Racism Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Kristen McNeely

Kristen has taught elementary students for five years and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, you will learn what racism is, and how it affects people all over the world. We will also take a step back in history to see how racism has impacted the United States.

What Is Racism?

Have you ever had to fill out a paper in school that asked for your race? Maybe you saw choices like Hispanic, white, or African American. The word 'race' is used to describe people based on their physical appearance, often using the color of their skin to identify them. Race is also the root word for racism, which is when a group of people are treated unfairly because of their race. Unfortunately, some groups of people are even treated violently because of the color of their skin.

Unfortunately, racism has been happening all over the world for as long as anyone can remember. Let's jump in a time machine together and take a look at some of the major moments in history where racism has changed our country, the United States.

Civil War

Our time machine's first stop is 1861. President Abraham Lincoln has recently been elected, and many people in the southern United States are angered by this. You see, at this time many white men own African American slaves, and treat them like animals. They are violent towards the slaves, depriving them of food and water, and taking away their freedoms. President Lincoln disagrees with this, as do many people in the northern United States. The two regions are at war with one another over this; today we call this fight the Civil War, and ultimately the north will win.

Slavery in America
Slavery in the America

Civil Rights Movement

Fast forward to the year 1955. Our time machine has landed in Alabama, where segregation laws prevent African Americans from being treated equally among others. The act of separating people from one another based on race is called segregation, and during this period it means that African Americans are not allowed to drink from the same water fountains, attend the same schools, or even eat in the same restaurants as white people.


Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks


The constant racism at this time is wearing many people down, including one particular woman, Rosa Parks. See the bus she's boarding? Because of her race, she is forced to sit in the back of the bus so that white people can have seats. Eventually a white person boards the bus and wants Rosa's seat, but she refuses. She's not violent, but does stand her ground. The result? Rosa is arrested.

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