Parenting – Your child vs racism
The world has become a global village — et’s help you teach your child to be tolerant of differences and celebrate diversity
Children, today, are growing up in diverse systems and setups. And as a result, it has become very important to help them understand differences and to see themselves as different, says clinical psychologist Zamo Mbele. “Instead of ignoring the conversation and hoping it’ll go away, it’s important to teach children about the differences and diversities that exist in society because today’s kids are growing up in a global system where the concept of an international community has become part of the agenda.” A 2018 study conducted by the Institute of Race Relations in South Africa revealed some key findings on the issue of racism in our country. The study, titled Race Relations in South Africa: Reasons for Hope 2018, suggested, amongst other things, that 63% of black South Africans think that race relations have improved since 1994. While this may or may not be the case, one cannot ignore the fact that as a country, we are probably in the most explosive era as far as the dialogue around race and racism is concerned. As such, one cannot simply ignore the topic and more especially, exploring it with your children.
There are two very important factors parents need to consider before having the racism talk. The first of these is understanding why you’re having the chat in the first place. The discussion isn’t merely about highlighting the combativeness, prejudice or stereotypes that exist, but it is critical to your child’s identity as well. “We have so many diversities in this country and children need to be taught about them early on so they can understand
what they mean, where they come from and where their difference fits into the bigger puzzle,” says Khosi Ntuli, principal at Tlhatlogang Secondary in Soweto. “These conversations are critical in the ongoing process of knowing who you are.” The second, and arguably the most important thing to be aware of, are your own biases towards the conversation. It’s important to understand what makes you uncomfortable and address that discomfort. Otherwise, you run the risk of leading a conversation that encourages aggression and hostility. “Confront the difficulty and discomfort you might have with this conversation so you don’t pass on your own biases and prejudice to your child. It’s not an easy topic, so you’re allowed to prepare,” Mbele advises.
No child is too young to start engaging in race-related conversations, and it should be an ongoing one. The language used is very important, so always try to avoid making the other person the ‘different’ one. “We construct conversations from where we come from, and will often make the other person the ‘different’ person; this is a mistake. An enlightened conversation is one that highlights that differences exist both ways,” Mbele explains.
TODDLER (12-36 MONTHS)
This is an important foundational building block you can use for your agenda. “At the toddler age, you can introduce the conversation in any situation. For example, when a person is cracking eggs, you can speak to your child about how eggs come in different colours on the outside, but on the inside, all eggs are the same,” Mbele adds. You also must be deliberate in exposing your child to diversity and difference. You can do this by organising playdates with a diverse group of children and/or going to places and spaces where there’s difference, whether racial, cultural or religious. “This will already begin to unconsciously introduce the conversation by letting the child see for themselves that the world is filled with differences, and that amid the difference(s) he or she is still a worthy participant in the world,” Mbele continues.
PRE-SCHOOLER (AGES 3-6 YEARS)
From around age three, parents need to create an ongoing sense of curiosity in their children. Non-verbal ways of doing this include watching TV shows that are as diverse as possible and investing in a range of toys that mirror diversity. For example, invest in not only a pale-skin doll but also a black doll for your child. Verbal methods include asking questions that drive a particular point across. Mbele shares an example: “Ask your child to describe his/her friends. Ask which ones are girls and which ones are boys; ask what colour each one of them is, and so on, without attributing good or bad to any of your child’s descriptions,” he says. “Instead, encourage and affirm your child’s circle of friends by saying things like ‘wow, it sounds like your friends are all different and unique, while at the same time they all sound like they are great’.”
SCHOOL-AGED (AGES 7- 9 YEARS)
When children start school, you can start introducing the concept of fairness and unfairness. With this, you can start speaking about how different races have had, and sometimes continue to have, more resources than others. You can even link these conversations to our various public holidays or cultural events and in so doing also begin introducing the history of your child’s heritage and race to him/her.
“You might even be able to talk about how a lot of black people in South Arica are still living in poverty because of historical circumstances. Bring yourself into this conversation by saying ‘my generation and your grandparents experienced a lot of separation and it was called Apartheid, and that’s why many white people had privileges that black people didn’t’,” Mbele explains.
However, he cautions against using absolutes in your examples for the purposes of exercising the flexibility of the child’s mind. For instance, when saying something like, “all white people” you run the risk of creating a toxic hostility towards other races.
PRE-TEEN (AGES 10-12 YEARS)
You want to encourage critical-thinking, so you want them to ask questions and do research. Ask them what their answers are before offering yours.
If, for example, a pre-teen asks you “Why are all gardeners black?” your first response, before you attempt an answer, should be along these lines: “How did you make sense of it?” and so on.
TEEN (AGES 13-19 YEARS)
Teens are prone to something called transactive reasoning, which makes them believe that if people are alike in a way, for example skin colour, then they are alike in all other ways, Mbele explains. This pattern of thinking can lead to racial bias, so it becomes your responsibility to disrupt this by teaching a teenager to think in more critical ways. Ntuli reminds us that it’s also important for parents to ask themselves what their contribution is, has been and will be in the end. “Parents need to become more cautious of the language they use when speaking about issues relating to racism, especially what they see in the news or in traffic. Children pick up on everything we do and say, and they tend to mimic that.” Validate your child’s experience if they do become victims of racism in their own spaces. “Recognise, validate and empower your child. If an incident happens, help them understand that it was wrong, explain why it was wrong and seek to address the matter in a non-combative manner,” Mbele concludes.