Teaching Kids About Racism
How to help your children embrace cultural diversity and become open-minded
Speaking of Diversity
“Be open about differences in people that your child can see. Don't sweep them under the carpet,” notes Costello. “The goal shouldn't be to be completely color blind, but be aware and respectful of people's individuality,” she says. (For help, download the booklet “Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent's Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice” at tolerance.org.)
When your child points out that another child's skin is black, white, or any shade in between, acknowledge the statement very matter-of-factly. “You might say ‘You're right! Did you know that there are people of all different colors? Isn't that so cool? What color are we?’” suggests Rebecca Bernard, a Costa Rican-born mom who now blogs about cultural enrichment for families at theculturedseed.com. You might also remind your child that some people even speak different languages: “Remember when you heard Tina's grandma talking to her in Spanish? She's so lucky to know another language.”
If your child asks a question you can't answer, like “Why is that lady wearing a head scarf?” (a Muslim hijab), it's perfectly OK to admit you don't know the answer and suggest that you learn more about the custom together.
No matter how often you tell your child “everyone is equal but different,” the lesson won't sink in unless you, as a parent, also behave that way, says Killen. “And this goes for people of every background—not just Caucasians,” she says. “We all need to challenge our assumptions about people if we're going to teach our children to be culturally sensitive.”
No matter how often you tell your child “everyone is equal,” it won't sink in unless you act that way.
So get honest with yourself. Do you make cracks about bad Asian drivers in front of your kids? Instinctively pull your child closer to you when walking by a mixed-race group of teens? Assume that a fellow Latino parent may be a landscaper or that an Indian dad must be a computer geek? If so, it's time to work on letting go of your stereotypes.
Also, remind your kids that even positive ethnic stereotypes aren't helpful, suggests Miller, who has two Asian daughters. “Please don't assume every Asian child is great at math and a genius on the violin,” she says with a laugh. Similarly, not all African-American kids are destined to play basketball. You get the idea.