This is going to be a bit different than my typical “where to sightsee and how to do it with kids” post. It’s going to be some of my ramblings on how to do your part to build a generation that looks at differences in others with love and understanding and acceptance rather than fear and hatred. I’m definitely not an expert on this and I’m sure I do things wrong and my kids are just 5 and 2.5 so we’ll see how they evolve, but I think they’re doing pretty well so far.
In my opinion, so much of the fear and distrust of “others” (aka anyone who isn’t exactly like you in terms of race, color, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc) comes from a lack of positive exposure to people in that category. If the only knowledge and exposure you have of a group of people is the news saying they’re the boogie man or out to blow you up, then of course they’re scary. If all you know is they were the “enemy” in X War, then of course you’ll distrust them. If you hear one bad story about one individual who happens to belong to X group, and generalize it across the whole community, then your fear seems “justified.” So how do we fix that?
Talk with Your Kids–This might be the easiest one of all as it doesn’t cost any money. What you discuss depends a lot on your kids’ ages and what groups you belong to vs what groups are new or different to them. Some ideas include
Holidays–pay attention to holidays and talk about who celebrates them and how and why. Ramadan just ended. If you’re not Muslim, did your kids know it was Ramadan? Did you know today is Juneteenth? What is Holi? The list can go on and on.
Religious Buildings–if you live somewhere or travel somewhere that has religious buildings not of your own faith, point them out. “Hey look, do you see that mosque? Aren’t the minarets pretty? Muslims worship there.”
Notice What Kids Notice–notice your kids looking at someone in a wheelchair, wearing a hijab or sari, or walking with a prosthetic? Are they staring at someone with a different color skin or two people of the same gender holding hands? Talk to them casually and matter of factly about what they see. Connect it to someone or something they’re familiar with.
Branch Out Your Social Circle–Who do you and your kids hang out with the most? Are they mostly like you? Make a conscious effort to go places, join groups, or meet people who are different than you. Young kids social circles are mostly controlled by their parents, so make choices that broaden their horizon.
Buy Multicultural Toys–Consciously think about what toys you’re buying for your children (or putting on their wish lists for others to buy). Obviously many toys don’t fall in this category (blocks are blocks), but any toys that represent people should be diverse. My daughter is building up her Barbie collection and we’re making sure she has a range of skin and hair colors and shapes (Barbies now come in petite, regular, tall, and curvy). We’ve also picked out some career Barbies like scientist and doctor. She is less interested in the male Barbie dolls, but we do have a white skinned Ken and a black skinned Ken.
For Christmas, my toddler son got a pack of Duplo people that featured four different skin colors, each with a male adult and child and female adult and child. Easy way to make family units in any format desired.
Read Books with Diverse Characters–Sometimes easier than finding diverse toys is finding books that represent a huge range of people. How many of the books that you own are about people like you? How many are about people different than you or your child? Do you have books where main characters are from other countries? have different color skin? have a range of disabilities? speak different languages? are different religions? have different gender identities or sexual orientations?
Overwhelmed by all the book options? Pick a theme each month and read a book each week that fits that theme. Books with main characters from X continent or country, books about immigrants, books about different family constellations, books where main characters have disabilities, books where women do traditionally male things, etc.
Watch Movies and TV Shows with Diverse Characters–Similar to reading books with diverse characters, look at the TV shows and movies you watch. Are the characters racially diverse? Are there characters with disabilities or different religions or different types of families?
I don’t have a go to resource like I do for books, but this blog did a 4 part series on PBS shows that included whether they were racially and gender diverse.
Travel Domestically–Of course, if you live in a town or city that is really diverse your kids will be exposed to more naturally. But except for some of the really big cities like NYC, it’s unlikely they’ll be exposed to everything in their own home town. So travel! If you’re in a rural area, check out some big cities. If you’re urban, find some farming towns. If you’re East Coast, go west. If you’re south, go north! Try the food. Visit the historical sites. Talk to the locals. Go to the parks and find local kids to play with.
It’s so much harder for someone to fear and/or hate a group if they personally have met someone in that group. “All Muslims are scary” can’t apply if you played with a little Muslim girl at the playground and found out you both like swings. “Rural mountain folks are backwater hicks” can’t be true if you’ve sat down and had a real conversation with someone from a rural town.
Travel Overseas–Not everyone can afford to travel overseas, but if you can, it is completely worth it. I read blogs and articles that say traveling internationally with little kids is a waste of money because they won’t remember it. Hogwash! Sure, my daughter does not remember visiting the Taj Mahal as a baby and my son won’t remember the Pyramids of Giza he sees now as a toddler. But they do like looking at the photos. They soak up flavors and accents and languages and friendly people around the world.
When we read books, my 5 year old loves yelling out “I’ve been there!” She talks matter-of-factly about hijabs and saris and how she loves koshari, a very popular food in Egypt.
Live Overseas–If you ever get a chance to move overseas for a job, take it! It is so eye-opening both for kids and adults!
As adults, it is our job to teach the youngest generation that differences are not scary or to be feared. It takes conscious actions to raise them into open-minded, accepting, loving adults.