I didn’t realize that I was a visible minority until I was in Grade 9.
I had moments throughout my childhood where the colour of my skin or the kink in my hair was the brunt of a joke or the cause for lingering stares, but I didn’t make the connection until I was much older.
Growing up in Vancouver, I was surrounded by people from different backgrounds, and multiculturalism was a part of our school curriculum. We were encouraged to taste the foods of different countries and recognize the traditions of various cultures. But race - more specifically racism - was rarely discussed.
The truth is, talking to kids about racism can be as awkward as talking to them about sex. When embarrassing comments are made, or curious questions arise, we tend to redirect the conversation, ignoring the inappropriate remarks or shushing our children as an avoidance tactic. As parents, we worry that by bringing up the topic of racism, we are inviting our children to discriminate, or even become racist as a result.
But by avoiding the topic, we’re actually doing more harm than good.
Regardless of how much you try, kids are not blind to race. From early on, they notice and comment on differences, and if they aren’t encouraged to talk about their observations and ask questions, they come to their own conclusions, or they rely on the opinions of those who aren’t afraid to share their biases.
By teaching our children to be colour blind, we could be teaching them to turn a blind eye to other cultures, to racism, and to recognizing the differences in others - and themselves.
Instead, we should use their awkward comments as teachable moments.
Children will ask why “that woman’s skin is black,” why “that family doesn’t match,” or why that man “has a blanket wrapped around his head,” just as they will ask why “that child is moving around in a chair with wheels,” or why “that grownup is the same size as a child.” They see something that sparks their curiosity, and they speak their mind - without filtering their thoughts.
As inappropriate as it may seem, all they want is the truth. It is up to us as parents to give them the answers they seek. Instead of scolding them for their comments, explain to them why some people may look, act or speak differently than they do. Explain to them why their words may be hurtful, and use words and examples that are age-appropriate and relatable.
When we look at our southern neighbours, we tend to assume that racism is an American issue, but racism exists here in Canada, and it’s important our children understand that not everyone is treated equally.
By being open with our children about the prejudices that exist, and by teaching them to celebrate the differences in others, perhaps we will create a more inclusive generation that will celebrate the many colours of Canadians, not be blind to them.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her online at @bitsofbee.