Even in the year 2013, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are very personal to me, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
For those who have been following me for a while, you know about the issues that I have had with my daughter and the color of her skin.
A few weeks ago my daughter said, “I wish I were white. Why did God have to make black people?”
Once again, I thought, “Oh Lord, I work in diversity and I can’t even explain this simple stuff to my daughter.” I told her, “The President of the United States is black. He is the most powerful man in the world, so there is nothing wrong with black people.” I forgot that when her elementary school voted for the President, all of the other children voted for Barack Obama, but she voted for Mitt Romney…
Bad example– let me try this again. Before I could offer another excuse, she began saying, “I’m brown, DJ’s brown, Sam’s brown, but everyone else in our house is black.” My husband and I were speechless.
I began talking to other diversity professionals, who gave me great advice! The other day, my daughter even asked for a black Barbie doll. This is wonderful progress considering the fact that in the past, she scorned at those little dolls because, “they don’t look like me.” She was happy to pick up a white doll. I thought to myself, “Do white little girls ever pick up a black Barbie? I hope so. I’m starting to feel like I’m doing something wrong here.”
Through my discussions with other mothers, I have found that this is still a huge issue. One parent told me that her son became hysterical when she informed him that he was NOT white. He was crying, yelling and rolling around on the floor– she didn’t know what to do.
I don’t think that this is a problem for children who grow up in racially diverse areas. For instance, when my daughter spoke to her cousin in Washington, DC, she asked, “Do you have any brown friends?” My 6-year old niece started laughing at the word, ‘brown’. She said, “Of course, silly.”
The issue is, there are still pockets of America that are not very diverse. The key is to expose children, all children (not just black and white, but Asian, Hispanic, African, etc.) to different people. My husband, Derwin, made a comment recently that Sesame Street still has rappers who wear big gold chains. This 1980’s image of black rappers is outdated. Yet, it is perpetuated by television and ingrained in children’s minds at a young age. This would not necessarily qualify as exposure.
- Allowing your child to gain volunteer experience in different communities;
- Going abroad with your child and exposing him/her to different cultures and languages;
- Eating in various cultural restaurants (e.g., Indian, Korean, Jamaican, etc.);
- Reinforcing the message that “the content of an individual’s character is more important than how he/she looks”.
These future students and employees must first obtain knowledge about diversity at home; and then it should be followed with informed curriculum and instruction at all levels of education. Finally, the media must “catch up” to the reality of diversity at some point.
Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, and an international speaker on the topics of diversity/inclusion and management. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.