Speak Up

Opening a Dialogue with Youth About Racism

If you're new to the conversation about racism and bias, talking to children about it can seem overwhelming. Doing so means asking hard questions, constantly learning and always listening. It also means addressing your own privilege and bias. A place to begin the discussion is in our classrooms, where conversations around racism are a part of the fabric of students' lives. If children are asking these questions, we need to be ready to answer them.

Source: First Book Social Issues Impact Survey

To help those who may not know why, where, when or how to begin this conversation, USC Rossier has created Speak Up: Opening a Dialogue With Youth About Racism — a collection of interviews, resource guides and op-eds aimed at answering some of the questions that can make these topics difficult, and prompt needed discussions about identity, inequality and education for children of color.

Scroll below to learn more about the racial inequities in children's lives today or use the navigation at the top of this page to explore other resources.

Four Things to Know About Children and Racial Inequity

Children ask questions about racism because they see and experience inequalities and inequities in the world around them. Childhood trauma, disciplinary action and the lack of visibility of people who look like them — children of color are disproportionately and adversely affected by such things. These disparities are illustrated in the following charts.

Black and Hispanic children are more likely to experience childhood trauma.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that happen before the age of 18. They encompass different types of neglect, abuse and hardship like the death of a parent, neighborhood violence and the inability to afford food and housing. ACEs are also linked to lifelong health risks like obesity and cancer.

Over one-fifth of children in the United States experience multiple ACEs, and children of color are disproportionately affected.

Percent of children who experience 1 Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), by race/ethnicity

Percent of children who experience 2 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), by race/ethnicity

Source: 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Black preschoolers make up one-fifth of enrollment, but almost half of suspensions.

Children of color receive a disproportionate number of school suspensions and expulsions. But that discrepancy trickles down even further: the same trend is visible in preschools. Black children make up almost half of all multi-day suspensions in preschool, despite accounting for less than 20 percent of enrollment.

Percent of Pre-K enrollment, by race/ethnicity

Percent of preschoolers receiving one out of school suspension, as a percent of all preschoolers receiving one out of school suspension, by race/ethnicity

Percent of preschoolers receiving multiple out of school suspensions, as a percent of all preschoolers receiving multiple out of school suspensions, by race/ethnicity

Source: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

Only 20 percent of teachers are people of color.

Black students who have at least one Black teacher by the end of elementary school are almost 30 percent less likely to dropout of high school. However, students of color are less likely to see themselves reflected in classroom leadership — over 50 percent of students are students of color, compared to 20 percent of teachers.

Teachers in K-12 schools, by race/ethnicity and year2

Source:  U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), "Public School Teacher Data File," 1987-88 through 2011-12; "Private School Teacher Data File,"; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), "Public School Teacher Data File," 2015–16.

Students in K-12 Schools, by race/ethnicity and year2

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary and Secondary Education," 1995-96 through 2013-14; and National Elementary and Secondary Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity Projection Model, 1972 through 2025.

1 in 4 children is Latino, but only 1 in 17 children's books is about a Latino character.

Even in places where representation can be created, it's lacking. About 75 percent of movie characters are white, and children's television characters are also disproportionately white. Data on children's books shows that even though more books are being written by and about people of color, it's still nowhere close to an accurate picture of what children look like today.

Percentage of children's books' authors, by race/ethnicity and year

Percentage of children's books' characters, by race/ethnicity and year

Source: Cooperative Children's Book Center


1 High-need is defined as a Title 1 or Title 1-eligible classroom or program in which at least 70 percent of students (under 18) are low-income (2x poverty rate). Return to footnote 1 reference
2 Includes public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. Return to footnote 2 reference

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