a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
Being a racist is not something that strikes in a “moment“. Racism is not something that we simply wake up with one sunny morning. It’s cultivated, slowly and subtly. It’s encultured, through careless language and social norms encountered in our safe-spaces (our homes and our schools and even our places of worship). In short: no one is born a racist. Racism is learnt behaviour.
Let me also add at this point… the teachers and cultivators of racism, more often than not, do so in quite unintentional ways. I truly hope to believe that there are very few people in this day and age (at least in this country) who deliberately reinforce racist views in our children.
As a former teacher, I clearly remember starting the year with the theme “All about me”. Children were asked to draw self-portraits and these works of art were then plastered all over the classroom walls with “oohs” and “aahs” at how beautiful each child was.
From as young as toddlers, children notice the differences in each other and this, is in my opinion, is the best time to start the conversation. We need to foster in our children a positive racial identity – both for them and the ‘other’.
As parents, we often assume that our children know what is right, that they realise that people are different, and we shrug off the responsibility of teaching them about the beauty of it.
We all know that children are like sponges, soaking up every morsel of information that surrounds them. Whether good or bad? Are we willing to take responsibility for the way our children view those who are different from them?
Are we willing to step back and review our own uncomfortable feelings about the topic of race?
We live in an incredible country. Where richness and diversity burst forth in a kaleidoscope of colour and a medley of language around every corner. It’s our responsibility as parents to help guide our children in celebrating these cultural differences.
To see them each as a work of art, woven together to give shape to the tapestry of life in all its fullness in the world.
Our children (as cliche as it may sound) are our future! And we will never fully overcome the racism that plagues our society if we don’t become more intentional about helping them embrace the diversity they encounter all around them. If we simply expect their infant and toddler superpowers of acceptance and non-judgment to carry through into adulthood while never checking our own ignorance, apathy, arrogance and disrespect. Because these are the things they will be exposed to as they grow, and it will rub off on them too.
Our “avoidance ” of this topic is doing more harm than good. Our fear of speaking about racial difference with our children, and trying to truly see the beauty in it, has a ripple effect that quickly muddies the water of our children’s vision of others. Again, in short: avoiding the conversation about difference in race is detrimental to our children and does not protect them!
We need to deal with our own uncomfortable feelings first. It’s not our children’s fault that we might not know how to bridge the gap?
We must teach our children about the Martin Luther Kings of this world, the Frederick Douglass’, William Lloyd Garrisons, Yuri Kochiyama’s, Sojourner Truth’s and Frida Kahlo’s that fought so hard to bring equality and celebrate diversity.
We have our own heroes who either gave their lives or spent their lives, for a country where our children can appreciate the beautiful differences that make up this rainbow nation. Steve Biko, Helen Suzman, Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, Ashley Kriel, Ahmed Timol, Neil Aggett and so many more who fought the fight for us.
This is what we should be teaching our children, this is what needs to pave the way of their future. Our children should be taught to celebrate their differences, to ask the uncomfortable questions, and to learn from one another.
Jacqui Bester is firstly a wife, and mom to five rambunctious children who drive her nuts and fill her heart with unspeakable joy all in the space of a single day. She writes about her day to day adventures and misadventures in parenting, life and marriage. Jacqui is known for sharing a brutally honest account of her MESSY “mamahood”… the joy, the fun, the laughter and the tears. She enjoys a good mystery-crime novel with a lovely glass of red wine, trying out new foods and restaurants with her hubby on the odd date-night, exploring new places, learning new skills, and generally anything else that calls for a more adventurous approach to life. You can find her over on One Messy Mama.