Xenophobia and Talking Hate to Kids

It has been disheartening to read about the widespread attacks and looting that have spread through South Africa in a new wave of xenophobia. Xenophobia is a dislike, fear, distrust, or intolerance of foreigners and this dislike is usually expressed in hostility towards those foreigners. ​​ Most of these attacks have targeted migrants to South Africa and these xenophobic waves have seen retaliatory violence on South-African owned brands in Nigeria. Images and videos of the unrest fill the internet and all I can think about is how mothers are explaining hate or talking hate to their children in the wake of these attacks.

I realize that xenophobia is not just an African thing but can truly exist anywhere foreigners, migrants or immigrants are targeted due to fear, distrust or intolerance.

Also, intolerance and hatred are not just a xenophobia thing but manifests itself in ethnocentrism, racism, bullying and the like. And I imagine that mothers all over the world face the dilemma of talking hate to their children at one point or the other.

My boys’ school has a slogan #ChooseKindness which is a simple campaign for just one of the weapons against hate: kindness. They put this slogan on free t-shirts which are then distributed to the students every school year. I was just mentioning to the Principal last week how grateful I am for this anti-hate campaign which is teaching awareness of hate to the kids.

Many would argue that another way to bring awareness to the manifestations of hate is for mothers to talk to their children even before they experience some huge event that clues them in. Yes, many would encourage mothers to be proactive and talk hate to their kids before the world does it for them. However, I will be the first to admit that brave is the mother who can proactively talk hate to her kid before she needs to.

The first time I talked hate to Little Bro was when he was 5 years old. He was at a private school and a 4-year-old little girl in his class told him she hated his brown face because it always looked dirty. Little Bro had asked me if I could scrub his face harder so it could be clean and white like that little girl’s face. That was the first time I talked hate to my child because I had no choice. I wasn’t being proactive or intentional and I talked hate to him because he had experienced it and it now needed to be addressed. It was hard at the time and there were a lot of tears, but since then I have had to talk hate to my boys and I’d like to share my STARR tips that have helped:






  • Share with them and let them share with you. Talk to them about the hate incident and how it made them feel. ​​ This part is not always easy but it lays all the feelings out in the open and it is a fruitful foundation to build upon. In my example above, this was the point where I let Little Bro tell me how the little girl’s comment made him feel. I also had to be honest about how it made me feel. This stage is all about being vulnerable and authentic to one another.

  • Teach them that the hate incident is not appropriate and use many props to teach this point. In my case, I used pictures, books, and other media to show illustrations of diversity and to teach that diversity is natural, normal and should be celebrated. I also taught that the many shades of skin color in humankind are all unique and beautiful.

  • Ask them questions and encourage them to ask questions they may have from the Teach step. There will never be too many questions or too few. I’ve found that this step can span hours, days, weeks or even months because every question is valid and should be addressed. For example, weeks after the incident, Little Bro asked me, ​​ “ You mean my skin can never change color?” No question is irrelevant when these kids pursue the clarification they seek during this stage.

  • Reaffirm the belief system of cultural intelligence, inclusion, and tolerance. Reaffirm that diversity should be celebrated and that it is never ok to manifest hatred towards differences we see in others. Read here for more on fostering cultural intelligence in kids.

  • Repeat, repeat yet again. Raising culturally intelligent, inclusive and tolerant children is an ongoing intentional process that many times include talking hate to kids.

Have you ever had to talk hate to kids? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below. Until then,

Best Regards and talk to you soon!




About Bunmi

Bunmi is the creator of the EthnicMotherhood blog. She is a motivational blogger and a Masters-prepared Registered Nurse. She is also married with three children and lives in the Midwestern part of the United States with her family.

12 thoughts on “Xenophobia and Talking Hate to Kids

  1. That is so sad that the little girl said she didn’t like your son’s brown face. I’m not sure I would have known what to tell him without getting angry!

    1. Thanks Dara, for your comment. Hmmm, who said I didn’t get angry? I was angry and broken-hearted that I was having to talk hate to my son at such a young age. If you had asked me back then, I would have sworn I had more time but things happened as they did. It was important to be authentic and vulnerable showing my spectrum of feelings about it all to my son. That’s what the SHARE stage is all about….raw, intentional and authentic sharing ?

  2. “Otherness” and racism has permeated our culture here in the US too, and it absolutely makes me sick to my stomach. I am so sorry that your little boy had to go through that. No one deserves to feel that way. My husband and I are thinking of moving from the southwest to somewhere else in the country next school year, and we actually had to consider that a lot of people in our country don’t like Mexicans and how that would influence our choice in where to go. Your tips for talking about this tough subject are wonderful. There are so many resources that you can use too, which helps. I hope our world can turn this hatred around soon.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dawn. Yes it is really hard and all we can do as parents is to carry on and do what needs to be done for the kids. Very best wishes to you and your family ?

  3. Thank you for your STARR tips. I see so much innocence in my sons eyes right now it scares me what this world will do to him. I hope I am doing the right things to help him choose kindness!

  4. So important for all parents to have these conversations with their kids, starting at a young age! I’m sorry your son had to experience such an awful comment in school. I’m a firm believer that kids repeat what they hear and I’m betting that’s a hateful household, one I wouldn’t want my child to be a part of. Here’s to raising the next generation of kind, accepting citizens!

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