How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice
Kids Do Experience Hate (Chapter 1 of Hate Hurts)
am a brown-skinned girl, a mixture of Spanish, Japanese, and
Filipino, who was born in San Francisco. When I started kindergarten,
my family lived right in the city and my classmates were of
all different colors and cultures. We all got along.
first grade, I moved to the suburbs, and suddenly everyone
but me was white. The kids in my class teased me and kept
asking me what I was. Finally, I asked my mom, `What am I?'
mom said, `You are a cosmopolitan a person of the world.'
went back to school and told my classmates, `I am a cosmopolitan.
That means I am a person of the world.' "My classmates
were impressed that I knew such a big word. They stopped teasing
me and started treating me with respect. Maybe they wanted
to be cosmopolitans, too."
If only it were always
that simple. If only we could easily eliminate the pain our children
our children experience when what makes them different also makes
them the victim of teasing or even more serious acts of hate.
Although the above story is true, it does not reflect the experiences
most of us have had when we've tried to help our children
understand that being different does not make them better or worse
that others -- just different. Most parents have faced
this task without preparation. Although we want to help our
children feel good about who an what they are and to value diversity,
we often have little in the way of explanations or recommendations
that will ease their pain.
Every day, in our cities
and suburbs, small towns and countryside, in our classrooms and
playgrounds and on our streets, our children are experiencing incidents
and feelings such as those given below -the words and acts of prejudice
and their effects, from the most subtle to the most violent:
I first came to this country, I had a problem speaking English
correctly. I had an accent and they made fun of it."
were talking about ice-skating. I was hoping they would
ask me to go with them. But they said, 'She can't ice-skate,
she's Chinese.' (Well, I'm actually Korean, but they thought
I was Chinese.) I bet I was probably better at skating than
them - I was in group skating for two years. But they said,
`Chinese don't like sports. They don't want to go out. All
they want to do is school. They want to look good in front
two girls came along and they, like, pushed me out of the
way. They just have these moods where one day they, like,
really feel like beating somebody up, so they find a white
girl who's walking around, and they do."
Kids who have been the
victims of prejudice not only suffer deeply themselves, they may
also start causing others to suffer in return. Some report on how
their own feelings and behavior toward "different" people
changed after they'd been hurt:
got punched in the face, but that didn't really hurt me.
The wounds heal. But they kept on calling me spic through
the whole thing. I walk in the street and I feel lower.
this prejudice is starting to affect the way I feel about
other people. I'm starting to be prejudiced myself."
actually spit in my sandwich . . . and said something like,
`I bet you're really hungry now, right? I bet you're really
hungry now, black nigger - right? Right?'
been through so much where prejudice is concerned, right
now it's at the boiling point. It's, like, don't even think
it . . . don't start it. You go your way and I'll go mine.
Just leave me alone."
told me, `My mother said I can't trust black people. I'm
supposed to hate black people.' "After a while I hated
anyone who wasn't my color, and I was a bully all of a sudden."
when the kids single out a person and they start making
fun of him, at first I object and I don't take part in it.
But then, after a while, I start: thinking like them and
I laugh, too. Prejudice is sort of contagious."
Prejudice is contagious.
When people are afraid or have actually been hurt, it may be a natural
response to want to hurt back. But hurting one another only escalates
the hatred and violence - and the differences don't go away. We
live in a world of differences -different races, religions, cultures,
sexual orientations, abilities. The differences can seem strange
and overwhelming, even frightening. In an effort to cope, we may
all find ourselves wanting just to stay with. "our own kind,"
avoiding people who aren't like us, sometimes resorting to hurtful
words and actions ourselves to manage our fears. At the beginning
of this new century and millennium, we must deal with our differences
- in schools and workplaces, in books and newspapers, on television
and online, even in our own families.
Prejudice is only one
way of dealing with differences. Instead, we can learn to respect
differences, to see them as a source of strength in our lives and
society, even celebrate them. In place of prejudice, we can teach
acceptance and understanding. Meeting this challenge requires both
preparation and practice.
Projects such as ADL's
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute have offered training and materials
to hundreds of thousands of educators, thus reaching millions of
students. As parents, we must reinforce their message -- we must
bring it home to our dinner tables and be sure that our children
This book offers you,
as the primary influences in your children's lives, basic principles,
skills, and strategies, along with. real-life scenarios, to help
you teach them to turn the fear and pain of prejudice into the courage
and cooperation of understanding and respect.
In Part One, we will
show you how children perceive differences at successive stages
of their development. Our natural individual differences tend to
become generalized into stereotypes of group differences. We explain
how we can help ourselves and our children appreciate differences
and resist forming biases about them. We offer guidance that can
from causing us to hurt or hate one another.
Two, we give you true stories about children of different ages and
backgrounds. The kids have been either the objects or the perpetrators
of hateful words and actions, or they have observed or challenged
hate directed at someone else. Here we offer specific advice on
how to respond when your children face similar situations. Whatever
role your child has played, you'll find helpful suggestions.
In Part Three, we provide
guidelines for challenging and resisting biased material and information
in schools, books, movies, on television, and online.
At the end of the book
is a list of resources, including organizations and Web sites, reference
books, and age appropriate children's books, to aid you in continuing
your efforts to close the book on hate.