How do you talk to your children about racism? Has the recent events in America prompted a conversation with your children? I hope it has, because this is your opportunity as a father to do the right thing and teach your children that hatred and prejudice are wrong and have no place.
Racism is learned.
Children are not born with hate for people due to skin colour, race, or even language. They are taught this behavior, either at home or on the playground. As a parent I feel that the responsibility rests on our shoulders to teach our sons and daughters how to treat people with dignity and respect.
My son, who is only 7 years old, asked me why there were “very mean and angry people” with torches on the news. Rather than be stumped by this question and fumble over meaningless excuses, I remembered the man who taught me right from wrong and channeled those lessons from my Grandfather, and I hope perhaps if there are some of you fathers who need guidance can use this advice: Tell Them The Damn Truth!
We mince words to often and avoid the heart of this issue. I told my son exactly what he was seeing:
“They are people who don’t like other people who don’t look like them, or come from other countries. They are wrong.”
My son, like many children his age learning about the world asked, “Which Countries?”
“Countries like Syria, China, or India…”
“But my friend is from India and she is really nice! They really sound like a bunch of bullies! We need to stop them now!”
And to me, that’s a parenting win. We have taught my eldest son from the moment he started interacting with other children to be inclusive and stand up for what’s right, always. I don’t hide my feelings when I believe something is wrong, and I’m glad that has rubbed off on my little doppelganger.
“We should fight them, Daddy.”
The slope gets slippery here, but don’t back off:
“Yes son, we should and we do. We fight them everyday by saying that they are wrong. We fight them by telling them we don’t believe what they believe is right. We never raise our fists first. We use our words, and we act in a way that helps people or protects people. Always.”
Not to sound preachy here Dads, but if you haven’t said this to your children yet, you need to. Make some time to actually BE the role model your child needs.
You are a god-damned Canadian
When I was younger I really wanted to learn how to speak Serbian. As soon as I discovered part of my heritage I became a little consumed by connecting my identity to it. This next lesson my Grandfather taught me set the foundation for how I teach my son, and generally how I feel about heritage.
“You are a God-Damned Canadian. You speak English and French.”
For him, escaping the past was a way of eliminating a cycle of hatred and violence that has gone on for generations. We abandoned our past and embraced the future in a place where everyone was welcome and everyone could be safe. He would never teach me the old language, and I feel better for it actually.
This is truly my country. It is someone else’s country too. I feel that we can teach each other to love and respect this place, and each other. Far too often I find that when we identify too much with cultural heritage we start drawing the lines that divide us. This is where our children learn a lot of this nonsense. I get it, you’re really proud to be Scottish, Irish, German, Chinese, Indian. You SHOULD be proud of all the struggles and achievements your ancestors have made to bring you here, one of the greatest countries in the world. You can be proud all the way up to the point where your pride places someone else beneath you. If you have to put someone down to lift yourself up what you’re doing is wrong. Plain and simple.
My son doesn’t even understand the term “white”. We never taught it to him. Actually, he believes he’s pink, and he is comfortable with that. The first time he mentioned the colour of someone’s skin he identified it as “brown” not because he was better or different, but because that is the actually colour he has seen. I felt my discomfort over what he was saying until I realized the innocence of it. We as adults have learned the semiotics of prejudice and suffer from it. It is on us to help avoid teaching this to our children, and guide them to a better understanding. If my son is truly ever interested in a history lesson on the subject of his heritage I will tell him, but if he ever pursues any sort of negative flag waving I will tell him what I was told in my youth;
“You’re a God Damned Canadian.”
And you know what? So are lots of other people too. Whether they pray to the same god, wear the same clothes, speak the same language, or like the same hockey team. They don’t need a link to some colonial past to need to feel welcome and accepted. They are people just like you, and your children need to see you treat them that way.
David Cook, DCL Member