By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health
“Hate. That is by far the greatest danger we face today”.
– Peter Mansbridge, U of C Convocation address, 2017
It’s been an interesting time in Alberta these past few months with respect to concerns about racism and hate-based crimes – from grade nine students at an exclusive private school in Okotoks to an anti-Muslim protest at Calgary City Hall. These two events also came on the heels of a rash of recent “hate crimes” across Calgary.
In the wake of the Manchester bombing, talking about racism, fear and hate is the only way to combat such reactionary events. These are important discussions to have in our homes and with our children because without them we can’t take responsibility for making our communities safer. As the familiar saying goes, an eye for eye leaves the whole world blind.
No one wants to think they are racist or be accused of racism; however, few are comfortable talking about it. Part of the problem is that not talking, whether it be out of embarrassment, discomfort or just lack of knowledge, is what perpetuates racism in our communities and keeps us from working towards better social outcomes. Many parents indicate they understand that prejudice, inequity and hatred are all important issues, but they don’t feel confident discussing them with their children.
In this two-part blog post, we’d like to offer some suggestions with the hope that some of those barriers for parents can be lifted. We do this because our kids learn first at home, then out in society – coming back again to figure out what’s real. Families will always be an important site for value building.
So where should you start?
PART ONE: What every parent needs to know about racism and hate
Start early: We aren’t born racist. Society, media and peers play a role in shaping how we think and feel about others, but the most influential people are parents and family members at home. What are we teaching when we talk about social problems at the dinner table? What attitudes are being conveyed when we walk by a homeless person and look the other way? What ways of interacting are we giving permission for when we speak pejoratively about a neighbour’s size, ethnicity, gender or religion? We have to ask ourselves – are our children learning how to be part of the problem (“mind your own business”, “don’t take that on”, “don’t hang out with kids who are different”, etc.) or part of the solution (“don’t ever stand by and let someone get hurt”, “speak up or go for help”, etc.).
Understand the power of belief: When a colleague’s 5-year-old can heartbreakingly inquire, “Mommy, do I have a skin colour that will make police shoot me?”, one is faced with the stark reality of what messages are being conveyed to young children. In a powerful demonstration, CNN recreated a study from the 1940s in 2010, and found shockingly similar results about how children internalized messages about good and bad connected to skin colour. Here is a link to a short video that will both give you the gist and might even bring a tear to your eye.
Understand your own biases: Maybe you don’t feel comfortable with mixed marriages or homosexuality. Maybe your daughter has a friend who is very overweight and you are affected by that. Perhaps your son is invited to a Muslim friend’s celebration. Maybe you want to be open to difference, but find it very hard. Perhaps you are worried that if you promote acceptance in these situations, your child will also think this is an option for them. It is important for parents to understand where they learned these beliefs about difference, as well as determine if they are promoting space in their child’s life to have feelings that are different than your own.
Do more: As this tongue in cheek Ad campaign from New Zealand asks, “What do you give to racism?” It is important to consider the ways in which individuals ‘feed’ racist or hateful attitudes by being complicit. Don’t reward meanness in your children (or others). Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference when a child who you think has an incredible sarcastic wit is actually hurting another. It’s great to be funny, but it’s only real talent if you can do so without hurting someone else’s feelings. Making fun of others should never be a goal. Respect starts with you.
Call racism and hate talk what it is: It’s not just bullying. It cannot be excused as simply ignorance. Racism and hate talk are insidious ways in which our ideas about ‘the other’ get played out. If you want to know how privileged (or not) you are, just think about the things that you do (or do not) have to worry about: employment, the pronunciation of your name, dealing with the police and feeling safe in your community, just to name a few examples.
Be sure to stay tuned for PART TWO of our look at what can be done about racism and hate, and how parents can deal with these tough, important issues with their children.
Think your child or family is being impacted by racism or other forms of hate-based harm? Have you noticed your child(ren) having trouble eating, sleeping, not wanting to go to school, worried about safety in the world? We’re here to help. Please call our counsellors at our 24/7 Crisis Counselling Line: 403-299-9699 or toll-free line: 1-800-563-6106.