No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, you will probably attest to the idea that relationships between people in this country appear to be getting more tense. Instead of talking about and seeking to understand our differences, we are digging in our trenches and spouting rhetoric and hatred in the direction of others. Too often, that hatred has been erupting into violence; ugly verbal and physical confrontations that fill our news feeds on at least a weekly basis. Every time I see one of these stories, I am deeply saddened. As an early childhood educator, I can’t help but feel that I have failed our children. And that this failing is manifesting itself in this increase in cultural brutality. I constantly reflect on what we could do better.
One thing we can do is to consider how we talk about differences with our children. It has been said many times that children are born color blind. This is just not true. Just like children distinguish between a blue car and a red car. They notice when someone’s skin is darker than that which they inhabit. Or, when someone’s eyes are shaped different or hair is straighter. But, just like children don’t necessarily see a blue car as inherently better or worse than the blue one – it is the messages that we send about these differences that shape a child’s (who will later become an adult) feelings about them. Children do not learn that there are differences between people. But, they do learn that those differences define a person and that those differences matter in how we judge a person.
There are two petri dishes that breed hatred and distrust. One is that of the messages that a child hears and sees. Racist jokes, stereotypes, a flag that celebrates oppression. The other is the absence of any discourse. When a child asks about those differences and they are hushed, or we say, “we don’t talk about color”, or, “the color of someone’s skin doesn’t matter, we are all the same underneath” they learn that cultural differences are bad and taboo. In this silence a child learns that cultural differences are bad. In that vacuum, racism grows.
Instead, let’s celebrate that which makes us different from each other. Isn’t it wonderful that there are more than 6 billion shades of beautiful? I love the juxtaposition of my husband’s darker skin laying against my own paleness. I revel in the brownness of my children’s faces and how they are a unique mix of their parentage. Why would I want to be color blind and deny myself this beauty? “Yes honey, her skin is lighter, his leg is missing, he has super long hair”… Let’s celebrate that difference and use it as a jumping point to have a conversation so we learn from a different point of view and so we can find the commonalities of the ways we are all the same.
Because, while differences do matter – they are not what defines us, unless we let it. Maybe, as a society we will stop shooting people when we acknowledge that we can never be color blind –but, we can see the color of a person as one of many, many aspects that make a human being amazingly unique and focus on the humanity that can bring us all together. Drew Dudley, in a great Ted Talk said that there is no world, just six billion interpretations of it. If we can change one person’s understanding of the world, we change the world. If we can get one child to see the humanity that shines through the skin, maybe fewer bullets will fly.
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
My book, Uncover The Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing or Amazon
Interested in hearing more? Consider bringing me in as a speaker for your next Professional Development event (you won’t regret it).