Teaching kids to recognize discrimination and injustice and to take a stand against it
Discrimination and injustice is a touchy subject for some “white” people. Many “white” people don’t want to be racists and don’t mean to actively discriminate. It’s a subject some parents don’t want to address or don’t feel necessary to address. However, we should be aware, that racism is rooted so deep in our society, that we grew up in a racist system and a lot of racism and discrimination even happens unconsciously. If “white” people don’t see or recognize racism in their everyday lives, that doesn’t mean there is no racism. Once you start listening to “black” people or people of color, you will see, that many of them say, that they experience racism and discrimination very often. Some say every day. It’s like world hunger. Just because I have enough to eat, doesn’t mean that there aren’t people starving. And yes, it can be uncomfortable recognizing that people are starving, while I might be wasting food. Or the Corona Virus: Some governments don’t test. But just because they didn’t test, that does’t mean, the people aren’t infected with the disease.
I think, we shouldn’t be scared to talk about racism and discrimination to our children. Kids are neither stupid nor blind. They know and understand what we are talking about because some form of discrimination and injustice will always be part of live – even in childhood. We should teach them to recognize racism, even the more the subtle forms. When we parents talk about the topic and explain, we actually help our children to sort through their own experiences and feelings, to figure out their position and we support them to find their place in the world.
Let me explain: In my experience any child – also a white child – will someday, when they enter a group, be exposed to some form of discrimination. Let’s keep the example simple and put the topic racism aside for a moment: When my kids started playing with other kids, of course they would experience that some older kids did not let them play with them, because of their age. They experienced that it can be difficult to be the stranger, the new kid or the smallest kid in a group. And when my daughter was 4, one day she came home crying because the little boys had told her, that she cannot play police with them, “because she is a girl and girls cannot be police.”
I don’t want to blow these experiences up beyond what they are. However, I believe that as adults, we have to be aware, that the feelings our kids are experiencing in such a situation are real and they are feeling just like anyone feels when they are being discriminated. And that is, what we, as parents can use as a teaching moment and should acknowledge and address. We need to take these feelings serious and put them into words. By talking about these emotions, we help our children to understand what is going on and what it makes them feel and that this is how others feel when they are being discriminated. We teach them to be empathetic and compassionate.
Here are some examples for how addressed this topic with my children, ways of explaining that (at a young age) my kids were able to understand:
I remember very well the talk I had with both of my kids about my daughter not being allowed to play police. I told not only my daughter, but also my son, that she can become the best police women out there if she wants, that I expect them both to treat boys and girls fair and that I as a women had experienced similar things. To all those Moms out their: Let your little boys know how you have been discriminated as a women. Your little men love you and will be angry about it and learn not to do the same to girls and women.
We also had a talk about how there are people in the world, who try to tell others, that they cannot do something, or cannot be part of the group or are worth less because of whatever feature, that this not only happens between boys and girls but also between big and small people, old and young, as well as people of different colors and that some white people do this to people with darker skin. I explained that we call this discrimination, and that this behavior it is not ok and we all have the same rights. And I told them, that whenever they see this happening, that they have to stand up to the kids who do this.
Because it is not enough to not discriminate, to not be a racist. As long as we turn a blind eye, we support discrimination and we support a racist system.
When my son as the youngest and smallest boy was a victim of mobbing and bulling and even beat up badly in 3rd grade, only one class mate stood up for him. We had one of many talks, about how good it felt, that this one kid stood up for him. About how different the situation would have been, if the whole class had stood up to the bullies and how difficult it can be to stand up for the person that is being bullied or discriminated. That you need to be brave to do the right thing and stand up against bullies. It is not easy and it can put you into difficult situations yourself, but you still need to take a stand for what is right. Such situations are good moments to teach how we have to treat all humans kind and fair and have to stand up for each other. And also to make our kids aware, that some people are mean to others for whatever reasons and that these reasons besides being the smallest often can also be the language, the gender, the color of the skin, or whatever a person looks like, the income, a disability etc. We should make our kids aware that in our society “black” people and people of color often experience such mean behavior – even if it is just in form of little subtle mean comments, that it hurts and that they should not ignore such behavior.
There are so many opportunities when we as parents can talk to our children about discrimination. Of course these talks evoke uncomfortable feelings like anger, sadness, sometimes when the situation is really bad like in the murder of George Floyd also a feeling of deep shock. But that is a good thing! I want my kids to be compassionate and empathetic. I tell them, that their gut feelings are right. That their feelings tell them that a behavior was not right and that those feelings are an important indicator that tells them to not look away but to stand up for what is right, even if that might sometimes be scary and need lots of bravery. Because telling a person that their behavior was discriminating or racist and not ok, often is not taken kindly.
So on the one hand not turning an eye to discrimination and racism may make us and our kids feel very uncomfortable. However on the other hand it is empowering, because I can give my kids the message, that if we all don’t look away and stand up for what is right, discriminating behavior will become more and more difficult to do and we can each and everyone contribute a little to make this world a better place. So let’s raise our kids to recognize discrimination and be brave, loving persons, who stand up for humanity, dignity and what is right.
I don’t believe that blaming me and any other “white” person for growing up as a privileged “white” person in a racist system, an unjust world, will help. It’s not my fault what happened before my time. However it is my responsibility to contribute my share to improve the situation, to not carry on and support discrimination and systemic racism. I truly value my freedom and human rights and I regard it as my responsibility to contribute what I can to help that all people can experience freedom and equality some day. And as a parent I need to teach my kids the value of freedom for all, of equality and human rights.