As we celebrate Black History month in February, it’s a perfect time to reflect on how necessary it is to teach our children the importance of diversity and cultural awareness.
According to census data, since 1990, the proportion of minorities in East King County has nearly tripled, going from 14.7 percent of the population in 1990, to 28.3 percent in 2000, to 40.8 percent in 2010. The projections indicate that ethnic minorities will be the majority population in East King County in a very short time. In some areas of Bellevue, ethnic minorities already make up more than 60 percent of the population. Diversity is a significant part of our community.
While many parents of color talk openly and frequently about race, research found that the majority of white parents don’t. If they do, it’s often in a “color-blind,” equality approach, which misses the opportunity to engage our children in deeper discussions around our differences.
At Youth Eastside Services, we find that many children are dealing with bullying, aggressive behavior and negative comments related to their differences or the differences in others. We are seeing a growing need for conversations around diversity, social justice, racism and stereotypes to begin at an earlier age.
The following are a few tips for how parents can approach the topic of diversity with younger children:
Notice the differences. Talk about differences you and your child notice while you watch movies, read books or see people in your community. Privately point out different skin colors, ages, genders, weight, abilities, clothing, languages and more. Help them build a vocabulary around the differences they see.
Respond to their questions. Avoiding questions implies that differences are shameful or embarrassing to discuss. Instead, acknowledge that you also recognize the difference and give a simple, neutral answer. If you don’t know the answer, simply say you don’t know and ask your child what they think the answer is.
Lead by example. While talking about diversity and social justice is important, words aren’t enough when it comes to teaching our kids. Think about the example you’re setting. How are you treating people who are different? How do you talk about them at home? Do you avoid difficult conversations about differences? As you become more comfortable talking about diversity, your child will also be more comfortable addressing social situations.
Learn about other cultures. With your child, read books about different cultures, visit museums or celebrate different cultural celebrations with food, music, art and songs. Use these moments as a starting point to talk about the differences in cultures and answer or research any questions that come up.
As your children grow older, continue these discussions and include more robust topics such as inequality, racism, homophobia and stereotypes. Help them understand when things are unfair and wrong and how they can make an impact or change situations for the better.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director at Youth Eastside Services.