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Why We Should Talk to Our Kids About Diversity and Racism

Over the last couple of weeks I have sat and watched, dumbfounded, the events unfolding around the country. Police brutality, abuse of power, senseless killings, escalating tension, despicable violence, fear, hate, pain, loss, more hate, retaliation, death. As if mass shootings, drowning refugees, and airport bombings from the previous weeks weren’t enough…

Hearing all of this left me not only heartbroken and emotionally drained, but also physically sick.

My heart is in mourning. I am mourning for a society that is so broken it won’t even admit it has a problem. A society where we try to excuse the inexcusable, where people’s lives have become disposable byproducts of hate, and we watch people’s pain with indifference right before we move on to the next trending item on the newsfeed.

How is one to deal with all of these issues? How should I respond?

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of all this evil.

As I was pondering about all of this, I realized that I have an important part to play in the future of our society. As a christian parent, it is not only my privilege and responsibility to encourage my children to love their God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind, but also to teach them to love their neighbors as themselves. (Luke 10:27)

“Who are my neighbors?” Luke 10:29

This was the question that the “expert of the law” wanted Jesus to answer almost two thousand years ago and that I think we all need to be reminded of today. If you continue reading the account in Luke chapter 10 you will find that Jesus’ reply came in the form of a story that we now know as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

You see, at the time of Jesus, racism was already a problem. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews. They despised each other to such an extreme that even Jesus was not welcomed as He was walking through a Samaritan village when He was on his way to Jerusalem. By the way, that is when the disciples asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven to destroy all of those people (Luke 9:51-55). Talk about extreme violence and retaliation! Is it any wonder that when Jesus asked the Samaritan lady for some water the first things out of her mouth were: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9).

So, when Jesus answered the expert’s question with that story, He was not only breaking down a lot of walls, He was bringing that man, and everyone else who was listening, face to face with their prejudices.

But why am I telling you all of this?

I am telling you this because if we really want to make a positive impact in this hateful and chaotic society we currently live in, we need to be proactive and intentional about teaching our children to “love their neighbors as themselves.”

I can tell you from personal experience it is easy to think: “I am not racist, I don’t have any prejudices against anyone, if I never mention anything to my children, they will be the same way” or “If I talk about it, I will bring the topic to their attention and they will start worrying about things that did not concern them before.”  Here is what the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education had to say about this line of thinking:

“Unfortunately, it is not enough to set a good example. Nor can we shield children from bigotry. A society that continues to discriminate against racial and ethnic groups nurtures prejudice in each new generation.

If we avoid these subjects with our children, we actually run the risk of strengthening prejudices we want them to reject. Children are barraged by images and ideas we don’t control – on the playground, on television, and in school. However free from prejudice we may be, our children, even very young children, can absorb the biases they encounter outside of our homes.”-Talking to Our Children About Racism and Diversity

Here is another thought by Beverly Tatum, an expert in race relations, that is also worth noting:

“Books, computer games, the Web, television – there are so many places that we can be exposed to stereotypes, that we can be exposed to distorted information. And there is a whole universe of information that we’re not getting. Think about these stereotypes, these omissions, these distortions as a kind of environment that surrounds us, like smog in the air. We don’t breathe it because we like it. We don’t breathe it because we think it’s good for us. We breathe it because it’s the only air that’s available.” –Beverly Tatum, RACE The Power of an Allusion (emphasis added)

Truth is, as much as we would like to be the only influence in our children’s lives, that will never be the case. Furthermore, if we are not actively teaching our kids age appropriate lessons about diversity, prejudice, and racism, they will learn the wrong lessons from other sources.

The other excuse we often tell ourselves to avoid addressing this discussion is: “my children are too young to understand such complex issues, I will wait until they are old enough.”

Check out this interesting study that Rebecca Bigles, a professor in the Psychology Department at UT Austin carried out with preschoolers:

“It takes remarkably little for children to develop in-group preferences. […] Rebecca Bigler, ran an experiment in three preschool classrooms, where 4- and 5-year-olds were lined up and given T shirts. Half the kids were randomly given blue T shirts, half red. The children wore the shirts for three weeks. During that time, the teachers never mentioned their colors and never grouped the kids by shirt color.

The kids didn’t segregate in their behavior. They played with each other freely at recess. But when asked which color team was better to belong to, or which team might win a race, they chose their own color. They believed they were smarter than the other color. “The Reds never showed hatred for Blues,” Bigler observed. “It was more like, ‘Blues are fine, but not as good as us.’ ” When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they’d answer, “All of us.” Asked how many Blues were nice, they’d answer, “Some.” Some of the Blues were mean, and some were dumb—but not the Reds.” – Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Even Babies Discriminate: A Natureshock Excerpt.

All of this sounds too familiar doesn’t it?

If you continue reading the article quoted above, you will find a variety of experiments that were done as an attempt to determine the age when children develop a bias. I was very surprised to read that children as young as 3 already show a preference to befriending others of their own race rather than someone different from them.

Now think about this with me, If children have this seemingly “natural tendency” to categorize people and assign value to them based on how similar or different these people are to themselves, what do you think happens if we, as parents, never teach them a healthy way of approaching diversity and confronting their biases?

My guess is a society much like the one we live in today.

As parents, we play an important role in helping to put a stop to this despicable cycle of hatred and violence by educating our children. I hope that you will agree to join me in this mission to impact the future.

 

“Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers? The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.” Jesus said, “Go and do the same!” Luke 10: 36-37 CEV (emphasis added)

 

“But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!” I John 4:20-21 CEV (emphasis added)

In the next post I will share with you some ideas and age appropriate resources I have found useful in approaching this important subject with my children. Make sure to subscribe for updates on the sidebar (or below if you are using a mobile device) to get the link as soon as it is published.

 

Have you discussed diversity and racism with your children? How did you do it? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

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