Teaching tolerance: 'My dad told me not to play with black kids'

Teaching tolerance: Raising tolerant children requires a willingness to assess one's own internalized stereotypes about race and the time to explore the riches of diversity.

Charles Sykes/Boys & Girls Clubs of America/AP
Raising tolerant children requires that parents take stock of their own internalized biases and make intentional decisions about how they present and discuss diversity to their children.

“My dad told me not to play with black kids,”  quietly said Kid A, hesitating to share the ball with Kid B.

“B-b-b-ut, what’s wrong with black kids? I am black,” Kid B said with tears rolling down his cheeks, not understanding.

I was dumbfounded as I stood in between the two 6-year-olds. I wanted to shout to Kid A, “Well your dad is a nasty racist and he’s wrong!” But I knew better. 

Both children were upset and confused; they both wanted to play with each other. Unfortunately, both kids will always remember this incident. One kid will remember how he was exposed to racism and segregation when he was in kindergarten. The other kid will probably hear more revolting remarks from his parent as he grows older.

I, as an Arab-American, remember being told to “go back to your country” when I was in middle school. My youngest brother was called a “terrorist” when he was in elementary school. And we will always remember how we were made to feel as if we didn’t belong to American society.

But whose fault is it?

Surely, you can’t blame the children. In the end, children will echo what their parents say and do. If your circle of friends are solely people who look like you, you don’t expose your children to different cultures and teach them about diversity, and you’ve made racist jokes in front of them, then why should you be surprised when your child gets in trouble at school for picking on the minority kid?

Here are some basic ideas for how parents can help their kids celebrate diversity and cultures:

1. Expose them to different cultures. Check out local international festivals, go to authentic restaurants where they serve ethnic foods, and befriend your neighbors. I still remember eating scrumptious desserts and watching Bollywood videos at my Indian-American neighbor’s house. Simple gestures can leave lasting impressions.

2. Be mindful of the cartoons and shows they watch. Many Disney films stereotype minorities. I’m not saying to ban these films at home, but to have conversations with your children, depending on their age, about the messages embedded in these films.

3. Talk to your children about what it means to live in a diverse society. Don’t be colorblind or tell your kids to ignore the colors of each other’s skin. Children will always be curious about the world and people around them. Simply explain to them that we all look different but we live with each other peacefully. I like using the salad analogy when explaining this to children: Some of us are tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers – we are all different but we are mixed together and get along well.

4. Read books with your children that talk about diversity and culture. With teenagers, watch films about minorities, cultures, and discrimination, and discuss together.

5. Be a role model and be careful of the words you use in front of your child. Telling a random person you just met, “Wow, your English is so good, where are you from?” basically says that just because you look different you must not be an American. Celebrate diversity and culture by accepting one another and showing your children that it’s perfectly OK to look different.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Aya Kalil can be contacted at www.ayakhalil.blogspot.com.

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