Did you know that six-month-old infants are able to nonverbally categorize people by race and gender? Or that two-year-olds can use racial categories to reason about people's behavior? Current research shows that very young children not only see race, but use that information when making decisions. When children see and hear messages, even unintentional ones, about racial differences in people, those messages become part of how that child navigates the world. As Jinnie Spiegler puts it, "noticing people's differences is natural, but when adults assign judgments or value to these differences, bias can develop in young children." That's why it's important to talk to children about race openly.
Addressing the topic of race with young kids can be uncomfortable for adults, but it is an important part of early childhood development for children of all races. Because you can never be too prepared to have these conversations, you can find some resources here:
Fortunately, there are also books that can help adults talk about race and racial differences with children. Whether you're a primary caregiver, an educator, or you have a special kid in your life, these books will make a welcome addition to your child's reading.
Summer 2020 Update: The books listed below were published in the original post in 2018 and are mostly physical books. If you need online suggestions, please check out our Talking about Racism, Anti-Racism, and Protest with Kids Booklist that contains only online materials.