Teaching Kids About Racism
How to help your children embrace cultural diversity and become open-minded
It's easier for kids to accept children of all backgrounds when they're with them every day, so if you have a choice, consider enrolling your child in a more ethnically diverse school. That's exactly what Risso (the mom whose daughter heard “Only brown girls can play”) did. Her two children attend a Spanish-immersion public school in a nearby neighborhood. “This was definitely about choosing diversity for my kids, but if the school hadn't been a strong one, I wouldn't have done it,” Risso adds. If switching schools isn't practical, register your child for a soccer team, art class, or Scout troop in a neighborhood that draws kids from a wider variety of backgrounds.
“Of all the things you can do to increase your child's cultural sensitivity, encouraging cross-cultural friendships is by far the most important,” says Killen. Think about it: If your child hears someone say “Muslim people don't like us Americans,” but he actually has a Muslim pal, he'll challenge the comment. He'll think and maybe even say, “My friend is Muslim and he likes me. What that person is saying is wrong.”
Crissi Estep and her family live in Hartsville, SC, where “there is a very real racial divide,” as she puts it. So Estep was especially pleased when her Caucasian daughter, Raegen Grooms, ended up BFFs with an African-American classmate. Initially, their friendship caused a little stir—mostly among the other African-American students, says Estep. Her daughter is one of very few white children at her school. Over time, though, the tensions within the class eased. “And Raegen says she has learned there is no one definition for any race—that just because someone looks a certain way doesn't mean she'll act a certain way,” Estep says.
Encouraging cross-cultural friendships is the single most important thing you can do.
Keep in mind, however, that making overtures to friends of different ethnicities may take extra time—depending on how open each family is to it. To set up get-togethers for her son Henry, Sarah Sandberg, who currently lives with her husband and kids in Warsaw, Poland, occasionally sends notes home in his friends' backpacks, asking the parents to call her. She has also gone to school at dismissal time so she could introduce herself to the kids' parents before inviting them over.
It's been 60 years since Rosa Parks and her peers were relegated to the back of the bus, and that sort of legalized injustice is no longer an issue. But there is still work to be done here in the U.S. and many parts of the world. Palestinians and Jews continue to harbor bitter resentment toward each other. The anti-government protests currently taking place in Syria are complicated by ethnic divisions. Italian newspapers report on racist infused violence between native Italians and African migrant workers. However, if prejudice is learned, so is acceptance and kindness. For today’s parents, teaching our kids those values doesn’t require an advanced degree in race relations, just an open heart and a willingness to work for change. If we raise just one more child without these negative attitudes, we’ve taken a huge step toward making the world a better place.