Bringing up children is a challenge. No it’s not: it’s a heart- wrenching, tear- filled, laughter- inducing journey of a challenge. Sometimes I feel that I’m not up to it (like it’s a choice!), and then I’m nudged back into life by a comment made by a friend, or something I hear on the news. Today it was: “Why is it so bloody difficult to find little non-pink baby dolls. It’s ridiculous in this day and age. 😡 It actually freaks me out a bit.”
Whether part of a monolingual or multilingual family, we have certain ideals that we want to fulfil, and beliefs that we want our children to grow up with. These may well differ depending on where we are from in the world but the majority of us now believe in an equal society, one in which girls and boys, black and white, straight and gay are treated with the same respect and compassion. As parents, we have the responsibility to our children to bring them up with open and accepting minds. And it’s not always as easy as we hope. Raising children who see beyond the colour of a person’s skin takes a conscious effort on the parents’ part. We must deliberately teach respect and cooperation. We must destroy the “us versus them” mentality that has slowly permeated our culture.
Research into this field has shown alarming results. Even when we avoid the subject of race we are sending a message.”We might imagine we’re creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they’re plainly visible. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors.”(http://europe.newsweek.com/even-babies-discriminate-nurtureshock-excerpt-79233?rm=eu)
The comment above resonates with me because it is a reflection on society. There are pink baby dolls in the shops because that is what people want. Society feels that this is an acceptable path to follow, and this sends a message to our children about what society actually is. So what can we do to change this mentality?
Showcase diversity by celebrating similarities and differences. Even if you live in a homogeneous community, expose your kids to various races and cultures via books, movies, or the internet, and be sure to celebrate both differences and similarities. Discuss ways in which groups are different–languages, foods, traditions–and some ways that groups are similar–we all like to dance, play, and work hard at school. Finding this balance helps children feel individual, while also connected to others, irrespective of race.
Let your kids talk about race. Parents typically shush their children when they mention race. While doing so may make you feel more at ease, it can increase your kid’s anxiety and confusion, and give him or her the impression that “bad” things happen when race is mentioned. The truth is, whether or not we draw their attention to it, children as young as 5 start to notice and react to race and other differences between people, and discussing these won’t increase their likelihood of being racist. Research has shown just the opposite: talking about race can decrease prejudice, make people feel more comfortable and accepted, and even help kids perform better at school. So the next time race comes up, as uncomfortable as it is for you, seize the opportunity to help your child make sense of the differences he’s seeing.
Be careful what you say and how you act. Children intuitively adopt their caregivers’ beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices, whether spoken or not. Most of us at some point have let some unintentional slur slip out, and whether we mean the idea behind the words or not, if a child hears they will internalise and possibly repeat what we said at some point in the future. Children watch your behaviour towards others, and imitate. If you see something happening and take no action, the chances are that your child will do the same when faced with a similar situation. Children notice the message our silence sends.
- It is my job to raise my children not only not racist but actively anti-racist.
- It is my job to make them understand that their privileges as white people in this society are built upon a background of enslavement, torture, rape, and murder, and that with great privilege comes great responsibility.
- It is my job to make them understand that they must use that privilege to dismantle its very foundations.
I am lucky. I know that. Not only am I a white woman, I’m also educated and an English speaker. It make life so much easier for me, and I am aware of that. I can’t put myself in the shoes of so many people out there who face difficulties based on where they are from, what colour their skin is, or what language they speak. But I can try to help, and I can teach my children how to respect all people. I want my children to grow up knowing that I have friends from all races, religions, ethnicities, colours. I want my children to recognise that the only possible society is an inclusive one, which embraces our differences and spotlights our successes no matter what our background is. I want my children to be surrounded by like-minded, open, inclusive people. Is that too much to ask?