Racism is a learned trait. Intolerance is a taught behavior. No one is born with stereotypes in their head. No infant looks around the nursery and thinks, “Oh that baby’s skin is lighter or darker. He is different.” Children learn about race and culture from adults. Their attitudes toward other races and their tolerance for other cultures are molded by parents and other important role models. With that said, if you want to teach your kids to be open-minded, culturally aware and to embrace diversity then you are going have to be aware of a few things:
•What do you say about others? You may not think that they are listening or you may think that they are too young to understand but kids pick things up. They hear when you are angry or when you have been let down. While an adult might hear an intolerant statement and brush it off, knowing that it is not indicative of your character or true beliefs, a child will internalize it and repeat it.
•Talk to them about how the wonder and beauty of different cultures, skin tones and ethnicities of the human race, as a whole. Don’t talk about differences as though they are divisions. Talk about differences as a chance to learn new things and meet new types of people.
•Travel. Sure, it’d be great if you could travel to Asia, Africa, India or South America. It would be nice if you could fly across the country once or twice a year, too. In reality, you may not be able to do that. In that case, travel outside of your neighborhood, outside of your city, outside of your child’s environment. The more that they see and the more that they experience, the more open and tolerant they will be.
•Choose their toys and books with attention to race and culture. Make sure that some of their dolls or figurines are of a different race. Look for books that embrace cultural diversity. See to it that the movies and TV that they watch do not encourage stereotypes or use derogatory language. If you notice something in a book or on TV that you think is intolerant or inappropriate, point it out and explain what you don’t like about it.
•Encourage them to try new foods, new clothing styles, new types of music and more. Never give them the impression that they are not supposed to enjoy other cultures.
Just as racism and intolerance can be taught, so can tolerance and love. The single most important thing that you need to do to ensure that your kids are tolerant and open-minded is to be that way yourself.