Talking to Your Children About Race
As the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday takes place around the nation, how can we as adults talk to children about the somewhat sensitive topic of race?
I would like to think in this day and age that the discussion of race would not need to take place. But for many of us— myself included— the race issue is still a topic we handle with a long wooden spoon. As a nation, we'd like to think of ourselves as one big melting pot of diversity and culture, but there are still many strides that must be made with how we address race.
In previous articles here on the Patch, I've discussed how Maryland Heights still has barriers and pre-concieved notions when it comes to those who are different than us. I have also written about how Sunday at 11am is the most segregated time of the week, due to the fact that most people worship with their own race. It is a sad truth that still faces us as we celebrate another national service day during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
There are some who feel that they don't see race. Recently, Barbara Walters during a taping of the daytime talk show The View stated that she didn't see race at all. And while I would like to appluad Barbara for her "blindness," reality is much different. Not seeing race and our diversities ignores the differences in us all. Our differences should be applauded, not shuned.
Our children often see race differently than we do, as their peers are often from other cultures. Both of my children attend diverse schools and mix with many nationalities, not just black and white.
I look upon my six year old's class as a United Nations; students from India, Asian, Africa, Samoa and Russia study along side her. They play with one another because they haven't been told they shouldn't play together. Oftentimes, racism is a learned behavior.
We should discuss race with our children and let them know it is okay to embrace different races and cultures. When we as parents set an example for our children to follow, they often follow it to a "t," and leading by example is what we as adults should do.
We should also point out differences in us. Ignoring them or acting like they don't exist isn't a way to make the issues more palatable. For example, last year my young daughter asked why one of the girls in her class looked different. I explained to her that it was charactertistic of her national origin, and later, read a book to her on another culture. It was a perfect segue for me to introduce race again as a topic.
As adults, we should also teach our children to not jump on the bandwagon when they see others being taunted for being different. We should give them plenty of encouragement to speak up when they see someone being treated badly because they are different.
Also, attending cultural events and museums that show cultural diversity go a long way in teaching race to your children. Last year, I took my then five year old to Race--An Exhibit at the Missouri Museum of Natural History in Forest Park and there were many interactive things that she saw that explained race and our differences.
She continues to talk about the exhibit often.
We should teach our children to have pride in their heritage without belittling or putting down others. We should want our children to be happy with themselves, but also to embrace the differences in others.
We should also keep the discussion of race open all year, and not just during the MLK holiday or Black History Month. It's a subject that deserves more face-time than a few key dates on the calendar.
We have seen what our country can do together, as we elected the first bi-racial President. We have come far, but we still have a long way to go. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!