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Diahanne Rhiney's picture
Diahanne Rhiney
Teaching children about racism without that chip on the shoulder

MICHELLE OBAMA delivered a powerful speech recently on how race informs a person’s experience, often in a negative way and how individuals can be penalised on a personal and societal level due to the colour of their skin.

She ended her speech by reminding her graduating audience never to give up, stressing “this was never an excuse to give up or let the inherently inequitable system win”. Michelle Obama has since received widespread criticism describing the speech as race baiting, racist against white people and not at all uplifting.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day the people of the world could all live together without the boundaries of race. At the time of King's famous "I have a dream" speech, the United States was going through the Civil Rights movement in an attempt to end segregation and racism. There is no doubt, that since the time of the civil rights movement in the sixties, laws have now been put in place to protect people from discrimination.

However, we are still living in a time where black people are being disproportionately detained by police; candidates with non-English or black sounding names are still being passed over for jobs; ethnic minority families are often trapped in cycles of poverty by having to send their children to impoverished schools. Whatever your view about Michelle Obama’s speech, these are not opinions they are facts.

The recent general election has shown the rise of UKIP supporters and an anti immigration rhetoric. Furthermore, the proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting the UK back decades.

Research from NatCen’s authoritative British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001. The research is in stark contrast to other indicators of social change such as attitudes to same-sex relationships and sex before marriage. By those measures, the UK has become a more accepting, liberal country. However, the findings should come as a wake-up call, as whilst it is apparent that we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

We want to see the next generation have equal access to opportunities, for them to be judged on merit and to pursue their dreams and aspirations without racism chomping at their heels. Why should we have to tell our children they need to be twice as good and work twice as hard to receive the same rewards as our white counterparts. So how do we move forward and inform the next generation of their past and prepare them for their future without contributing to them developing a chip on their shoulder?

What is clear is that these conversations should not be ignored or avoided. Firstly, it is vital for adults to examine their own biases and how they talk to children at school and home. It can be uncomfortable for adults to consider and challenge their own beliefs.

Secondly, by combining messages that alert children to the presence of racism and discrimination with cultural pride messages can protect against the negative effects young people may experience when they hear about racism in isolation. Likewise, Instead of waiting for negative events to occur, parents should be encouraged to raise children of colour with consistent messages about the strengths and accomplishments of their cultural community. For example, by providing a positive cultural message that is associated with better academic performance, will lead to higher self-esteem, resilience, and improved psychological well-being.

In an increasingly multicultural society, our children are going to be exposed to race-related issues at some point. They may witness acts of exclusion or rejection based on race, or will themselves be targets of discrimination. For this reason, parents must provide their children with a framework for understanding differences.

However, it is important to be mindful of emotional and cognitive developmental differences when having conversations to prepare children for incidents of racism. Messages about racial discrimination and racism for all kids should be empowering; emotionally intelligent; teach the importance of diversity and provide the tools and strategies for the child to both learn more about racial injustice and combat it.

Research suggests that by being able to talk about race and racism actually leads to less prejudice in children. Similarly, the more friends of different ethnicities a child has, the more socially skilled the child is likely to become.

Together, this suggests that by providing our kids with the tools to understand and talk about race, we help our kids grow, rather than perpetuate a cycle of discomfort and intolerance of difference.

Therefore, talk to your child about race, and unveil the shroud of confusion from this topic, as within these conversations we can strive to give them a positive sense of themselves and their culture so as to buffer the difficult experiences that are likely to occur.

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