Countering Stigma and Racism

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
June 05, 2020

Recent events have highlighted the racism and injustice experienced by the African-American community for far too long. Dr. Brabrand, FCPS superintendant, recently offered this response, "Racism and hate have no place in FCPS." He added, "This cannot be ignored. To our Black and African-American students and staff, I want you to know that we see you, we believe in you, and we stand with you."

America is strong because of its diversity. Those differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, ideas, and other forms of identity have contributed to the richness of our country. 

As adults, it is our responsibility to help children understand that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity while given compassion and acceptance; and that racism and hate will not be tolerated. Children look to adults for guidance. They observe our words and behaviors. They will follow our lead.

The following suggestions from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) are offered to assist you as you enter into conversations about stigma and racism that are complex and challenging.

Model acceptance and compassion. Children take their cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid making negative statements about any racial, ethnic, religious, or other identifying group. Reach out to others who might feel at risk because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or other traits.

Provide useful information. Accurate information about people, events, reactions, and feelings is empowering. Use language that is developmentally appropriate for children. Make sure that all information is factually true. This is especially important when news reports have negative statements about any specific group of people.

Avoid stereotyping people. Children can easily generalize negative statements to students in their classes and community. Focusing on the nationality, ethnicity, affiliations, or appearance of others can create prejudice, anger, and mistrust for groups of people. Be clear about your statements and biases, and help children understand their own prejudices.

Stop any type of harassment or bullying immediately. Make it clear that such behavior, in any form (in person, online, social media) is unacceptable. Talk to the children involved about the reasons for their behavior. Help them identify and label their difficult feelings such as frustration, sadness, anger, and confusion. Assist them in finding an alternative method of expression. Consistently speak up if you hear, see, or read discriminatory comments and explain to children why the behavior or statement was offensive. 

Counter microaggressions with micro-affirmations. Microaggressions are brief exchanges such as subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures, tones, or comments that send belittling messages and close doors to individuals of socially marginalized groups whether intended or not. Whereas, micro-affirmations are subtle acknowledgements to help individuals feel valued and included. These include acknowledging that a microaggression may have occurred, actively listening and supporting individuals when they tell you they have been targeted because of their race or other identifying trait, and visibly confronting inequitable, hostile, or biased behavior.

Empower children to seek help. Adults should encourage children (victims or observers) to tell a trusted adult or speak out against bullying, harassment, or microaggressions (if they feel safe doing so).

Emphasize positive, familiar images of diverse groups. Identify people of diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and/or lifestyles that children know and who have a positive place in their lives. These could be neighbors, friends, school personnel, healthcare professionals, members of their faith community, or local merchants. Discuss the many characteristics, values, and experiences the children have in common with these individuals.

Learn about the diverse communities represented in your area. Knowledge debunks myths about other people and can humanize other cultures. In school, children benefit from the opportunity to share information about their family or cultural customs to reinforce the notion that all people have special beliefs and rituals.

Find opportunities to connect with people from diverse backgrounds. Participating in activities that offer the chance to engage with peers or members of the community who come from different backgrounds reinforces children's sense of commonality with them. Interactions with diverse people further allow children to consider different perspectives and opinions. This provides children the opportunity to examine their own beliefs and begin to look at the world in new ways. 

Read books with your children or students that address prejudice, tolerance, and hate. There are many, many stories appropriate for varying age groups that can help children think about and define their feelings regarding these issues. Common Sense Media provides a list of books about racism and social justice for children of all ages.

Expand your understanding on race and privilege. The National Association of School Psychologists has developed and identified resources to help schools and families engage in constructive dialogue and action regarding social justice that affect children's learning and well-being, including issues of poverty, race, privilege, violence, and economic isolation. Consider reading their overview on understanding race and privilege.

FCPS Mental Wellness Consultations are Available

Any FCPS parent may request a 30-minute phone consultation with a school psychologist or school social worker. Parent consultations are available for all grade levels and student consultations are only available for students in middle and high school.

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a periodic digest of our most recent articles.