The past few generations have really been through a lot in race relations in our country. We have come far, but how do we keep moving forward? How do we encourage young children to view everyone as valuable and equal?
During my student teaching experience, I was charged with teaching fourth graders some history that included segregation. I was teaching in a city, and had a small group to work with. Only one student in the group I had was white. They were surprised about the discrimination I told them about, and had many questions. They were upset that people would behave that way. I was glad that they immediately realized the ridiculousness of the way people were treated, however, in a way, I wish I had not told them about it. I do think that history is important to learn, and prevents it from repeating itself. At the same time, it made me feel uneasy. It was as if they had this innocence about humanity, and I ruined that. I just didn’t want to be the person to do that. In a way, it was wonderful that what I told them was unfathomable in their minds.
My children are young, and cognitively, I don’t think they are ready for a history lesson in discrimination. So, I have been considering what I can do to foster the valuing of all races. After talking about this topic with some friends this month, I have some ideas.
1. Foster friendships with children of other races. If children have a positive view of another race, it may prevent stereotypes in the future. Of course there are people of every race that are mean or rude. If a child has a positive image of a specific race at a young age, it will help them realize this and not generalize in a negative way.
2. Toys and books that feature people of different races. It’s not always easy to find, but it can be worth it for your child to have more exposure, especially if they live in an area that is predominantly white.
3. Answer questions carefully. Don’t get embarrassed or make a big deal. Kids ask questions innocently, and not to offend. For example, “Why does that man have skin like that,” could simply be answered, “God made everyone different and special. I have brown eyes, your dad has blue. Some people have blonde hair, and other people have black hair. God also made people with different colors of skin.” Your embarrassment or discomfort with questions can sometimes be picked up by children.
What have you done or experienced that could be helpful to parents concerned about racism?