Prejudice, Racism and Kids

Baby FacePrejudice.  Racism.  Ugly words, aren’t they?

Webster’s defines racism as “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.”

Prejudice is “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.” Most of us would like to think that we are not prejudiced and this post will deal with that belief, the truth, and what we can do to control these “unfavorable opinions or feelings.”

We also think that our new little bundles of joy, arriving in the world so innocent and untouched, couldn’t possibly be prejudiced…could they?

Yes, they most certainly can. If you consider that prejudice is an inherent reaction to the strange or different, then certainly your small child can and will react accordingly.

Does this reasoning apply to racism? No.

Racism is a learned belief, and if you are parents who are consciously teaching your children to be racist, there is nothing here for you.

As I started to really look at prejudice as that huge, prickly elephant that is in the room when different races, ethnicities and faith groups get together, I came to one conclusion that I hope you will consider.

To be unprejudiced about other people, we must consciously make a choice hundreds of times a day, to disregard our instincts and habitual judgments. Is it hard? You bet. Will it open us to new, wonderful people of a different color or faith? Yes, but only as much as it will in any other groups of people we allow into our circle.

“Diversity” is somewhat misleading because, within groups, people fall in the same Bell curve of whatever quality we are looking for. People are people and in any group, we will find good, evil, common interests, nothing in common, warmth, hostility, kindness and everything else.

So, how do we first overcome our own judgmental instincts and behaviors and then teach that technique to our newest members of the human race?

  • Modeling the behavior we want to see: Do we have friends of different colors, faiths, and origins?
  • Exposing them to different people from them at an early age.  Although the instinct to group together is strong, we can overcome it with proximity and friendship in childhood just as we can as adults.
  • As our new human beings get older, challenging their assumptions about other people when they express them.
  • Discouraging them from making sweeping generalizations. Generalizations are fairly poisonous whether they are about a different color child or a different gender!
  • Encouraging them to picture themselves in someone else’s situation; through this practice, we will teach them empathy.
  • Talking to them about prejudice and how damaging it can be to other people… and to them, as well. How many dear friends, learning experiences and even love will they miss while they are busy avoiding?
  • Teaching them never to ask a person different from them to speak for their own group. This is a hard one, and something I had to work on once I found out it was a harbinger of prejudice. Seriously, though, could you speak for everyone in your race, sex, religion or ethnicity? I sure couldn’t!
  • Letting them know that they could be a victim of prejudice some day and to make them ethically comfortable with speaking out against it when they see or experience it. What do I mean by ethically comfortable? When we decide each day to avoid our instinctive judgment of other people, that awareness leads to the knowledge that we are walking the walk… and that makes us able to talk the talk.

So that’s it. I have shared my small, accumulated wisdom on the subject.  Look around you today and listen to your inner monologue…Then try turning it OFF.

Now look around and try to see the different people around you without that tape running in your head.    You may see a new friend.

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