By: Elizabeth Donovan, M.A.
The election in the United States of the first African American President, Barak Obama, was indeed a special moment in history. One that parents can use to illustrate to their daughters just how far our society has come in terms of overcoming the major hurtle of race and color. Yet, in schoolyards across this nation, the struggle of prejudice and racism continues to co-exist alongside those things we manage to overcome. Children often find themselves confronted with the sharp tongues of those who seek to demean, degrade, and humiliate them based on their skin color. To truly help eliminate racism, it then becomes our responsibility as parents to help our daughters recognize, understand, and combat it.
Prejudice and Racism Defined:
• Racism is defined as discrimination based on race. In addition, it’s the belief that race accounts for differences in human character and that one race is superior to another.
• Prejudice, on the other hand, has the key distinction in that it entails pre-judgment of another person by deciding on a person’s qualities, characteristics and value based on an arbitrary descriptor such as race, before knowing the facts. Prejudice can also be based on criteria other than race.
Teach Your Daughter to Respect Others
As parents many of us understand the effects racism, but explaining it to your daughter can prove to be a difficult and delicate task. In particular, it can be challenging to explain racism and prejudice to young children especially if you’ve experience it yourself. The most important factor in talking with your daughter about racism is to reinforce again and again that it’s wrong and no one should ever be singled out based on the color of their skin. By starting early, parents can help instill important values in future generations. Try these tips to help explain to your daughter the reasons for racism and why she should never stand for it.
• Get to know history through literature and movies. Read up on some of the great historical figures who fought racism and stood up for human rights such as: Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Robert F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman. Use the library, internet, and documentaries to introduce your daughter to the importance of the abolishment of slavery, the civil rights movement, and other key moments in history that helped our country begin to shift away from racism and discrimination. Make it a “learning moment” for both of you. Watch a movie like Roots together or visit a museum. Historical exploration will give your daughter a glimpse into how important the fight against racism has been, and how important it has still become. It will also provide parents with “teachable moments” and an opportunity to express their own beliefs that will help further develop and strengthen the bond you have with your daughter.
• Get involved in your community. Children often learn more by “doing” than “seeing” so try to get your daughter involved with a charity that helps fight racism. She can learn more than you’ll ever know by talking with others who have experienced racism and listening to their struggles and triumphs over it.
• Practice what you preach. Talking about racism with your daughter is one thing, but what should parents do if they hear a friend or family member blurt out racist comments? Children learn by example, so parents should always speak out against racist comments and behavior regardless of who it is coming from. Your daughter is watching your actions so make sure you set a good example.
• Educate your daughter. Talk to your daughter about different races and her own culture. Take a moment to acknowledge that though there are many different skin colors, we are all human beings and all deserve respect regardless of our ethnicity, race, or cultural differences. After all, it’s the differences that make us unique and human.
• Do unto others… This old adage goes a long way when it comes to teaching your daughter how to treat other people that look or act differently than she does. Your child should be willing to treat everyone how she would like to be treated.
• Explain the root of racism. Talking with your daughter about racism also means acknowledging that there are ‘mean’ people in the world who would do harm to someone based on the color of their skin. This does not mean you need to scare her, instead, your lesson should be age appropriate. Let your daughter know the psychological cause of racism – that it’s a weakness and that strong people don’t make others feel badly about themselves in an effort to boost their own self-worth. Being nice to others makes you strong and confident.
• Keep tabs on who your daughter plays with. Racism is “learned behavior” that children easily pick up on when they are young and impressionable. Keep an eye on who your daughter associates with. For example, if your daughter seems to only play with children of one race, parents should encourage their children to “broaden their horizons” and develop friendships with children of different races, cultures, and backgrounds. Likewise, if you notice one of your child’s playmates using racist language, it’s time to find her a new friend.
By taking the time to develop a sense of empathy, compassion, and respect for others, parents can help combat racism and seize the opportunity to talk with their daughters about this difficult issue instead of run away from it. Children watch their parents for social cues, so it’s also important to take note of your own views on racism and how it may be effecting your child. By working with your daughter, you will help her grow to understand the world around her and what she can do to make a positive difference in it.
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