I was sitting on the couch with my three year old son, cuddling him while watching TV. I was scrolling through the messages on my phone when my son suddenly perked up, looking at something across the room.
“I want chocolate,” he says. Focusing on something that’s making him think of chocolate.
“Chocolate? Where do you see chocolate?”
My son raises his finger and points to the black man on the TV screen.
Kids say the darndest things, right? Like the time I was super small and innocently asked an obese woman at the supermarket why she was so fat. (Boy, did my mother get an earful for that one…) Or the time I innocently asked why my friend’s adopted Asian cousin’s face “looked like plastic.” (I was never allowed at any of that friend’s birthday parties ever again after that, and was immediately expelled from that one.) I know I certainly had no natural born sensitivity or common sense, so I think a lot about my son and things he may say one day.
And it made me think that kids and racism would be a good topic for this week’s Tidbit. Except, it is a terrible topic for me. I’m notoriously evil, ignorant, and uneducated on the topic. So I will take the sneaky way out and provide you all with some links and leave the floor open to discussion.
A lot of us, I think, generally have something of a doublethink and largely incorrect notion about kids and racism. On one hand, you hear constantly that kids aren’t racist and that they learn to be racist. But then on the other hand, you hear xenophobia is something built into the human psyche, and it gets lumped into racism…………. and for someone just starting to get serious on the topic it can seem like a maze of definitions and distinctions and arguments.
As for how to teach your kids about it, well… mine is only three but here are my thoughts so far:
Step one, educate yourself. That’s my current work in progress. I need to be ready, myself. If anyone has some favorite resources, don’t be frightened to post in the comments section!
Step two, watch your own language and behavior. Even if you think you’re just making an “innocent” joke between friends, a kid doesn’t necessarily understand the context. I know a friend this happened with.
Step three, don’t panic. Your kid isn’t a racist just because they say something that seems awful. And if you have an older kid that definitely is being racist, take a breath and approach it with calmness and compassion. Communicate.
On to the links:
Honestly, just read a lot of cultural anthropology stuff, too. Unfortunately so much of what I learned in my undergraduate years studying anthropology has done that thing where it’s part of how I think without me being able to recall specific references or books. And unfortunately, not everything is on the Internet (yet). Much like other issues, we tend to oversimplify the human experience into a narrow band based on our own personal experience and our desire for simplicity and apply it across all times and cultures, when race issues and xenophobia can also be expressed very differently around the world and throughout history.