While racism and cultural stereotype seems to be at center stage in our country, We can model and teach our children to appreciate all colors and cultures. Here are some ways we are working on it!
By Will Odom, Contributing Writer (and Erin’s husband!)
Note: This post was written about a previous experience, but it is applicable today.
Today a video reached my Facebook news feed, and I was bothered by what I saw.
Two white girls were given black dolls and reacted very negatively to the gift. One girl even threw the doll on the floor.
I won’t post a link to the video here because I have no desire to give the spectacle any more views than it already has. Some of the comments on the video made me sick to my stomach.
Let me be clear: I do not fault those cute girls for their reaction.
For the most part, they have been taught that response from those around them.
In addition, I don’t really know all the circumstances around the video, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions.
As I watched the video, I only thought about the complete opposite reaction that our own girls have had at receiving dolls with different skin tones or cultures and actually even requesting them.Erin and I both love learning about and experiencing other cultures here in the U.S. and internationally.
In addition to visiting several states, together we have traveled to China, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Canada. Separately, we have been to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Israel, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Interacting with others has changed the way we view the world and its people. Listening to their stories, perspectives, and experiences has changed our own views and helped shape our own thought processes. It has opened our minds to learn, empathize, and understand.
We knew that when we had children, we wanted to raise them with the same appreciation for others…to appreciate all colors and people. Really, this stems from how Jesus loved people, no matter who they were.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
Many, including myself, grew up with the term “colorblind”. The idea that not seeing skin color is somehow a good thing. This tries to ignore color in an effort to promote racial harmony.
This may seem noble, but I have determined that recognizing the splendid array of colors is far more enjoyable and purposeful. Our goal should be not be to say “I see no colors.” Our goal should be to love and celebrate and appreciate all colors.
Ignoring these beautiful characteristics overlooks a central part of who we are and what makes us special.
“We are all different shades of brown…some light, some medium, and some dark,” says Brownicity founder Dr. Lucretia Berry.
When we claim to be colorblind or to “not see someone’s color”, we inadvertently remove a part of life and what has shaped that person. We ignore a part of who they are. Instead, we can enjoy the beauty that God created.
We can honor the color or culture. Give value to that person and their experiences. Educate ourselves and work against racism.
Regardless of skin color, clothes, food, or language, we as parents can instill in our children an acceptance and respect for everyone. We can model by example what that looks like, have conversations, and give them experiences to shape their worldview.
Along with this video and the other cultural issues over that last few months, there are some simple things you can do at home to promote ethnic or cultural awareness, acceptance, and understanding with your children and teach them to appreciate all colors to confront racism with the next generation.
Dolls or Toys
One way that we decided to encourage this awareness was by buying different types of dolls for them to play with.
All three of our girls have red hair, and they all have red-headed dolls that look like them.
However, it is also essential for us that they have dolls that don’t look like them. As such, they have dolls that are African, Asian, Latino, and European.
Our oldest daughter’s favorite doll is Nahji from India*, and our middle child’s favorite doll is Cecile, a black American Girl doll from 1850s New Orleans.
They also have Consuelo from Mexico, Dell from the U.S., and Rahel from Ethiopia as well as others.
(*Note: The Hearts for Hearts girls were out of production but will be re-released in November 2016.)
They love their dolls that share their red hair and fair skin, and they adore princesses like Ariel, Merida, and Anna. Yet, they are equally attached to their dolls that have skin colors of various shades.
It may seem trivial to make such an effort to provide our girls with dolls that look different from them, but we think it is of utmost importance for several reasons.
Children have an uncanny ability to see skin tones for the beautiful colors that God created. They learn much from their parents, including their ideas on race.
It is completely useless to ignore the color we all have. Instead, we should celebrate it, and teach our kids to do the same.
Our children merely see color as part of who that person is, not in a negative light that adults often paint.
My own daughter has referred to one of her friends as having beautiful chocolate skin. It was a compliment and an acknowledgement of God’s beauty in His creation of her friend.
As kids play with dolls, they learn to care for them and love them regardless of how they look. They want to learn more about the ethnic background and acceptance comes naturally.
Some of the dolls we love the most are the Hearts for Hearts dolls. These dolls are based on real girls and include short stories about their lives.
They have also loved Wellie-Wishers and American Girl Dolls like Addy, Kaya, and Josefina. These dolls usually come with books that provide historical background and character lessons.
For the guys, there several heroes who are black or other ethnicities. Such as: Finn from Star Wars, Avengers Falcon and Nick Fury, Justice League Green Lantern and Cyborg, X-Men Storm, and several other action figures.
There are tons of other toys that foster cultural appreciation as well.
The Melissa and Doug Children of the World and Princesses of the World puzzles are two favorites in our house–so much so that we actually glued them together and hung them on the walls.
If your child notices a particular lack of culture or color in their favorite toys, then that also opens the door to bigger conversations and the opportunity to explore new interests.
Books or TV Programs
In addition, some of the other dolls the girls play with also include books that introduce historical or social concepts.
These are great for having conversations with your children. You can compare how things were in the past and how they are today.
The Usborne sticker books Dressing Around the World and Costumes Around the World have kept them occupied for hours as they explore traditional clothing and customs in other countries.
There are numerous other books that support racial reconciliation and cultural acceptance.
Some of the American Girl Dolls, such as Addy, Josefina, and Kaya, are based on historical fictional and can be used for more in-depth conversations and education.
There are books that focus on respecting others, being kind to one another, and self acceptance, like When God Made You and Skin Like Me and I Am Enough. Books like Colorfull and One Big Heart celebrate the colors that God gave us.
Some books like Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss, If I Only Had a Green Nose, Franny’s World of Friends are light-hearted but still provide great opportunities for conversations.
Little Women: Bold Women in Black History and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History are true stories about the amazing, inspiring contributions of black men and women in history
Other books like The Story of Ruth Bridges, Heart and Soul, If a Bus Could Talk, or I am Martin Luther King are bit more weighty but historical and provide great insight. Henry’s Freedom Box is based on the true story Henry Brown, a slave child who mailed himself to freedom.
There are countless television programs or movies that demonstrate cultural understanding and ethnic acceptance.
We just watched the movie Ruby Bridges with our girls, and it sparked some emotional conversations with them.
Dora’s Explorer Girls and Lego Friends are two shows that our girls love. Both shows portray a kaleidoscope of friends sharing life and adventures together.
Other shows like Mira, Royal Detective and Molly of Denali and Maya and Miguel offer characters from other cultures and countries.
I even felt like the movie Trolls: World Tour touched on some of these issues of appreciating our differences.
It goes without saying that as we journey through life, we will make friends from all walks. In doing so, our children can become friends as well.
As they go to school or participate in extracurricular activities, they will rub shoulders with kids with various ethnic backgrounds.
They will play with neighborhood kids — some who look like them, some who have different skin colors, and some from other countries and cultures.
I have read several posts recently from biracial or cross-cultural families. They are struggling with the complexities and challenges of our society. The posts discuss how:
- their kids are always the bad guys in cops and robbers
- neighbors have called the cops on their kids when other neighborhood kids are behaving the exact same way
- some are afraid of racial/cultural stereotyping.
- friends of ours are having conversations with their children about how people may make assumptions based on skin color.
We can all do our part to teach our children to appreciate and accept anyone, no matter how the look. In fact, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
We need to have these conversations with our children. We can foster love and appreciate all colors so they can confront racism with the next generation.
The best we can do is encourage these friendships and allow our kids to appreciate the differences and similarities we share.
I am definitely not one to look for racism in everything, but, I am also not naive enough to think that it is dead. Racism is still very alive and well.
This is not an easy topic to address. It will not be solved overnight. However, we as parents can take steps with our children to ensure that it does not continue with them into the next generation.
Have conversations with your kids. Model it for them. Discuss the hard things and don’t just ignore them. Allow them to ask questions. Listen to the experiences and perspectives of others. Challenge your own hidden prejudices and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal areas where you need to change. True change comes from a heart touched by the love of Christ, and we can demonstrate that love to others through our words and actions.
I definitely do not claim to have all the answers. But, I do know that by raising a generation of children who love each other and appreciate color, we can help work toward a cure for this terrible sickness.
I like the post about kids developing color distinction. Where I worship, there is no color, race, or money distinctions. Raising my kids in this environment really brought home what we learn in the bible. Now that my kids are grown, they have kept that lesson with them, even though it saddens me that they didn’t stay in the faith they were raised in.
My first sentence is wrong. I meant to say that I like your post about how to help kids NOT develop color distinctions. If we don’t work with our kids to root out these negative, worldly ideas…then the world will infuse tjese ideas into them!
Thanks for clarifying and giving your input!
I love this post! My parents did a great job at teaching me to celebrate differences, and my husband and I hope to do the same for our future children. Little things, like dolls of different ethnicities, can make such a huge difference!
I’m glad to hear your parents gave you this foundation that you will pass on as well!
Human beings are like flowers, every flower is beautiful in its own way…and it makes the world interesting that everyone of us is special and different in our own way..God made everything in perfection. Recently I’ve been getting into the Bible, and trying to understand the word deeply, and then the Holy Spirit opened my mind more… when God asked ‘WHERE ARE YOU?’ which is found in my blog ‘God questions man’.
I love the flower analogy! Thanks for sharing, Maggie!
I love that you are purchasing your children dolls that represent different skin colors. This is such a great way to be intentional about dismantling the social, man-made construct of race.
I attended a series last about race and I learned so much. I learned that “ethnic” is a label that is commonly used in America for non-white.
When Americans say “ethnic” foods, for example, it places the food of white people as the standard or the norm and everyone else’s food is different, “ethnic”, exotic, etc. Sociologists call it white
normativity (White American cultural myth that white people don’t have
a culture because what white people do is the norm. Other people have
culture.) In actuality, everyone is apart of an ethnicity. White doesn’t mean the opposite of ethnic. Even the word, “white” is just a
general racial label in our country considering that there are many ethnicities that have “white” skin, but that is a different
conversation altogether. 🙂
I have very curly hair and I used to straighten it all of the time. When I decided to stop straightening my hair years ago and just wear
it naturally curly, I was told by family members that I now had “ethnic” hair. My sister’s straightened hair was always praised and my curly hair was frowned upon.
Education is so powerful! The word “ethnic” shouldn’t be used to describe food, hair, dolls, etc. because it suggests that White Americans are the norm/standard. We all have ethnicity.
I realize your husband wrote this post and I am sure there was no ill intention whatsoever! I only mention this to so that you and you perhaps your readers can grow and learn.
I hope that you read much grace in this message. This is not me pointing the finger at all. It always bothered me when I heard the term ethnic used in this way, and now I know why. Like I mentioned, I just learned this
With much grace,
Just now seeing this comment. Thank you for sharing, Vicki. I love that we are constantly learning and changing the way we view things.
I honestly have never heard “ethnic” defined in such a way. Webster defines ethnic as: “relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.”
I use the term ethnic to describe something that originates from another country or culture, outside of the white culture in the U.S. (which I do agree exists). I don’t see that the word suggests White America is the norm or standard. The word suggest that there are smaller ethnic groups within larger ones. There are smaller subgroups of different racial and culture backgrounds within the white ethnicity of the U.S. That does not make white ethnicity superior (though some try to make it so), but again, I am a white American, so it may be something I need to delve into and research further.
On the other hand, I think that we can place labels and create issues where there aren’t necessarily any. We can twist words to mean something they never were intended to mean. I will be interested in researching this a little further.