Articles From the August 1994 Unification News
Children and Racism
by Haven Bradford Gow
In his book The Constitutional Logic of Affirmative Action (Duke University Press), Dr. Ronald J. Fiscus, who before his death was professor of political science at Skidmore College, observes: "Life has always been unfair. It is unfair now. And it will always be unfair. People have treated people unfairly through the ages, whether the mechanism has been social class and economic inequality, ethnic or racial or gender-based prejudice, physical appearance, xenophobia, simple thoughtlessness or meanness of spirit, or any of a host of other factors that people have mistakenly believed were valid indicators of how other people should be treated."
According to Mennonite scholar Jody Shearer, author of Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege Toward Racial Reconciliation (Herald Press): "For most white people, this racism business is awfully uncomfortable.... I empathize with people who feel uncomfortable talking about racism. But that hardly seems reason enough to evade the topic. Just as domestic violence and sexual abuse...were not talked about for far too long, so too discussion of racism has remained tightly shut in both ecclesiastical and secular closets."
According to child psychologist Dr. Louise Derman-Sparks, these are ways parents and educators can help young people develop respect for people of different races, religious and cultural backgrounds: demonstrate that you value diversity in the friends you choose and in the people and firms you select for various services; make it clear that someone's racial or religious identity never is an acceptable reason for ridicule or rejection; talk positively about each child's physical characteristics and cultural heritage; respectfully listen to and courteously respond to children's inquiries about themselves and others; teach children to recognize stereotypes and caricatures of different groups; use accurate and fair images in contrast to stereotypical ones, and encourage children to talk positively about the differences; help children understand that injustices can be changed; involve children in steps toward racial and religious harmony and understanding.
Dewayne Horn, a Good Samaritan in Eudora, Arkansas, says he once was a member of the Ku Klux Klan but that he left the KKK because he started to disagree with its philosophy and methods; he says he now is a Christian, and that he believes children can lead the way toward racial understanding and harmony; he states: "Just watch the black and white children playing and going to school together; they don't care if their friends are white or black; they just care about being with one another and sharing common interests. It's only when adults start putting racial bigotry and prejudice in the minds of the children that they begin to think about race. The children can teach the adults about how to learn from, respect and get along with one another."
In this connection, a heartwarming and inspiring news story in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal revealed that black and white children at one elementary school in Memphis were participating in a school program designed to promote racial understanding and harmony; the children discussed their differences and especially all they have in common.
Clearly, Christ is right: if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must possess the purity, innocence and spiritual beauty of children. Christ was talking about children like the ones I recently encountered at the Hodding Carter YMCA in Greenville, Mississippi. Recently, while visiting my aunt Mrs. Lena Wong Yee in Eudora, Arkansas, I traveled to the Hodding Carter YMCA in Greenville, Mississippi to play basketball with our good family friend Danny Snyder. After Danny and I had played basketball for an hour, a young black boy came up to me and asked me to play pool with him. Since he had no one his own age to play any games with him, I asked two white boys to help him learn the game. It was beautiful and inspiring to watch the two friendly and polite white boys teaching a little black child how to play a new game.
On another occasion I played basketball with a charming young girl named Marla. Despite my encouragement, Marla was despondent because she was having difficulty scoring any points. So I asked two boys her own age-one a black boy, the other a white boy-to help her with the game. Together the boys kindly and patiently helped Marla with her dribbling, passing and shooting.
Certainly the best way to overcome racial prejudice and bigotry and foster racial harmony and understanding is to put into practice the basic Christian affirmation that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. In other words, as Christ so trenchantly and eloquently put it: do under others what you would have them do unto you; love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Mr. Gow is a columnist who has published more than 1,000 articles and reviews in over 100 magazines and newspapers.
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