When our son Benjamin was very young, he was frightened of anyone who looked different from us. I tried to explain to him that people are people, and what they look like on the outside doesn’t reflect who they are on the inside, but the lesson didn’t really take hold until we had a new roof put on our house.
Intensely interested in the proceedings and determined not to miss a thing, Benjamin went out to sit on the swing set while a great many burly, young white, black and Hispanic men swarmed busily about our house and yard. I watched from the door as they worked very hard, but I noticed that they also took time out to be kind to a curious little boy. Then Ben looked over, and noticing me standing in the doorway, he called out to me. The work was extremely noisy, but in one of those strange, quiet lulls that sometimes occur, his little voice could be plainly heard as he yelled, “Mom, black people aren’t scary at all! They are just like you and me.”
I blushed as a dozen pairs of eyes swung toward me to gauge my reaction. I smiled weakly, and said something like, “Yes, honey, I know – that’s great!” Even though I was embarrassed, I was glad that my little one finally got it, and from that point on, he assessed people solely on their merits, while I realized just how important my example was when teaching my children not to be prejudiced.
Model the Behavior You Want Your Children to Have
If you don’t want your children to be prejudiced against people of different races, then they must see that behavior modeled by you. Long before your children will talk about it, they are watching and learning your attitude toward other people. Let them see you smile and greet all kinds of people. Be careful what you say in unguarded moments, especially phrases you may have learned as a child and haven’t really thought about. If you are angry with someone of a different race, explain that you are angry about what they did, not who they are. Don’t make sweeping generalizations that demean a whole race rather than a particular behavior. Treat everyone with kindness, ready to help whomever needs assistance; and when someone is kind or helpful to you, be gracious.
Discuss Issues of Race With Your Children
Your children will likely have a lot of questions about the differences between people of different races. Allow them to ask you anything and try to answer thoughtfully, and with as much complexity as the child’s age will allow. Truthfully address some of the issues and problems, but point out how much more we have in common with each other as human beings. Familiarize your child with some of the charming differences we are intrigued with as well. After all, different is not always bad. We can all learn from each other, and your child needs to know that.
Teach Your Children About Heroes of All Races
When you are discussing deeds of bravery, genius, integrity, compassion and benevolence, teach your children about people of all races who have benefitted the human race. As you build pride in your child for their own heritage, include their heritage as Americans, Christians, athletes, or whatever fits your child, besides pride in their race. Many of our legacies transcend race, and if you teach about military heroes, inventors and scientists, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, etc. there will be people of all races for your child to be proud of and inspired by.
Practice What You Preach
All the talk in the world won’t take the place of action when you are trying to teach your children not to be prejudiced. If your child grows up surrounded by your friends of all races, then he will feel comfortable building friendships of his own that transcend race. If you encourage these friendships, welcoming your child’s friends for who they are and not what they look like, you will cement the idea that “people are people, and what they look like on the outside doesn’t reflect who they are on the inside.” It is possible to raise a child who is not prejudiced – if you are willing to practice what you preach! If you are just saying what you think you should say, your child won’t buy it. But if you really believe that prejudice is foolish and ignorant; that we have far more in common than our differences; that we can learn from and help one another; then your life will naturally reflect that and your children will learn from their infancy that people of other races are not inherently “scary” – that we are all God’s children. Then your children will learn not to be prejudiced toward their brothers and sisters on this earth, and they will naturally teach their children not to be prejudiced either.