Teaching about respect for all human beings, equal rights and the beauty of diversity
I want my children to learn that all humans are our brothers and sisters, all are equally valuable and all have to be treated with the same dignity and respect.
I want them to appreciate how beautiful it is that God has created humanity with so many faces, colors, cultures, body types etc. and how boring it would be, if we all were the same. This does not only apply to our appearance but also to culture, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. I want my children to learn, that our looks and our ways are not the norm for everybody else but diversity is the norm and we are only one variation in many. I want to teach my kids to not judge people by how they look.
When I was a young child,
my father set an example and taught my brother and I to be open to people who are different from us and include them into our group and neighborhood. The population in our town was very homogeneous. But one day, a refugee home for refugees from Africa opened just down the street. Most people were scared of those “dark colored big men”, who did not speak our language. My dad however, he took me by the hand, walked over there and welcomed them and invited them to come sit with us in our garden, have a beer and a chat and get to know each other. And when he had friends over, they were invited, too and soon more and more people of the neighborhood knew them personally and appreciated our new neighbors. That way, it was not “us” and “the strangers”. They became part of our neighborhood and individuals the people knew by name.
Where we live now, my kids grow up in a diverse society. Some adults in Germany still don’t get it. However, if you look at statistics, especially our youngest generation is a melting pot. In my city we even have some neighborhoods with much more children with immigrant background than “traditional” German kids. In every school class there are at least some children who speak another language at home and come from other cultural background. We need to address this and tell our children that this is normal and OK. I try to teach my kids, to not only accept the other children with other cultures, but also to be interested and open to other cultural backgrounds. By greeting and introducing our selves to the new parents, by actively telling our children, that they can invite those kids for play dates, we as parents can strengthen our kids’ inclusive behavior.
When my kids were around three years old, they started asking questions about why other kids looked different and spoke different.
Here are two of many examples I used to explain diversity, when my children were really young and asked about why some kids looked different or spoke different:
Look at all those beautiful flowers and plants in our garden. Isn’t it beautiful how many there are? Now imagine we would have to pick only one. Imagine we would say that is the only good flower and all the other flowers are not as good because they don’t look the same. Wouldn’t that be sad and look so boring? Isn’t it so much more beautiful that God has created so many different flowers? It’s the same with people. It’s beautiful that we aren’t all the same. We humans come, just like the flowers in many different colors and sizes and that makes our world even more beautiful and not boring.
In this world we have many different cultures. That means for example that people in different cultures have developed many different ways of cooking. A typical dish from where we live in Bavaria would be sauerkraut and dumplings with sausages or roast pork. Now imagine you had to eat sauerkraut every day! Isn’t it great that other people from other cultures also created pizza, pasta, croissants, couscous, falafel, curry, barbecue sauce, tacos and all those other foods? How boring would it be, if we didn’t have all those different cultures?
Whatever examples we chose to talk about this topic, it will be fine as long as we do address it. You will know, what your kids understand best. By acknowledging diversity in a respectful way, we teach our kids not to judge or look down on people, who are different from us without having ignoring the differences.
Should we ignore color?
Now – with all the protests for #blacklivesmatter going on, I read a lot about some white people, who don’t want to discriminate saying “Color doesn’t matter” and some people of color saying, that this is offensive, because they say “then you ignore our culture and background”. Here is my personal view on this topic:
Somehow we humans tend to put people in boxes and judge them by visible features. But once we start to really look and be honest, we realize that we are just exercising prejudices. I believe that where I live it is an illusion or well, more a prejudice to think that “color” is a reliable sign for somebodys cultural background. Where I life in Europe I only have to drive a couple hours and I can meet “white” people with all kinds of cultures and languages.
I can also meet people “of color” who grew up in those different cultures but one would speak French, one German and one Italian and another one Dutch … Some would have mixed ethnic backgrounds and have grown up in Bavaria just like me and have my accent and culture. Some would have my culture and African or American cultural backgrounds. Others might come from Africa, which however has so many different cultures and religions itself. So the color would actually NOT be a reliable sign of their cultural background, upbringing or even social status.
I don’t think we should turn a blind eye to the culture or background of a person of color. However, I have to look beyond the skin color or tan or other superficial feature to actually see the culture or background and recognize the person as who she or he is. This in mind, in a perfect world, it would be ok to say “Color doesn’t matter to me”. But unfortunately we all grew up in a racist system. Even when a white person isn’t aware of their privilege and of racism, systemic racism does exist and many – if not all – “people of color” or “black people” do make negative experiences with racism from childhood on. So saying “color doesn’t matter” in our world, is a way of ignoring and downplaying the fact, that racism exists and that due to it “white” people have privileges that often are denied to people “of color”. I think, we need to keep this in mind. Because not all racism happens with the intention of hurting someone. I believe, as we all grew up in a racist system, many or all “white” people unintentionally sometimes support this racist system without being aware of it. So let’s not play down the fact, that in our world, color does still matter a lot. Because too often it matters when it comes to chances in education, job search, finding a home to live etc. So I believe it is important to be aware of it, because only then, we can take on responsibility and make it better.
There is one context of the phrase “color doesn’t matter” however, that I personally want to teach my kids as true. For me personally the phrase is true in the sense of “Color does not influence the amount of respect I have for a person“. Color does not matter in regard of the value of a person, in regard to the rights this person has and in regard to whether I am willing to get to know the person or accept the person in my group, life or family and would like to be part of this persons group, life or family. And that is – what I try to teach my kids. To be interested in getting to know a person as he or she is, regardless of “color”, to be willing to listen and learn from this person.
Another important topic we need to address with our children are human rights. With the UN children’s rights convention we have a very good foundation to teach kids about their rights and human rights. By now there are so many good materials out there we can use to help our children understand their rights.
As a social worker I have taught so many kids in our city about children’s rights. What always stood out to me was, how interested and involved children become, when we discuss equal rights and discrimination. Children have a very strong sense of justice. All those kids I worked with had either experienced or witnessed some form of discrimination and they all understood what is fair and unfair behavior. We adults need to is nurture this sense of justice, nurture their compassion by making them aware that others feel the same, when treated unfairly, teach them their rights and that all humans have the same rights and make them aware about racism. From young age on, we have to teach children, to be aware that “equal rights for all” means equal rights also for people who look different or/and have another culture. The most lasting lessons children learn, are the ones that connect with their emotions. So let’s use their natural feelings of compassion to teach this lesson from early age one, before they fall for racist slogans and start to define people of other color, gender, sex. orientation or people with disability as less worthy and start to loose their compassion.