I saw a beautiful baby girl at my son’s wrestling meet last year. She was about six months old with dark skin and tight curly hair. Because of the color of her skin, she stood out among the mainly white faces cheering on wrestlers in central Nebraska.
Her white father carried her around like a princess. His proud face radiated his love for this precious girl. I couldn’t help but smile whenever I saw them.
But, after my initial delight over this dad and daughter, I kept wondering how old she would be when her parents had to explain to her why someone called her the “N” word.
It was the fifth grade for my daughter.
Our family is formed by adoption, and two of our children are biracial. My daughter’s skin glows like it’s been kissed by the summer sun all year round. She’ll never have to spend money on a tanning bed or buy bronzing creams and lotions before slipping into a spaghetti-strap prom dress. She’s lucky that way.
But, she’s unlucky in other ways because of the world we live in.
When my daughter and her biracial cousin were called “N-word” at school, they didn’t even know what the word meant. And, maybe the girl who called them that didn’t know either. A boy called them that same racial slur again later that same year. In sixth grade, it was “Oreo” from two other boys. Then, there was the Snapchat from another girl calling her the “N-word” again. In seventh grade, it was “Black Bertha.”
These incidents aren’t isolated to my daughter. A Hispanic girl once told me that a boy in her high school class told her to “get behind me in the line because I was in this country first.”
Do you know if your kids are talking this way? How can you prevent your child from making insensitive racial slurs?
While children and teens may make racist comments because of the influence of friends or media, parents can take action when kids are young to make sure their kids are culturally sensitive and avoid hurting others with future words.
Monica Mueller, assistant director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, teaches a class to college students about this subject. “Who Do You Think You Are? The Impact of Culture on Personal Identity Development” is the name of the class she developed, and it has been highly impactful and eye-opening to many UNK students.
Monica is also biracial. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Puerto Rican. Monica and her husband have four young children who they call their “Quarter Ricans.” She is passionate about raising culturally sensitive children and creating a more culturally aware society as a whole.
She offers these tips for raising culturally sensitive children:
Expose children to diversity and people who are different from them.
“In Kearney, we have many opportunities for different festivals that I can bring the kids to,” Monica said.
Her children have attended the Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival (Sunday, March 4, 2018) and other university events, such as the Chinese New Year celebration.
“When I talk about other cultures, we talk about how cool it is,” Monica said. “The parent’s mindset is passed onto the kids, just like so many other things in our kids’ lives.”
Be sure that your child’s books, television shows, movies and toys reflect diverse cultures.
“It can be as simple as taking a look at your kids’ books and toys,” Monica said. “If all of the toys and book characters have the same skin color, then your kids are learning that that is the norm. If all of the Barbies look the same, then that’s what they will think is beautiful.”
Besides Barbies and dolls, diversity can be encouraged in action figures, books and television shows. Diversifying your child’s toy box can help prevent him or her from having a monochromatic view of the world.
“The more that they have those exposures, even if it’s not a real interaction or a face-to-face interaction with someone from a different background, it helps children learn,” Monica said.
Avoid the color blind philosophy.
Monica said she disagrees with the “color-blind” philosophy. That is when parents or others tell children that everyone is the same, so skin color doesn’t matter.
“The reality is that we are not all the same, and we are not all treated the same,” Monica said. “In our house, we say, we are all different, but isn’t that awesome!”
Monica said that race and ethnicity can be an important part of someone’s identity.
“For you to say, you are the exactly the same as me can even sometimes be hurtful,” she said.
Although our world has made improvements in how people are treated because of their skin color, the reality is that some races are still treated different or poorly.
“We want to teach kids that you should treat everyone with respect no matter what their race is,” Monica said. “But, it’s also important to know that not everyone does that. There are still problems today, and it’s important for kids to know that they can use their white privilege to stand up for someone.”
Make time to talk to your kids about race, and not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Some holidays, such as the recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day, provide a great opportunity for parents to talk about race with their kids. But, it shouldn’t be just limited to those days or to historical events.
“I think that unfortunately, at school, our kids are taught mostly about race in a historical context,” Monica said. “It’s important for us, as parents, to teach kids that race is something that impacts life today, too.”
Monica was recently reading a poetry book with her daughter that used the term “Negro.” That presented the perfect opportunity to explain the historical use of that word and how it’s not appropriate to use that word in society today.
“I teach college freshman about race,” Monica said. “A lot of them are from small towns in Nebraska, and a lot of them haven’t been exposed to race. When they come to college, they are unsure how to talk about race. So, I think the younger we talk to kids about race the easier it will be.”
Below are some more resources for encouraging cultural sensitivity in children as well as adults:
Books for Adults
Books for Children
Movie for Kids
Ted X Talk