I remembered one snack break when I was teaching in a Newton pre school in a suburb in Boston back in the late 90's. I was sitting with my kids at one table and my co teacher was at the other table . I had chocolate milk in a clear drinking cup. A child literally screamed at me “ Your skin matches the chocolate” her other friend started saying ” Yeah...Your skin matches the chocolate. Why does your skin match the chocolate? “. My co-teacher heard that too and looked at me.
That was the first time that a child has ever asked me anything like that. I smiled and kept my composure. I remembered thinking “So...Zee...How are you going to handle this? The phrase “teachable moment” came to mind. “Keep it simple” came to my head. What I ended up saying to the child was.” We have on our skin what’s called melanin. Some people have less, some have more, I have more melanin ”.
The beautiful, curious, well meaning kids just looked at me after that explanation and went “ OOOOOH…OK” and went on with eating their snacks.
Kids are curious. They ask questions. We should never underestimate the fact that they do see, feel things so much more than adults ever give them credit for. So that is why talking to them about race, racism is important. It probably would be the most uncomfortable thought of a conversation to have (next to the ever challenging “birds and the bees” talk).I like the term that I heard used recently “having tender conversations”. Yes it is hard, painful but we can approach and put those conversations in loving, tender, age appropriate ways. Trust that the kids themselves will show and lead us to how much or how little they need to know at that particular time and that it will be an ongoing conversation, as it should be.
It All Begins At Home
Children always learn more by watching the adults more so than what they are told. Leadership has to be by example.
Watch for statements that link race with value judgments. Show and tell them that those kinds of derogatory statements have no place in life, household and surroundings. Tell them that those kinds of statements are hurtful, from just a simple “Those people…” statements that they might have heard, to a whole lot worse.
Bullying statements are NEVER OK. “Nobody wants to play with you.. you are stupid and ugly” .” I don’t play with...(insert race , people etc ).Making fun of people based on the color of their skin , their religion, social or economic status. Kids should be given a safe space to say something and wanting to be of help and NOT be a bystander. Throw it back at them and ask them how that would feel if they were put in that situation. Developing empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice at an early age helps kids grow into adults who want to help make the world a better place. Having empathy does not mean that you are denying yourself and what you are feeling or going thru.It is about understanding, seeing another person’s perspective. It is not about being right.
Introduce diversity to different aspects of your life. Racism is not human nature, it’s taught.
How can we expect to talk to kids about respecting, caring and acceptance when what kids see in their daily lives are homogenous, words and behavior that is not in line with love, empathy, compassion and understanding.
Maybe we too as adults could practice more diversity in our lives. Show them we welcome all people into our homes, teach them to celebrate differences in schools. Take yourself out,the kids out of their surroundings and out of comfort zones . By you as the adult showing willingness to learn and grow speaks volumes.
I also remembered the time when I was working at an international school here in Kuala Lumpur. The head teacher, my co wo-worker, wanted to talk to her class about the Eid Festival and the Arabic characters. She was not conversant in the topic. She reached out to me and we ended up with a little class show and tell. The kids, herself and me were shown by me on a piece of paper how to see their names in Arabic characters and sounds. We had them on the board in the class if I remembered correctly. My coworker showed her classroom children what mutual respect and acceptance looked like in a world that has differences that needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. She reached out when she felt she needed to learn something .We did have to talk about diversity. We showed the kids in our interactions and taught them what that looks like.
We have to focus on the mindset that, the fact is ,we are more the same then we are all different in all our humanity. That being different is not all bad. Differences brings deliciousness and beauty into our lives and experiences.
When writing the first draft of this blog, I felt my own anger and frustration coming out. I had to stop myself. I cannot say that I have not experienced the hurt ,anger and sadness racism and ignorance felt in all its subtleties and its fullness. Anger and frustration will not get anyone anywhere. I have to constantly remind myself of that fact.
In light of what is seen in our world right now, I would like to encourage us to practice more calmness and to look within. This is all so overwhelming for sure, but when we start within, the light shines out. ”This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”. We all have our legacy to leave behind. Let’s think more about what we want our legacy, individually and collectively to be.
Mazura Illani Manshoor