Is Racism natural (and why reading an article before commenting is a good idea)

Obviously not.  Newsweek's cover on Sept. 5 2009 raised the question if children are born racist to be deliberately provocative. The letters to the editor mostly conveyed that the writers didn’t read the article.  My fellow bloggers who are top ranked on Google don’t seem to have read it either – because the article clearly gave anyone who cares about eliminating racism clear actions to move towards that goal.  Apparently Maureen Dowd and Rush Limbaugh also didn't read the article.  If you do nothing else with this post - read the article.  It inspired me to engage with my children on the topic of race.

Children are natural sorters.  It’s ingrained in our brains to sort everything – including people.  We sort by gender and we sort by age and we sort by color.  Of course, society and family assigns values to the sorting – but the fact is, it’s just a sort.  That’s what children are born to do and any effort to tell children not to sort is both confusing (sorting things like numbers, blocks, foods are okay, but other sorting is bad) and fruitless.

The Newsweek article draws on considerable research to educate readers about WHEN to actually talk about race.  The main takeaway for me was that we have to talk about race with our children pretty much as soon as they are aware that they are sorting – around age 3.   In fact, the research showed that society is going to educate our children for us by the time they are 7.  Small window to wire in our values.

Inspired by this research and certain that I haven’t explicitly discussed race with my boys, I brought it up on the way to school.  Of course they knew that people come in all colors and they were fast to tell me about how they are friends at school with children who have different skin tone than their own (different religions too, but that wasn’t our talk). They wanted to share their confusion about the story of Rosa Parks and why anyone ever thought it was okay to make certain people sit in the back of the bus or train because of the color of their skin.  They believed that was just unfair.

We talked about the character of a person – their values and actions – being so much more important than any difference of color, religion, gender (which I had to explain) or age.  It was actually a very easy conversation and one we’ll have again from time to time.

The pundits who seek to agitate for ratings are clearly not reading the let's be careful how much merit we give their opinions - another value we teach our children is that they are entitled to their own opinion as long as it is informed and educated. Simple fear-mongering and agitating is just wrong.

Have you talked with your child about race or any other value in the sorting continuum?  If not, when?