Are people born racist, biased, prejudiced? Or are people trained, conditioned, brainwashed in these traits?
Today’s post is my third, and last, in the series, “I’m Not Racist, But…..”. It was inspired by a post from With Some Grace which was and an SBS Insight special, “I’m Not Racist, But…….”. The show, in turn, was most likely prompted by the government’s upcoming National Anti-Racism Strategy, which we are all urged to be a part of.
In my first post, I shared my views on the concept of “race” and why I prefer to use the word “ethnicity”. In my second post, I shared my experience and issues using the IAT (Implicit Association Test). This test is apparently used worldwide to test “hardwired” racism or prejudiced inclinations and further used, by some, to justify racism as genetically inherited, which is a notion I dispute.
Today, I share my thoughts on the “nature versus nurture” debate and provide some resources for educating our children about difference and diversity.
Observant Children and Colourblind Adults
It is one thing to notice difference, which research shows young babies can. It’s totally another thing to attach labels and meanings, good or bad, to what that difference implies. This is where positive and negative prejudice begins.
I believe it is the attitudes of parents, caregivers and society that significantly influence how a child perceives and manages difference. I am aware that some feel it is politically correct to be “colourblind” pretending we don’t see difference. By doing so, we hope we won’t prejudice our children. However, many academics in the field debunk this idea and recommend we talk to our children about difference so they aren’t confused or feel it’s taboo to notice it.
“Instead of trying to ignore race, research suggests that parents should be more proactive. They can tell their kids that it’s okay to recognise and talk about racial differences while still communicating that it’s wrong to hold racial prejudices……….talking and answering kid’s questions about race may help them understand racial issues and become more tolerant.”
A Nurturing Tool Kit
I want to be sure my girls accept difference and treat people as equals.
On the flip side, I don’t want them to be on the receiving end of racism and prejudice as they grow up. I want people to treat them as equals and respect their unique heritage and identity. Ultimately, I want to be sure they grow up comfortable with who they are and their cultural heritage and not feel they have to hide or distance themselves from it.
To this end, I’ve managed to source some child/young adult friendly books that expose them to the concepts of difference in a positive way. Unfortunately, I’ve not found any from an Australian perspective yet. However, the themes are fairly universal so I don’t see this as as problem.
Sesame Street We’re Different, We’re the Same
By Bobbi Kates (Author), Joe Mathieu (Illustrator)
My girls love Sesame Street so it was a no-brainer that this book would be a welcome addition to their library.
By Kip Fulbeck (Author), Cher (Afterword) and Maya Soetoro-Ng (Foreword)
My eldest has enjoyed looking at the pictures of other children in this book. She likes me to read their names and explain, in their words, who they believe they are. It opens up opportunities to see diversity in a way we don’t often experience in our everyday lives.
Amy Hodgepodge series
By Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts (Authors)
The books in this series are recommended for 6-9 year old children and I can’t wait to read them with my girls. The series aims to give “face and a voice to multiracial children. Children of all races will identify with Amy Hodgepodge because it deals with universal themes such as feeling ‘different,’ being teased, and making new friends.” (Source: Penguin.com USA)
A further resource for Children’s and Young Adult Books along Interracial Family Themes is the site from Cynthia Leitich Smith. In time, I hope to find more within resources within an Australian context.
I am sure there are other ways I can educate my girls in time to come, such as through social opportunities, clubs, cultural events, and I hope to source more of these as they grow up.
Nurturing beyond the home
Apart from discussing differences and teaching acceptance and tolerance of people in our family or immediate environment, older children need to be prepared for more. Prejudices can be more subtly pervasive in society. Research suggests that those messages are sometimes a stronger influence on our children. This means we may need to be more proactive in discussing how historical events, political issues, social structures and attitudes might encourage or support prejudice.
“…..But is anyone actually surprised that we’re getting advertising fostering this image of white Australia being this ‘perfection’ and yet if we’re watching commercial news, we’re getting the exact antithesis of that, that all Muslims are dangerous and all boat people are dangerous? Interspersed between all the negative imagery about foreigners or people from foreign backgrounds, we’re getting all this positive white reinforcement, if you will. Is anyone so surprised that we’re actually racist?”
Let’s Make A Difference
I believe it is clear that racism and prejudice are nurtured, and just as we can nurture for bad, we can nurture for good. I realise it is a complicated multifaceted issue. It would be too simplistic to say we could “fix” the entire community, but we can individually work on our own attitudes and on those around us and positively influence our families. If everyone did just that little bit, I know it would make a huge difference.
In July this year, the Australian government will be its first ever National Anti-Racism Strategy. What this will do to influence and change the Australian society remains to be seen but I am excited by the possibilities.
How have you handled a time when your children pointed out a difference about someone? Do you have any great resources you’ve used to educate your children?
Should we talk to young children about race? by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Ph.D. Published on April 28, 2011 (article)
Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race by Erin N. Winkler, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2009 (article)
I am not an academic expert in any aspect of race or ethnic studies, either from an anthropological, biological or sociological perspective. I purely have a personal interest in the topic due to my own cultural background. These are my own personal opinions. I also acknowledge that I write of this from what might be deemed a perspective of “white privilege” and I realise those who live with daily prejudice might beg to differ. I welcome your thoughts.