I watched a short video where an interviewer sat down to ask five little black girls their opinions about two different dolls—one white, and one black. I saw this video and I was disturbed. If your culture has not been colonized, it is hard for many to understand exactly how it leaves a long-lasting effect on new generations—how ideas have been ingrained in people's minds from an early age.
One example is how many colonized cultures are losing access to their own languages. Throughout history, there is a clear record of those in power indoctrinating the cultures they wish to subdue. It was the colonizer's way of cutting their ties with their culture and their history and a form of control. Because of this, newer generations are still suffering from these effects. Why do we have so many countries, so far from Spain, speaking Spanish? Identities and cultures have been erased, and many are still disappearing to this day.
The interviewer asks the little girls, "Which doll do you prefer the most?" Each time the answer is different, but the message is the same... "This one [the white doll], because my sister only plays with her white dolls," or "I like her [the white doll's] blue eyes." The interviewer then asks, "Which doll is the least attractive of the two?" Again, the children have similar responses and picked the black doll. One little girl even said, "Because I don't like so much black... and when I grow up, I am going to use creams that will make me look white."
It is heartbreaking, seeing how cultures have been forced into indoctrination that is still so prevalent to this day. We must work to educate and be more inclusive at home and in the communities, we build in order to create more harmonious relations.
People exist as members of a culture. No one person is without culture. In forcing someone to give up pieces of themselves, like language, or how they see themselves, you are destroying the ties to their culture. We must devote ourselves to becoming more culturally conscious members of the world.
It starts in childhood.
One small step to take would be to talk to our children about unconscious bias. It is already a common topic for a lot of minority families, but it is a topic every parent or guardian should discuss with their children to teach them early on that it is not a taboo topic. This helps children understand, respect, and appreciate the differences between people and builds empathy and compassion for those who are different from them.
The primary place children start to develop biases from is home, and after that, their schools. These places are where children first start to develop ideas and critical thinking skills. What they are exposed to at school and in their homes greatly affects the ideas they carry with them as they grow. Staying silent can teach that stereotypes or judgements that come from biases may not matter or that it is someone else’s problem and many children do not have that privilege.
We must take active roles to overcome our unconscious biases and teach children about history and why it still matters today.
The first thing to do is to become educated yourself. While this doesn’t have to be an intensive process, you should have the facts as this allows you to be better equipped to answer any questions your child might have about history or current events. I also urge you to be honest. It is okay to say that you do not have all the answers. Subjects surrounding biases and the stereotypes and judgements that stem from them can lead to heavy topics but being honest offers a space where you and your child can learn and discuss these topics together. Creating an open space where they can feel comfortable bringing up difficult topics can benefit them in more ways than one and strengthen the relationship you have together.
Know that you do not have to overwhelm your child with heavy topics or saturate them with too much information. Because of the harsh reality of history, there are many topics that are not age-appropriate for children of younger ages. Start by stating things simply with practical examples from everyday life. Remember to be honest about what has happened but know you do not need to offer more information than they need.
Start by talking about the differences between right and wrong and how people are supposed to treat others. Establish a sense of fairness they can always come back to. When using practical examples, relate them to things easy for them to understand, like school or instances of play.
You can later ask questions about how they would feel if they were in situations where they would not be treated fairly and then connect these questions to real-life examples of groups of people who have been discriminated against or stereotyped. This could then lead to the discussion of what to do in a situation where they recognize someone is being treated unfairly.
The older your child gets, the more information and outside influences they will garner. Make sure to speak to your child at different ages with different levels of understanding. Repeatedly bringing up unconscious biases and discussing them can help your child think critically about social systems and societal norms, how they themselves fit into the bigger picture, and how those around them are affected by it.
Be sure to discuss the media together. With the flow of information being so free, there is also space for misinformation. Ask your child what they know or have learned, what opinions or topics they feel strongly about, and discuss them together.
While discussions are always helpful, it is also beneficial to go out and introduce other cultures to your child. Exploring foods, literature, films, and music and helping your child understand why these aspects of culture are important to different groups of people around the world can help decrease the prejudice these people face. Celebrating differences is a great way to showcase how to respect people no matter what they look like, what language they speak, what religion they may practice, and any other numerous differences people have. Learning about various cultures, especially when pertaining to the arts, can also breed more discussions such as how and why certain groups of people are depicted in specific lights or how stereotypes can affect unconscious biases.
Children do not naturally discriminate. It is a learned behavior instilled into them through teachings, whether that be from social cues by bigoted parties or from intolerant family members. It should be our job to encourage critical thinking as children grow to hopefully bring about more culturally conscious generations who value equality, respect, and more harmonious relations.