Unfortunately, there is still racism that seems to be socially acceptable or that goes unchallenged in our country. And one study showed that 70 per cent of young people in our culturally diverse community experienced outright racism on the playground. As children are not born racist, parents have the privilege of influencing their children’s attitudes to racial discrimination. Here are five ways families can address racism:
- Expand your understanding of racism
Information is power, and making an effort to understand racism means you can better recognise it in all its forms and help your kids to do the same. Racism isn’t just a direct act, like the unfair treatment, harassment, or abuse of someone from another culture. It can also be subtle and often unintentional, for example, jokes and insensitive remarks. Racism can even occur in governments and organisations, when a seemingly neutral policy or practice has a negative impact on a minority group, for instance, banning headwear. Cyber-racism has also emerged as a pervasive way for people (and children) to spread messages of intolerance.
- Teach kids about positive cultural difference early on
Children are born free of discrimination and grow to develop a strong sense of justice, if guided. Help kids to value diversity early in life, and look for opportunities to teach them to value cultural difference. Even very small children notice physical differences, like clothing or skin colour. Show them how to appreciate such differences, perhaps saying, “Isn’t the lady’s colourful scarf beautiful?” Draw non-cultural analogies to help them understand, like how strange it would be to treat someone differently because they are left-handed, or have curly hair. Read stories like “Black like Kyra, white like me”, by Judith Vigna, which explores prejudice and racism.
- Have a zero tolerance of racism in your household
As they grow, children will almost certainly make an uncomfortable remark (or three) about cultural differences, like the way someone speaks or looks, but it doesn’t mean they are racist. Kids are wildly curious and are in the process of developing their own value judgments. You can, however, correct these comments in a useful way and set the tone at your place. For instance, if your child tells you a racist joke they heard on the playground, you could respond accordingly: “Well, I know you like jokes, but that one makes fun of people [from/with xyz] which we don’t do. Do you understand?” Limiting their exposure to racism through the media is another good idea so that subtle forms of discrimination (eg through movies and video games) are not normalised.
- Talk about racism
No one has all the answers all of the time, but being open about these issues is really important. Don’t be afraid to talk frankly about racism, even before kids bring it up, and try to field their curly questions with (age-appropriate) honesty. Even if you are trying to teach your child to be ‘colour blind’ by avoiding any mention of race, chances are they will notice differences anyway. It is much better that they voice their thoughts to you rather than cement any misguided conclusions. It’s also vital they know they can come to you if they’re confused or upset about racist behaviours or comments they have witnessed (eg at school or on TV). This site has some great tips on talking to children about racism and diversity.
- Cultivate their sense of justice
Children have a really strong, natural instinct for justice. Their sense of right and wrong is quite acute in the early-to-middle primary school-age, and they are prone to fight for their beliefs and stand up for themselves and others. This instinct is protected and strengthened through warm, loving parental relationships and by observing respectful relationships. A child who feels safe and secure and is encouraged to express themselves is likely to feel confident in coming to the defense of others. On the other hand, it is thought that children and adults who uphold racist beliefs have insecurities and have experienced mistreatment early in life. The article "Inoculating our children against racism" has more information.