How parents can speak to their children about anti-Asian racism


TORONTO —
Parents speaking with children about anti-Asian racism should teach them cultural pride, warn them about racism before it happens, and embolden them to call it out, experts recommend.

The University of Toronto recently found reported anti-Asian racist incidents in Canada have more than tripled in the last year, and because of the speed at which some of the incidents spread online, experts warn Asian parents to prepare their children for it.

“What we tell parents is to control what they’re watching [on] social media. [Children] are more savvy, they’ll see it before we will,” Catherine Vuky, an assistant clinical psychology professor at William James College and director of the Massachusetts college’s Asian Mental Health program, said during an expert panel discussion on CTV News Channel.

She told CTV News Channel that “now more than ever” parents should be speaking with their children about racism and discrimination, and create a safe space for them to speak about what they may have experienced.

“Oftentimes, we find that our Asian parents tend not to have these type of conversations but what I hear from the kids is, they’re scared. And they want to talk about it.”

Anti-Asian hate attacks have skyrocketed across the U.S. and Canada. In 2020, reported attacks spiked across the country, including in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa. A June Angus Reid poll of more than 500 Chinese-Canadians found half were called names or insulted because of the outbreak, while 43 per cent said they’ve been threatened or intimidated.

Vuky, who helped develop a multilingual guide for parents, said to encourage younger children to write down or draw what they’re feeling because they might not be able to articulate their thoughts with words.

Last year, a group of professors from the University of Victoria helped create an online resource for Asian youth to help them navigate through the complexities of systemic oppression in Canada and their own racial identities. Meanwhile in Toronto, educators have been offering guides for teachers to have tough but needed conversations.

Vuky noted that these conversations shouldn’t only be done in reaction to racist incidents or news reports. She said, especially when it comes to younger children, parents needed to get out ahead of racist incidents by building up pride in their cultural background.

“I think if we have natural conversations in our everyday lives, we can instill that resilience and the confidence in our kids.”

She noted the new wave of books discussing racism and even cultural identity can be used to “talk about what it’s like to be different or to look differently and celebrate the differences — celebrate our own culture versus looking at all the negatives.”

Jan Wong, the co-founder of the Asian Canadian Women’s Alliance, agreed wholeheartedly and said that it’s important to facilitate these conversations so children “aren’t blindsided.”

She told CTV News Channel when her now-adult sons were young children she didn’t have that talk initially “because I thought Canada was this wonderful, harmonious, multi-cultural place.”

But that changed after Wong’s then-four-year-old son was bullied by several other children at a park because of his race. “He couldn’t talk. He was so upset,” she said, noting that she wished she “could’ve prepared him for less of a shock.”

Looking back, Wong said she would’ve encouraged her child “that you don’t have to take it passively” and to talk back to the other children, conveying that it wasn’t right.

She likened having early preemptive talks about racism to how parents and teachers preemptively speak to children about consent when it comes to hugging or inappropriate touching, and how to tell other adults or teachers if something is making them feel uncomfortable.

“You have to innoculate your kids before it happens.”





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