Children are really the greatest teachers about our nature, life and the world. From an early stage you can observe the origins of all kinds of tricks, techniques and methods that we employ to navigate life in our later years.
Lately I’ve started to notice how kids negotiate positions in the playground…their world. Who the leaders are and who are followers. More often than never the leaders are rarely the kindest or nicest of the group, in fact it is as if the leaders have to give the impression that they are untouchable.
They dare to wear their caps backwards, refuse to wear gloves and even go as far as picking on the younger or meeker ones to show their own strength and coolness.
This is not at all different to what we see in the Big wide world of grown ups.
Our four year old son has come of an age where his self awareness is dawning. He has started to notice all kinds of details about himself, other people and his surroundings. Being a child he naturally has an enquiring mind and is pretty vocal about his observations and findings. Often he says something that makes you stop and think- really consider why certain things happen a certain way. Some of the things he says are hilarious and others are disturbing to say the least. What kids also offer us is a glimpse of the kind of world we’re living in.
Recently our boy has had a mild fixation with Africa, coming from Africa and being African. This of course did not come as a surprise as he has always been encouraged to take an interest in the world map and the globe. His awareness of different continents was awakened a long time back, before he could even comprehend what it means to be African.
His idea of Africa have also mainly been shaped by various children’s programmes such as Madagascar, The Lion King etc, so he, like most kids his age who do not live in Africa, associates Africa with Lions, zebras and all sorts of other wild animals. His mates at the playground also associate the African continent with what the media has shown them Africa to be.
The parents however, have got much more different ideas and opinions of Africa, what is means to be African in a western country, and what Africans are about. Their opinions might also in part be shaped by how the media portrays Africa . In the true style of parents of young children, they say their opinions whether positive or negative, ever so freely in front of their children , not taking into consideration that children are like sponges-they have the capacity to absorb a great many things.
A few weeks back it came to our attention that at the play ground some of the kids our son plays with had told him ‘to go back to where he came from’.
You can imagine the range of emotions one goes through at hearing such a statement being said by an innocent four year old. Disturbed as we were, we fully realised that these utterances could not have come from the minds of other four year olds. Those kids cannot even comprehend the full extent of what they had said …so how does one address a matter such as this? Clearly those children must have heard these things being said either at home from parents or relatives or even older siblings. The question then became, how do we teach our child to navigate the world filled with prejudice, hate and often bigotry. How do we protect him from hateful encounters that he may experience? At the age of four, how do we as parents make him understand what these things mean?
This was for us a wakeup call of note. This meant that as parents to our child we have the responsibility to teach him while still at a tender age, that there are such things as racial disparities, and that some people are inclined to have hateful feelings about people who are different to them. Also we have the responsibility to teach this child to have unshakeable confidence in himself, who he is and where he comes from. Naturally these lessons would have been taught to him either way as he needs to be prepared for living this life.But….
Who would have thought that such lessons would need to begin at such a young age?
There is only so much that can be done with regards to the here mentioned incident, the responsible children who had said this to our boy could be called to task, they also need to be talked to about difference and not ‘othering’, the teachers too need to be made aware of such occurrences so that they can also know that it has become necessary to speak openly about issues of racial differences. We could also talk to our son about acceptance of himself and of others.
There are a number of things that could be done to try and deal with this matter.
Having said all that, this still does not ,in my opinion address the core of the problem. The parents. What about the parents from whom I believe these opinions of racial prejudice have come from? Will they be spoken to ? if so by whom? Whose responsibility is it? While the teachers are addressing the children and teaching them about acceptance, who will teach parents not to poison their children with their negative ideas? There might not be an answer to any of these questions, for even though we all say we live and learn, some people are not that eager to change their ways.
Unfortunately, as things stand, one can only hope that the tomorrow that our young ones find themselves in will a better one. Hopefully difference will become a thing to learn from and to celebrate, rather than to dislike or feel threatened by.
I’m no expert at these matters and have definitely got no answers to offer, but I can only live in hope. Just like my parents before me lived in the hope that there would be a better future for us when we grew up. Now that I’m all grown up it appears the cycle continues…