Diversity Dilemma
August 20th, 2010

The Midwest is neither Manhattan nor San Francisco nor Phoenix.  Most of the people I see on a daily basis look an awful lot like me (minus the freckles, usually).  Because of this GAP and I feel that we have a pretty strong imperative to make sure that we raise our family in a way that exposes them to different races, religions, backgrounds, and customs.  Not everyone is a white, Midwestern, Episcopalian, with a graduate degree.  In fact, the sweeping majority are none of those things. 

So we talk a lot about how to accomplish this.  How do you expose your children to a broad range of experiences without treating that exposure like a museum trip?  How do you maintain a variety of relationships without treading down that dangerous path of filling quotas?  And perhaps most importantly in the early years, how do you talk to your kids about diversity in a way that they can understand yet doesn’t make you cringe.

As adults we speak about diversity in the most politically correct terms.  There are times when such phrasing is helpful in navigating what can be a minefield of potential faux pas.  However, there are also times when diluting our language to placate the broadest range of listeners renders it impotent.  We find that we simply cannot say the thing we mean to say.  This pitfall is apparently (and not surprisingly, when you think about it) quite treacherous when talking to children. 

I came across this article earlier in the week and was both surprised and comforted by its message.  Based on some of the key takeaways listed I can tell that we might well be misguided by our best intentions.  Abstract and politically correct language is hard to interpret and understand.  And silence isn’t silent at all.  To quote the author:

  • Children’s minds start categorizing the world as early as they can identify pictures on a page and if we avoid discussing racial differences when they become evident, it becomes something they learn should not be spoken about — that it is taboo.
  • As parents to young children, we should talk about race the same way that we discuss gender. In other words, comparable to how we say, “Both boys and girls can be doctors,” so should we speak about racial differences.
  • We also need to be specific in how we speak with our children about race. For example, to say, “Everyone should be treated equally,” is not clear enough to children about what we are referring to.

I’m confident that I will find some way to fumble this issue; probably many ways.  So I am grateful for tactical guidance like this.  I’m inclined to believe that we complicate many things that needn’t be.  Diversity is complex enough without the added layers of my own baggage and insecurity.  Anything that can assuage those fears will always be a welcome addition to my parenting toolkit.

4 Responses to “Diversity Dilemma”

  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    What an important post. Diversity, and exposure to it, is so important. I take this diversity for granted because I live in NYC and it is a fact of life here. I so applaud you for thinking about this with respect to your own situation and your own son. You are a thoughtful mom indeed :)

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Well, you are definitely right that it starts early. On the first day of pre-school, when I went into the classroom to pick up Miss D., a little blond girl looked at me, looked at D. and said, “is she adopted?”

    I had no words for a minute, there.

  3. Anne Says:

    It’s good you’re thinking about this. I think you’re right that does kids a dis-service to say “everyone’s the same”…that simply devalues the rich cultural differences that make life and people interesting. I don’t have a solution, but the fact you’re thinking about it is the first step.

    Also…I think it’s really important to also familiarize a kid with his or her own ethnic background. I think when people try to expose their children to every ethnic heritage OTHER than your own, it’s sad and leaves a kid without a sense of ethnic heritage. I really appreciate the fact that our parents took us to Highland games and fed us bangers and mash.

    And…as a side note…diversity goes beyond color or religion. I think kids should also be aware of class differences too, and how to respond when those arise. You (and therefore they) may know people who are plenty diverse in terms of race or religion, but when it comes time for them to interact with a family of non-graduate-degrees, or even college educations, do they know how to respond and remain open?

  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Such an important topic. My kids have been raised in a very diverse area, and are themselves children of two religious backgrounds and two countries. Growing up in the midst of diversity renders it a non-event (isn’t that good news?) – kids gravitate to those they enjoy for a number of reasons – some for their smarts, some for their humor, some for their social skill, some for shared interests.

    I don’t think there’s a magic formula for raising tolerant and open-minded kids when you live in an area with less diversity. But if parents themselves are open and communicative, that has to be a good start.

    I also believe strongly that if you can expose your kids to other countries, other ways, it’s all good.