I know that I caught your attention. The mere notion of the term “racist kids” is tough for us to imagine. Yet consider this: racism exists, but it does not perpetuate itself. We help to keep it alive by teaching racism to children by our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are not born racist, but we can be taught to be racist.
“I don’t want black people on my lawn.” I was about 8 years old when I was told we could not cross our neighbor’s yard to get to the other part of the neighborhood. I remember thinking for the first time, “I am black?” My mother taught us that the only identity we needed to know was that we were her kids. This meant that we are to act accordingly. That day, I realized that what I looked like mattered to others for the first time in my life. Over time, it taught me to do the same for others. I began to judge people by their appearance. If they looked like me, it was safe, if they didn’t, beware. The older I got, the worse it became, especially after learning of slavery and other racial atrocities. I began to be hostile in my thoughts towards others who didn’t look like me. I was racist without ever intending to be so. I thank God that this behavior did not last. What changed? My understanding that God is not racist, and He loves us all. Heaven does not have a “black section.” If I am to be a child of God, I needed to see the beauty of all of his creation, not just my own.
This new understanding was tested when I was a social worker for DCF. I met “Jack” when I assigned to his case after he and his brothers were removed from their parents’ care. I learned that his father didn’t like black people, but I never thought about what impact on his father’s view would have on Jack. Until one day, Jack said to me, “I don’t like black people.” I paused, realized that he couldn’t fully appreciate what he was speaking at the moment as it was only six years old. My thoughts, “Do I treat him poorly and write him off as a racist, or do I take the opportunity to undo the damage that had been done?” That day, I decided to show Jack black people were ok. I spent time with Jack and showed him nothing but kindness. We didn’t talk about race or racism. We just learned more about each other. Taking him for ice cream also helped! Over time, Jack came to like me a great deal. He would often greet me with a hug. I later learned that his first “girlfriend” in second grade, was a little girl of color. Jack wasn’t racist, he was taught by his father to be racist, and that needed to be undone.
Parents have the most significant impact on their children. We can pass on our values and beliefs to the next generation easily. They are watching us and learning from us. Are we teaching them love or teaching them to hate? Are we teaching tolerance or discrimination? Are we teaching them the value of every human life or that some people are dispensable? Whatever the lesson, we are responsible for changing the fabric of society, starting with our children. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” – Whitney Houston.
We can change things, one child, at a time.