How children learn racism

If there is one book I think every transracial adoptive parent must read, it’s this one. Especially for folks who believe that children don’t notice race, or that we live in a world that is "colorblind." In fact, I think I would recommend this book for EVERY parent, everyone who cares about being anti-racist, whether you are raising kids of your own race, culture and ethnicity or not.

The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe Feagan is stunning in its findings – that children as young as 3 years old, even when attending a pre-school that has a strong anti-bias curriculum, and even with parents who support and promote "diversity" in their homes – use racism and racist behavior and language in sophisticated and complex ways, despite the adamant protests from adults that these children are incapable of such behavior or thought. And that children of color know and understand that there is an unequal hierarchy in society, even with nobody "telling them."


The first few chapters are pretty academic but they outline the traditional White, western-based (and developed by white men) theories around child development, but the chapters that follow are compelling and very easy to read and understand. I have so many underlined and highlighted passages that it might as well be just all yellow highlights.

I’ll follow up with more thoughts in a future post, but I just had to recommend this book. I think ALL parents should read it, but especially if you are white and you are parenting a child of color.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

5 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this book; I’m off to check for it on Amazon.
    I find it ridiculous that some people don’t think children notice race. My not-quite-three-year-old son (who was transracially adopted) certainly notices that he does not look like me or his dad.

  2. Thanks so much for the recommendation…checking it out for sure. I for one don’t want to live in a colorblind society…I want to celebrate what each culture/race brings…of course I know that is not what a lot of people want. Annslee is only 3 and she notices already too. She will point to anyone with black hair and ask “China?” of course we have to keep letting her know everyone with black hair isn’t from China : )

  3. Thanks for the recommendation! I agree that even white parents who adopted white kids should read books like this. My white daughter joined our family at age 11 and I was shocked to find out that she was racist.

  4. This book is an excellent one to give to preschool teachers too. My daughter went to a preschool similar to the one described in the book and reactions of her teachers very much resembled the ones in this book when they were faced with the fact that one of the kids in the class was questioning my daughter about not matching her family. They claimed it “couldn’t have happened here because we have SO much diversity” and more that echoed lots of what was in this book. Fortunately the kid continued under the nose of one of the teachers with me there too so there was no way they could continue their denial. The preschool teachers each got a copy of the book and they did open up a bit after reading it.
    The book also was a big wake up call for me to prepare my daughter for race-based play, language, questions, etc very early (much earlier than I would have imagined) so she has language and options for responding. So glad you’ve highlighed this very useful and important book for parents — any parents but particularly adoptive parents. And also so important for educators.

  5. I definitely will be getting this book. Last summer when my Chinese daughter was 3, she started talking about skin color differences. We had been reading “We’re Different, We’re the Same” (Sesame Street paperback) so the topic was part of our family dialogue at the time. As a white person, I am always trying to figure out ways to talk about race so that my daughter will feel empowered when racial bullying comes her way. Thanks!

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