Here’s why sheltering your kids will eventually lead to ignorance.
On May 25 George Floyd was suffocated to death by police, this was the latest of a history of police brutality against the black community. In light of George Floyd’s death America began to address its issue of racism, within that space of time people began to realize that their complicitness and silence had become a gear in the motion of racism that is still existing today.
The real issue that non-people of color seem to forget is that the racism of our history has lingered and trickled down to a modern day version which is ignorance and denial. Just like recipes are passed down and over time become different through new generations adding their own tweaks, so does a history of racism. It doesn’t look like white neighbors torturing and lynching people of color, it looks like silence and denial.
The buck has to stop here, and the way that we ensure that is by continuing to educate our young people and ourselves. After a plethora of conversations with parents I found it necessary as an educator to help offer some insight into how you might help your children stop the cycle of ignorant racism.
The bias begins as soon as infancy, a few studies were done by researchers in Canada, the US, UK, France and China on the racial bias of infants. The study showed as early as nine month old infants displayed a racial bias in favor of people who looked like their own race and against those who did not. What was the most shocking out of this experiment was that there was no negative experience attached to the bias, it’s simply suggested that the lack of exposure of other race people causes the babies to feel a comfortability with same race people. Dr. XIAO, a researcher on the study quoted an important finding “that infants will learn from people they are most exposed to”. Here is where the lessons begin.
Exposure is everything.
Here’s a simple guide to help you navigate your children racial bias and awareness.
0- 2 years
As discussed above, infants receive racial bias messages in almost every interaction that they have. This is why it is so important to begin laying the foundation of not only tolerance but empathy and compassion. One of the things that I encourage parents to do is to make sure that everything in their environment is diverse. Books, toys, things you might show your children on TV are all teaching your children. Be mindful that It teaches them about the world, pay attention to how much exposure they are getting of one faith, one ethnicity, one gender. Keeping your child’s environment full of ethnic differences, physical ability, and all types of gender/ gender roles is a way to help them realize that the world is full of an array of people. If you have another language in your home it is important to speak that language, if you yourself are from a different culture share that culture with your babies and your toddlers. Building multiculturalism starts at home, at school, and is modeled by watching your interactions with people of other ethnicities.
2 years - 6 years
At this age they’re still learning the basic foundations of their alphabet, numbers, colors etc. so keeping things simple is enough. If you think about the world that we live in today our preschoolers are doing drills on earthquake safety, active shooting safety, fire safety, you can imagine that children of this age are aware of the need to protect themselves in case of an emergency. They can absorb a lot more than we give them credit for. At this stage it is OK to take note of the difference that they see in the world, have these conversations and be open with them. Differences are what make people beautiful.
I often do a few different exercises with my students, one is taking two eggs, a white egg and a brown egg, talking about the differences of the eggs and perhaps the mother chickens that lay them, then cracking them open and seeing that they are the same inside.
Another activity I do is asking the children to color a picture using the entire Crayola box, then taking all the colors out but one and then asking them to create a picture with one Crayola. After looking at both pictures we talk about the differences, in that, the picture with all the colors is more interesting and was more fun to create.
This is the perfect age to not only continue diversifying their environment but to start pointing out the varieties of differences and adhering them to a positive narrative. These are also the beginnings of helping a child define fairness.
6 years - 10 years
As they get older, it’s a lot easier to talk to them about hate and injustice. As I’m sure most good teachers will do, fairness is talked about in the classroom all the time. However at this stage kids may come home and share stories about how things were not fair at school, how friends were not nice, and you should start to pick up on where your child’s understanding is lacking or needs some help. Listening is key, kids are always listening. Ask your children about the relationship they have with their friends, ask your children about what they see on TV, and then ask your children how they feel about it.
Their curiosity and inability to properly process information will be your guide. Continue the work of exposure, take them to events that might be outside of your typical circle, talk about the world and the different communities that exist there. Don’t trust that the education system is going to do it for you, this is your work.
9 years - 12 years
Times have changed, our kids are being exposed to information well before they have the maturity to comprehend it. At this point your kids may have a cell phone, they may have clicked into social media, and are definitely paying attention to the news in a way that is informing them about the world. You have to be active in your pursuit of curating their environment. I am a single mother to a 12-year-old who is not a social media obsessive child, but she is very curious about the things that she sees in the news that is displayed. Oftentimes she will come to me with information I didn’t even know, and so I do my due diligence and stay involved. Inquiring about what is going on with your kids, friends, their school environment, and all the information they have in their brains is a full time job and MUST be done.
It seems that we have become so astringent on assuring academic success for our kids that we forget the real issues that are affecting our kids and that is their mental well-being. Asking questions like, who did you eat with today, tell me your two best friends, what do you guys talk about…. The game changes at this point because you need to sort of become a friend, earning trust begins with meaningful conversation. If your child comes home expressing having heard racial slurs or an empathetic perspective, you remind them of your views as a family, you stand firm and what’s right and encourage your child to do the same.
At this point your kids are trying to figure out who they are, they may become easily swayed by the perspective of their friends. Independence is the milestone they're working on and sometimes rebellion and peer pressure play a part in that. This is the point in their lives where things become solidified, they will either make choices to succumb to the negative bias or they will maintain their empathy and respect for others. Reward them for making compassionate choices and taking action in empathetic ways.
If you see your child displaying hate speech, slurs, falling into a space of negative racial expression it is your job to ask questions. It is your job to question them so much so that they will begin to see the error of their ways. At this age they should understand the history and the organizations that have fought for equality. We all know that racism is wrong, it is a human right to be treated fairly. Continuing to press fairness into your children is how we fight racism. Do not condone, do not tone down, reiterate your intolerance of racism.
When I meet students who have extremely difficult upbringings, the only way I’m able to get their attention and sew a seed of hope is by showing them the truth. The truth that comes from our mouths needs to be mirrored in our own walks of life. We need to be believable, and it is much easier to teach anti-racism and anti-hate if it is your real way of life.
In order to really help our babies and our children we have to help ourselves. Become the model you wish your child to be, reflect the racial unbiased you wish your child to have, do your research on cultures that exist outside of your culture. Stay active in the things that matter most, get involved in a group that will help you through this journey of tolerance, encourage activism. The real key to making sure your children have compassion and are racially unbiased is to be an active parent. I truly encourage you to find opportunities where they may be exposed to a broader group of people, look at your own life and circle of friends. What does it say about you? Do your actions mirror the conversations you have with your children? Don’t trust society will teach your children that’s right, we are currently in a state of emergency because we have avoided doing what’s right for hundreds and hundreds of years. The world is teaching them, make sure that is the world you want them to see, know, and love.