The country of my birth, Belarus, was practically 100% white at the time of my childhood. Maybe that’s why the message of equality was very easy to absorb – of course people are good independent of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. At the same time anti-semtism seemed to be quite normal and accepted. In other words, I was growing on the Orwell Animal Farm where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
Fast forward some 30+ years, and I am raising my German-Russian-Jewish daughter in America. We read multi-cultural books, we watch Dora and Sid, her favorite little Einstein is brown-skinned Quincy. Her preschool is predominantly white, but some kids are Asian, and there is also a couple of mixed-race kids with darker skin color. Imagine my surprise when my little angel frowned at the mention that our adult friends will come to visit on the weekend.
I don’t like P, she said, she is different. She is loud and her skin is dark.
Immediately I thought of a CNN article I stumbled upon recently – the study discovered that despite all the efforts of the last 50 years to desegregate America, white and even black children still have preferential bias towards white. The article made an assumption that this bias is born by attitudes of parents at home. Well, I don’t think this is the case in our home. I think that what appears to be racial prejudice is more of a reaction to someone who is different. I am sure all of us have our own “hang-ups” dealing with people whose opinions, lifestyle or fashion choices go beyond our own notions of what is “normal”. But kids have a huge advantage over us, adults. Their notion of what is “normal” is still very much in a flux. And that’s why adults in their lives do have such an important role in forming their attitudes. I dropped what I’ve been doing and sat down for a talk. It’s not the first time we had to have “differences” talk, and it always boils down to the same thing – we have to get to know people and open up to people before we form our opinions about them. This seemed to work – Anna was happily interacting with P (who, by the way, is from Southern India) and appeared to have completely forgotten her previous concerns. I know that the lesson will have to be repeated again and again, but I feel very passionately about raising a child who is not defining a person by his or her race. Of course, I am also hoping that Anna will have friends of different races and backgrounds as well – there is no better way to move past prejudices than to make a friend with someone who you perceive as different.
Do your kids notice racial differences? How do you handle their questions and what do you want them to know about their own race and background?