The Black Lives Matter campaign has been on TV, radio and around home. It is all around the boys. Understanding and reacting to what they are picking up is an important matter.
They may have gathered that Mum and Dad agree with some of their friends but they are VERY angry at others. So what is this all about?
Their friends have heritage from across Mainland Europe, Africa, South America, Caribbean and West Indies. Being colourblind is not an option.
My primary school age grandsons need their questions answered with respect and care. Mum and Dad are working hard on this but I can help too.
When does it start?
At birth no baby is bothered by skin colour. An awareness of different types of skin emerges at 6 months old. By the age of 5 discrimination by skin colour can be well underway. Parents, grandparents and carers have to introduce positive and balanced language, ideas and images of White, Black and Asian, Mixed Heritage people.
Evidence suggests that when White children, age 5-12 years, are asked to put Black and White faces with images which were clearly positive or negative they showed greater automatic positivity toward White as opposed to Black children. In contrast, when White children were shown a neutral image and asked to associate it with Black or White faces they did not show automatic negativity toward images of Black children.
By 9 to 12 year of age White children weren’t automatically positive toward other White children unlike their younger selves. Matters such as shared interests become part of their judgment as children get older.
Decrease negativity or increase positivity?
To aim to decrease negativity towards other races might not be the best approach. Young children are ego centred. They think they and those like them are great. This is normal.
My grandsons will be encouraged to see others who are not like them positively. I focus on what they have in common. Where there is a difference it is framed as something to admire and learn about. If they observe rudeness or racial abuse in the playground I am encouraging them to ask others why they are sad or how they feel.
Be aware of background influences
Homes have a huge impact. Parents leaving on a TV show or news items. If there are negative stereotypes on a screen nearby the children negative views can form even if they say nothing at the time. In conversation, if generalisations are made from specific examples racial bias can form pretty quickly. To reinforce racial bias we can too easily trawl through past experience and conversations, articles and news items. Knowing one person who did X does not mean all people like them do X too.
Developing our own internal library of references to people and events, ideas and actions, starts earlier than we may think. We are socialising our young children to think like us before they think for themselves. Their learning does not only come through formal lessons but through the social contexts in which we nurture our much loved offspring.
So what do I try and do?
- Express myself through actions, not just words..kids learn well from my example.
- Share my positive role models from BAME backgrounds with my grandchildren
- When I do not know the answer to a question we research it together.
- Own it when I say something wrong from my own upbringing
- Encourage the boys to advocate for all not to simply be defenders of White people.
- Build a library of books which express and show diversity in the stories, without stereotypes. I look beyond the front page before buying. It can look good but be poor. https://www.nanhood.com/build-a-home-library-inclusive-of-equality-diversity-and-fairness-books/
- Support my daughter to build and encourage diverse friendship groups.
- Talk about the value of people as coming from ‘who they are’ not ‘what they look like’.
- Discuss differences as a positive, discouraging ideas like taller is better.
- Listen to my daughter who says that Sesame Street has worked hard on expressing racial equality and valuing diversity as have many CBeebies shows.
- Introduce talk about different faiths and their links to different races taking opportunities to visit temples, mosques, churchs, chapels and discuss how race and faith interact as the boys age.
- Follow the family rule that anyone who generalises about a race or country or culture can be pulled up without offence.
- Checked out my own heritage. Using www.ancestry.com you might have some surprises too.
- Not speak of BAME people as victims but as successes wherever possible
- Encourage respect
- Talk about how food is linked to different races, cultures and countries
- Help the logistics so the boys can accept invites to play at the homes of all children
- Buy toys, games and dolls which reflect diverse races and cultures and talk about them.
I want the boys to have informed awareness of race from an early age. It is not for the school to do it all. Action would be even more important if we lived in a largely White community where ignorance can breed. We are blessed with living in a multi-racial community.