Chil­dren are never too young to learn about race and cul­ture in a good way

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - SMITA MALHOTRA

Dressed in a suit and with re­sumé in hand, my then-boyfriend, now hus­band, ar­rived at Hous­ton’s in­ter­na­tional air­port alone on Thanks­giv­ing Day to meet my par­ents for the first time.

This mo­ment, three years in the mak­ing, be­gan on the day we first met when he was the chief res­i­dent in our pe­di­atric res­i­dency pro­gram and I, the in­tern. Un­known to us, that day would be­gin an on­go­ing jour­ney of break­ing down bar­ri­ers, unit­ing com­mu­ni­ties and un­der­stand­ing how to par­ent a bira­cial child.

To be quite hon­est, I did not ex­pect to choose some­one who looked dif­fer­ent from me. Grow­ing up in In­dia and the Mid­dle East, within tight knit Hindu In­dian com­mu­ni­ties, my goal was to start a life with some­one who would carry on the same cul­tural val­ues and be­liefs. But when I met my hus­band, who was brought up in the African Amer­i­can Bap­tist church, our dif­fer­ences paled in com­par­i­son to our sim­i­lar­i­ties. And those parts of the other that were new to us, we were will­ing to un­der­stand.

So when my hus­band called my par­ents one day and asked if he could visit them, his goal was to show them our shared un­der­stand­ing. He in­sisted on mak­ing the trip alone. And by the end of the three-day trip, my par­ents had lis­tened. We were mar­ried ex­actly one year later on Thanks­giv­ing week­end.

Our wed­ding brought two very dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to­gether through the shared pas­sion for dance, food and love. At the cul­mi­na­tion of that day, I thought that we had over­come our bar­ri­ers and bridged our dif­fer­ences — that is, un­til we had a child.

My daugh­ter, just over two years old, is learn­ing to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences be­tween the cul­tures that cre­ate her iden­tity. She has ex­pe­ri­enced the peace­ful chant­ing found in a Hindu tem­ple and the up­lift­ing hymns of the Bap­tist church. She has lis­tened to the bold beats of Bhangra mu­sic and also the soul­ful tunes of R&B. Within the same day, she will call her pa­ter­nal grand­mother “gramma” and her ma­ter­nal grand­mother “nani.” Whereas be­fore I wanted so des­per­ately to show my par­ents how we are sim­i­lar, I now want to show my daugh­ter how we are dif­fer­ent.

It is through un­der­stand­ing our dif­fer­ences that we have learned to peace­fully co­ex­ist. This is what I want my daugh­ter to see. I want her to no­tice race, gen­der, colour, sex­u­al­ity, eth­nic­ity, body types and re­li­gions. I want her to ac­cept, un­der­stand and cel­e­brate those dif­fer­ences be­cause she is a prod­uct of the unity that can ex­ist in di­ver­sity.

Sev­eral stud­ies con­ducted by psy­chol­o­gists Phyl­lis Katz and Jen­nifer Kofkin in 1997 showed that in­fants as young as six months old stared sig­nif­i­cantly longer at an un­fa­mil­iar face of a dif­fer­ent race than an un­fa­mil­iar face of the same race. In­fants process new in­for­ma­tion through a pro­longed gaze. This tells us that chil­dren no­tice race. But we know they aren’t born racist. It is only when we are silent about our dif­fer­ences that they de­velop neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions to the sub­ject of race. And it doesn’t take too long af­ter that for bias to set in.

The only way that we can change the cur­rent rhetoric of race in the U.S. is through our chil­dren, and it is never too early to talk to your child about race.

I have pur­pose­fully cho­sen to live in a di­verse area of the coun­try be­cause it is im­por­tant to me that my child in­ter­acts with oth­ers who are dif­fer­ent from her. In­stead of be­ing “colour blind,” I want my daugh­ter to see the world in Tech­nicolor. I want her to ask ques­tions and I look for­ward to those con­ver­sa­tions. My goal is for her to un­der­stand how all the dif­fer­ent parts of hu­man­ity fit into the grand rhythm of life.

So­ci­ety will want to la­bel her, but I hope that she views the world through the lens of an open mind, cu­ri­ous to learn about new cul­tures and ways of life.

Ac­cord­ing to cen­sus 2010, the mul­tira­cial pop­u­la­tion in Amer­ica had in­creased by more than 30 per cent since 2000. As a pe­di­a­tri­cian, I have seen a greater num­ber of mul­tira­cial fam­i­lies walk through my clinic doors and this gives me hope. It tells me that not only are peo­ple un­der­stand­ing their dif­fer­ences and choos­ing to build lives around them, but that there are also more chil­dren who are see­ing dif­fer­ences as a uni­fy­ing force within their own homes.

Eight years ago, my hus­band walked through the air­port on a mis­sion to break down bar­ri­ers by high­light­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties. And now with our daugh­ter, we are build­ing bridges through our dif­fer­ences.


The au­thor and her fam­ily. “The only way that we can change the cur­rent rhetoric of race in the U.S. is through our chil­dren, and it is never too early to talk to your child about race,” Smita Malhotra writes.

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