybe that's still the way that the world is. And, you know, the answer to that is not don't teach them about history. It's about teach them the full context of history. And, you know, I think our research and other people's research in this area shows that kids can understand all of that.

And that you really do have to explain to them how those structures were created and who created them so that they can see, okay, that's how it was, and that was wrong. There's still some lasting consequences of that, and those are wrong too. And we can change them. You know, people created them, and people can change.

Melissa Giraud: It seems like another lesson there would be not only to give them a fuller context and who are the actors, who's doing the doing, right? And who's,who's enforcing something, negative unfair rules, but, and creating them, but also, it would, I would think the other lesson is it's just so hard as a parent to know what your kid is thinking is to really just ask them, right, to talk to them. Ask a lot of questions.

Marjorie Rhodes: That's right. And, and do it frequently enough so that they also feel comfortable asking you questions. You know, both of these were prompted, both the stories I told were prompted by a kid telling me they didn't understand something, right? Oh, that's interesting.

Marjorie Rhodes: Why would that be? Or, you know, I didn't get what they said about the library story. And so kids also need to feel comfortable asking us about things they don't understand. And I think the more we ask them these questions, then the more comfortable they are asking us, too.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Marjorie, it has been amazing to have you. Really interesting stuff. Thank you so much.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, Marjorie. Thank you.

Marjorie Rhodes: Great to talk with you. Thank you.

Melissa Giraud: That's Marjorie Rhodes, Professor of Psychology at New York University, where she leads the Conceptual Development and Social Cognition Lab.

Melissa Giraud: Andrew, that was an awesome conversation with Marjorie. I think we need to loop back to where we started in the beginning and say that racist kids, when kids do something considered racist, it doesn't mean that they were raised by racist parents or caregivers, because guess what? They learn about race, they learn about race all over the place. So I hope that's helpful for parents too when they hear their kids say problematic things, right?

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Yeah, no, it's certainly helpful for me, because, yeah, what it means is that our job as parents, as caregivers, as adults in the lives of kids, is a little bit more complicated than simply, oh, we just need to watch what we say, right, or even what we do, as important as that is. Part of what that means is, yeah, we need to mediate. We need to be aware of, to the extent that we can, how kids are learning from all these other sources, how and what they're learning, and we need to be aware of kids' tendencies to really simplify the world and the explanations that they have for what they see.

Melissa Giraud: Right. Right. And as we noted, we have to do our own work, right? This was a conversation about helping kids, about interrupting bias for the most part, but understanding structural racism work is a challenge, especially to people who have been, you know, schooled in the U.S. where we don't teach this way. So we need to search for those explanations. And I think, I'm sure a lot of people listening will say, well, what's the conversation that you have with your kids? And I think it just varies a lot. It doesn't lend itself easily to one radio episode or two or three because it's just gotta happen throughout their lives, right?

Like, it's very contextual, it's ongoing and ongoing and ongoing, and it's kind of this dot, dot, dot after every conversation and you get some wrong and you get some right and your kids develop and can understand more sophisticated things as you go on and together you learn, gosh, you know, mom thought this, but it turns out there was this thing called redlining, right?

You learn about different structures, historical, present, they change the story for everyone.

Melissa Giraud: The EmbraceRace Podcast is hosted by me, Melissa Giraud.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And by me, Andrew Grant Thomas.

Melissa Giraud: Our senior producer is John Asante. Our editor is Megan Tan.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Our engineer and sound designer is Enrico Benjamin.

Melissa Giraud: Our consulting producer is Graham Griffith. Special thanks to Team Embrace Race, Robin Deutsch Edwards, Andrea Huang, Tamara Montes de Oca, Christina Rucinski, and Maryam Zahid.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: We absolutely love those guys. And a big shout out to our main inspirations, our two kids, and to the EmbraceRace community.

Melissa Giraud: Subscribe, rate, and review our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcatcher. That really helps us.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And for resources on addressing structural racism with children and many other topics about race and kids, please visit us at embracerace dot org. To learn more about Marjorie's work, check out our show notes.

Melissa Giraud & Andrew Grant-Thomas: Thanks for listening.



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