She was sitting and drawing a picture full of people and while
she drew, she was carrying on a conversation with herself. Since I was right
there, I assumed that I was welcome to listen in. As she chose the crayons for
the skin, she said to the air, “I’ll use pink because most people are pink;
there are only a few brown people.” As this conversation with herself carried
on a little more, I interjected with, “ Well actually there are lot of people
with brown skin and other shades too.” “Really, lots and lots?” “Yes.” I responded. “Well, I
haven’t seen very many.” In some ways, Aneliese was correct in her drawing of mostly pink
toned people with just a couple of people with brown skin; we are in an almost
completely Caucasian area.
Prior to moving here, we enjoyed friendships with people of
a variety ethnic backgrounds. We even had a food group in which we were the only fully
Caucasian couple. Besides great food and valued friendship, our children
experienced first hand that friendship is not based on matching skin tone or
ethnic background. How do we encourage the same mindset when we no longer live
in the same kind of community?
“I’m raising my kids
color blind.” When I hear that, it just makes me cringe. I get the sentiment,
really I do. I get that the idea behind it is saying that color is not what is
important. But what I really want to say is, “You are missing a lot then.”
Difference is a beautiful thing! I’m especially reminded of this now on our
occasional visits to Halifax. I am awed by the beautiful diversity there in
comparison to where we live. So many varied perspectives, cultures, and living!
Oh, I’m not so naïve as to think that abuse and un-love isn’t offered because
of differences, especially those based on skin and religion, but I don’t think
that changes by ignoring or pretending that the differences aren’t there. Differences
need to be celebrated and lived. How do we encourage that in our children?
Because of the diversity that we enjoy within our own family
and because of our desire to live in love and care of others, including those
who are “unlike” us, I have a few practical ideas that I would like to share. I
know that conversation about race is a complex and sensitive one. I hope that I
am able to share my ideas in a way that expresses a spirit of love. I have
approached this from the perspective of being a majority, though I have lived
for a short period of time as a minority, this is my main perspective. However,
I do think that most of these thoughts apply to all, minority or majority.
Acknowledge your own lack of understanding and
prejudices. Don’t get your back up and
say “I’m not racist!” ending the conversation there. I recently heard a TED talk
that was an intro to talking about race. A great point that the speaker made was that
we ALL have prejudices. It’s not a case of either you are entirely prejudiced
or entirely free of prejudices, more important is that you are will to face
those and have a willingness to change them.
Accept your child’s perspective of relative
innocence. Unless a child has been exposed to racial comments and attitudes,
they are unlikely to make comments out of rudeness. Because we as adults
understand the sensitivity surrounding race, we are easily embarrassed by
comments children make and the first reaction is to hush them up. I remember in
high school the first time I brought my friend who was black to visit my
family, my nephews and nieces had many interesting comments. It likely was the
first time they had directly interacted with a black person and once
comfortable, they had comments on his hair, brown skin, and how different he
looked. I appreciated then how graciously he answered their questions and
comments; for me it set the tone of how I would respond to my children. Kids
will learn tact eventually but in their initial innocent questioning stage,
their questions can be addressed with straightforward answers that celebrate
If your child does make an inappropriate or rude
statement, take the time to get to the bottom of their reasoning without
shaming them. It is possible that while the statement seemed rude to you, it
wasn’t that in their minds. It is also very possible that they have picked up
the idea from elsewhere and will need a bit of re-education. If they got an
attitude from you, now is a good time to address it and find out the root of
your own thoughts.
Seek out multicultural opportunities. Be
intentional about trying foods of different ethnicities than your own and take
opportunities that arise to experience a culture first hand.
Acknowledge your differences and similarities.
I’ll give you a small example-We love Indian food and because one of Dan’s
closest friends is Indian, we are usually treated to a feast when we visit. The
liberal uses of the wonderful spices often clings to ones clothes in a way that
is very different from our usual spices. It may seem silly, but we use that as
a way to celebrate a cultural difference. Last week as I made rice and Dal, we
talked about how it reminded us of our friends.
Find books to read that not only have diversity
within pictures but that also talk about diversity. Talk about art or clothing
that is specific to a culture or ethnicity. If there is a specific minority
group, focus on educating your children through books, conversations, and
experience because unfortunately, there very well could be a common prejudice
that if not openly spoken about, is at least insinuated.
Make friends! Take every opportunity to put
action to your words. Friendships with those who are different from you often are the most fulfilling.
Enjoy diversity for the gift that it is! Whether
we share the same skin tone, culture, or faith, we still have so many differences.
We don’t always understand each other and we don’t always accept others as we
should. We aren’t perfect but we can commit to growing ourselves so that we can
influence our children and others aswell.
I’d like to hear your thoughts. What are some ways that you celebrate
diversity? How do you confront your prejudices? Are there resources for
education that you would recommend?