"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." These are the famous words spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in his "I Have a Dream" speech as part of the march on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html
Most reading this article have heard these words spoken many times in their life.These words are powerful, uplifting and encouraging. They inspire us to believe for more. They remind us that people are so much more than their skin color, their height or their weight.
I agree with these words and have echoed them many times. The first time was in a speech as a 5th grader at a school assembly in 1968. I have taught my children these values. Being "colorblind" is considered admirable and proper. My question is whether being colorblind is what serves our children best. Many have taught our kids that other kids are not different than anyone else. We want our kids to be nice to all kids or at least not to be mean because of ethnicity. But perhaps we do our children a disservice by telling them not to consider ethnicity. Considering the times of Dr. Kings's words when people were discriminated against because of skin color these words were salient. But in our attempt to steer clear of the sins of the past have we moved too far.
I was in a meeting discussing racial partnerships. One gentleman spoke up and said, "I see everybody the same. I don't treat anyone any different." It was obvious that he felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that he could say this. The problem is being treated the same does not mean you are being treated properly. Treating everyone the same means to ignore the differences in people and their background. When we ignore or turn a blind eye to issues of ethnicity we are saying I'm not going to take the time to consider that you are different from me and that I may need to do a little more to be respectful of your culture as I want you to be of mine. It can also cause us to miss acts of racism done to others.
In a study by the New Kellogg School it was determined that teaching a 'colorblind' approach to racial diversity could have a detrimental effect upon children. The article entitled, "In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality" http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/in-blind-pursuit-of-racial-equality-103516464.html asserts that this approach of a colorblind world frustrates the development of racial sensitivity in kids. In fact, this approach actually desensitizes children in identifying racism. The study looked to how children ages 8-11 reacted to scenarios of racial bias with a colorblind approach to diversity as opposed to one which highlighted the need to recognize and celebrate diversity. The study showed children in the colorblind approach either did not notice acts of racial bias or down played them when sharing them with an adult.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that while Dr. King's statement still rings true it does not mean that we should ignore color and culture in how we approach people, but we just should not judge their worth from that. In fact, these aspects are crucial for developing a sense of the person. As a Black person growing up in the inner city in the 70's, the dynamics of my culture are essential to the make up of who I am. The strong sense of family, history and all that I have experienced go into who I am. I don't want to ignore that to fit into a category that makes it easier for someone to define me based solely on their values and perceptions.
Helping children develop this broader sense of people and the world starts where all learning starts; in the home. I think there are a few basic things parents can do to sensitize their kids to respecting the culture of others. Here are a few:
1. Model It
Kids whether young or adult most often model what they see at home. If the parents recognize and celebrate diversity the children will also. Now this does not mean having to wear a dashiki, get corn roles or wear a turban or something. Simply taking teachable moments to show appreciation for diversity and pointing it out to kids. Consider how you talk about your friends or acquaintances of other cultures in front of your kids. They will pick it up and most likely begin to do the same things.
2. Correct The Bad Stuff and Celebrate the Good Stuff
Now let's just face it. Our kids will hear stuff and repeat it. When they repeat stuff that they hear from friends or relatives that hows a lack of respect it is important to correct it immediately and to explain why it is wrong to say it. There are times when we need to correct each other or even ourselves. If we say something in front of our kids or even fail to address something in front of our kids that shows an insensitivity we need to correct it as well. They need to know some stuff just isn't tolerated in your home or around you. And parents need to be on the same page on this one. If dad laughs at it and mom doesn't it sends mixed signals.
Its amazing the stuff we can learn from our kids about this. Many times they are taught to celebrate diversity in school and they can even be more sensitized to it than us. The next time you make that off the cuff joke about your-different-looking-than-you-neighbors and your kids corrects you on it simply admit to it and tell them they are right. This will go along way in helping how both of you address these things and give them more confidence to confront stuff when they are away from you.
We don't live in a perfect world. There is racism, sexism, homophobia and all kids of terrible ways people treat each other. However, if we can start with our own kids to not just consider someone's character, but also their culture we can help them live a more fruitful and fulfilling life.
Yes, there is a dream. And the power of a dream is not only that it outlived the dreamer, but that it reaches more broadly than the dreamer imagined.