Raising Our Kids to Understand and Embrace Racial Differences
My children attend a marvelous preschool. They are getting quality instruction and gobs of social interaction. This school is preparing them to enter into The Real World in every way but one: it is overwhelmingly white.
Yes, my 5-year-old twins do play with children who do not look exactly like them. Two of my best girlfriends from college are married to men with different racial makeups than themselves. Both have given birth to lovely children, all of whom have darker skin than my own. My son and daughter have never questioned these differences, maybe never having noticed.
Still, my kids and I walked by a family I presumed to be of Indian descent yesterday and my son made a proclamation. In his never-quiet voice he announced, “Some people have brown skin and some people have light skin. They probably speak Spanish.” Hmmm. A simple, innocent but incorrect observation from my youngster sent waves of embarrassment washing over me.
Later, thinking back on the comment, I tried to pinpoint what made me feel so awkward. After all, children are notorious for noticing differences among people; it’s completely natural. My son’s remark was not malicious and likely made the adults chuckle.
I concluded that I was embarrassed about the whiteness of my children’s world, still shaped by their dad and me, which has made racial differences apparent to them. Recently, I ran across an article, Being a Mum to Mixed Race Children, which describes one mom’s appalling brushes with racism. My thoughts drifted to my own children as I kept mentally revisiting her words. The ignoramuses described in the article were, at one time, ignorant children. Something probably could have been done early on to prevent those feelings of hate or fear or whatever causes people to behave in such a wretched manner. Sadly, their parents probably did not do that “Something” and – more likely – were the root cause of the prejudice.
I resolved to NOT allow that sort of mentality to take root in our family. Clearly it’s time for me to put on my Big Girl Britches and do Something.
Actions Parents Can Take to Promote Racial Harmony
- Don’t be colorblind. Here’s a big one for me. In my La-La Land, by not addressing the diversity around us, I have unknowingly been promoting colorblindness. Melissa Moyer’s article Teaching Tolerance describes various studies including children of different races, one of which included toddlers as young as 30 months. These children were shown photos of a group of racially diverse children and most often selected kids within their own race as those they most wanted to play with. In short, these kids were segregating themselves. Our lesson as parents is to not assume that ignoring skin color differences will encourage racial harmony.
- Proactively discuss racial and cultural differences with your kids. You can watch any episode of Sesame Street ever aired and see a rainbow of colors on display within the young actors gracing your TV. Take these opportunities to point out the beauty of these children’s differences and share with your kids the reason why skin comes in so many colors. (Time to bust out that world map, Mama!) There are also children’s books which can help you start the conversation, such as The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler.
- Be a good role model. Consider your own circle of friends. Do they all look like you? (Not judging, by the way.) Children whose parents pal around with folks of varying ethnic backgrounds will often follow suit. Perhaps you are carrying around your own racial hangups? Heaven forbid you should ever allow yourself to utter any racially charged words which you would not say directly to the face of someone in that skin. Recognize those feelings of prejudice and commit to shed them in any way you possibly can. Young, impressionable ears pick up on more than we all realize.
- Immerse your family in different cultures. Keep informed of the events in your area. You may find festivals celebrating a particular culture which is unlike your own, like the Greek festival held each year in nearby Charlotte. Perhaps you will come across an African dance performance (which is entrancing to my tots). There are also museums dedicated to the history of particular ethnic groups. We just have to open our eyes to the scads of ways in which we can broaden our own world and that of our children.
This list is just a start. Regrettably, evidence of racism is all around us still today, very much in the spotlight this past week as Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle. This captivating woman has many, many facets to her, only one of which is her biracial background. Why the colors of her mother and father’s skin became such a hot topic is a sad commentary on race relations today.
Let this serve as a reminder to all of us: we must be proactive in raising our children to embrace all people in this wonderful, colorful world. Then, perhaps our next generation will celebrate diversity instead of resisting or fearing it.
If you agree, tell me: what will you do?
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