Kids’ Misuse Of The Term ‘Racist’ Is Dangerous —So Let’s Disrupt It

Carrie Hutchinson
The Establishment
Published in
8 min readFeb 15, 2018


An adult who is reluctant to clearly and effectively correct such careless and damaging behavior by children is complicit.

II f you regularly spend time with kids and adolescents in the upper and middle grades, there’s a good chance you’ve recently heard them use this phrase: “That’s so racist!”

As a parent, I’ve overheard kids using the phrase at my child’s school and during her extracurricular activities. The claim takes a variety of forms, including, but not limited to: intentional misuse as a joke (Child A: “Go stand by the white door.” Child B: “That’s so racist!”); intentional misuse as a joke that reinforces a negative connotation of the word “black” (Child A: “Let’s not play on the blacktop.” Child B: “That’s so racist!”); and accidental misuse that shows misunderstanding of the concept of racism (Teacher: “What do you notice about the kids in this photo?” Student A: “They are all white.” Student B: “That’s so racist!”).

I reached out to several other parent allies who I thought might share my concern, and over half of them had either directly heard children using the retort, or had learned about it from their child.

Whether uttered by adults or children, misusing the word “racist” reduces its legitimacy and dehumanizes the people who suffer from its real effects. No matter how subconscious or innocent, it is a strategy which re-appropriates the word according to the terms of the racial group that has been uncomfortably confronted about its role in systems of oppression.

Misusing the word ‘racist’ reduces its legitimacy and dehumanizes the people who suffer from its real effects.

Although we may be tempted to shrug these words off as immaturity and nonsense, they reveal real attitudes about racism to which kids are being exposed at home and in popular culture. Our current political climate has emboldened skeptics of systemic racism to openly dismiss it with claims such as #AllLivesMatter and #NotAllWhitePeople. Joining this chorus of doubters, adults who have never experienced real racism may sarcastically label a comment or…