Children are aware of what makes them look or act different from their peers. It is inherent, especially because they’re at an age where they are observing literally everything around them. Obviously they’re going to notice if someone is taller or shorter, their gender, eye color, hair color, skin color. The problem is not that children observe and mention the differences between them and their friends, but how we as the adults in their life handle it.
It’s one thing to teach our kids to be respectful and kind to all kids, no matter what they look like or their abilities, but pretending that those differences don’t exist and not teaching your children how to acknowledge them in a healthy, constructive way is a problem.
What’s the Difference? Being Different is Awesome, a new book for kids by father, author, and public speaker Doyin Richards is a great way to introduce your kids to constructive conversations around diversity and how to treat those who are different. We were lucky enough to get to chat with Richards about the book, and why even in 2017, books about diversity and acceptance when it comes to race are so important.
Richards got the idea for this book back in 2015 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. He says, “It seemed like everyone was preoccupied with taking sides along racial lines instead of listening to facts. That’s when I realized that grown-ups of different races really didn’t understand each other, and I wanted to do my part to help break that cycle by targeting our younger generation.”
Everything that has happened in this country since Ferguson means that parents need to be having discussions about race and race relations early and often. These conversations are imperative and cannot be glossed over because they are difficult or uncomfortable. Parents can’t say that they want to teach their children to be better people and then not follow through with the lessons that will actually make them better people.
“How can a child empathize with what another child of a different race or ethnicity experiences when brought up to believe we’re all the same? We’re not the same. Raising colorblind kids teaches them to ignore differences. Raising racially-conscious children (aka, woke children) means to embrace and celebrate differences.” – Doyin Richards, What’s the Difference?
The book is aimed at kids between the ages of 3 and 5 (thought it still holds an important, engaging lesson for older kids) for a reason. Typically, those are the ages when kids begin to have experiences with the world outside of their family for the first time. They are growing more aware of the differences between themselves and their peers and therefore are the most open to the lessons the book aims to teach.
Racism and racial bias are a learned belief system. “The similarity between the ‘wokest’ individual and a racist is they loved everyone as babies. But as time goes on, they start watching the news and hanging out with unenlightened people (or end up being raised by them), and everything changes,” says Doyin. And I agree.
Just look at the way your kid plays on the playground. They will play with any kid who is willing to play with them, regardless of what that child looks like. Personally, my kid just goes for the kid whom he thinks will be the most fun or the most likely to say yes to playing his creative games. Parents may not think that their children are picking up on their perceptions and biases of other people. But young kids are like sponges. Even if we don’t think they’re listening, they’re listening. And watching.
“Kids will play with anyone until a grown-up tells them not to,” says Richards. Bingo.
“You may not be the same on the outside as your friends, but it’s what makes you different that makes you wonderful.” – Doyin Richards, What’s the Difference?
Given the state of the world, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. We as parents, teachers, and caregivers have to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for our children. All of our children. Teaching them to be colorblind is ineffective and dangerous. Teaching them to have empathy and acceptance for kids who aren’t like them is the only way we’re going to change the world. Being different is awesome. Being different is beautiful. We need to celebrate it more. This book will help.