How I Will Prepare My Daughter For Racism In School

Of all the joys parenting can bring, uncomfortable conversations won’t be one of them.

My daughter is only 10 months old and already I am dreading the questions she will ask me: why do we eat animals? Who is Jesus? What is racism?

If you think I am jumping ahead of myself, perhaps you are not wrong. But for me, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who experienced loneliness and confusion as a result of racial anxieties, the fear that my daughter could be subjected to racism is very real.

When I was pregnant, I raised these concerns with my husband. We discussed it and we both agreed that my experience of growing up Asian in the 90s (when Pauline Hanson rose to fame) would be very different to our unborn child growing up Asian in 2020s.

The fear that my daughter could be subjected to racism is very real. (Image: Supplied)

Today, Australia and in particular Melbourne, where we live is one of the most successful, multicultural cities in the world.

Our daughter will grow up with Anglo, Chinese and Turkish cousins, not to mention her network of friends which already resembles the UN assembly. Seeing different faces and hearing different languages will be the norm for her, I will make sure of it.

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But this week, I came across two separate studies which burst my bubble.

The first was an Australian National University (ANU) led investigation into racism in New South Wales and Victorian schools. The research found one in three students in years five to nine have experienced racial discrimination from their peers. Those from non-Anglo backgrounds were twice as likely to report such discrimination than those from Anglo backgrounds.

The second was a paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics which linked experiences of racism to chronic stress. Being victims of racism or witnessing racism in childhood can have profound and lifelong health consequences.

It validated what I already knew: that racism is alive in the schoolyard, that my daughter could be exposed to it and that I couldn’t send her out into the world and hope for the best.

When I reflect on my own childhood, I was told to ignore those who were racist towards me, that they were ill-educated, misinformed and insecure. While this may be true, it didn’t help me cope with my feelings of hurt. Often, I was so desperate to fit in that I would laugh off racist comments. I didn’t want to be a snowflake. I didn’t want to cause a scene.

I struggled to cope with my feelings of hurt when people were racist towards me while growing up in Melbourne in the 1990s. (Image: Supplied)

These are not the things I want to pass onto my daughter. When the time comes, I will have an honest conversation with her.

I once read that racism is like unravelling a ball of wool: easy to unravel yet hard to put back and never looking quite the same again. I will try and explain how racist policies from the past can have lingering consequences today.

I will tell her that racism is, unequivocally wrong.

If she is called names, teased, feels left out or is simply unsure of herself because of her race or ethnicity (or anything else for that matter), she needs to tell me or her dad, or her grandparents or anyone she trusts. And we can work through her feelings: her feelings being the priority.

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Before I ruin her innocence with history and politics, I am glad her school days are still a little while away.

When I was pregnant, I raised concerns with my husband about whether our daughter would be subject to racism in school. (Image: Supplied)

Until then, I will continue to teach her about her Chinese heritage and expose her to other cultures whether that’s food, language, customs and traditions. I will encourage her to listen to other people’s experiences and stories and to share her own. I will teach her that the ways we do things in our home isn’t the “normal” way or the only way.

To an extent, she is growing up in different times.

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The ANU research revealed that the majority (60 percent) of students tried to stop the racial bullying and/or consoled the victim. Additionally, the second phase of the research is to pilot an intervention program so that more students and teachers act when they see racism.

If her upbringing, supported by structured programs, enables my daughter to recognise and call out racism, then our conversations about race, however awkward, will be worthwhile.