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.
1. 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.
2. 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 diversity.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
8. 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?