Monday, November 28, 2011

On Talking To Kids About Diversity

Arie Brentnall-Compton

I'm a dyed in the wool unschooler, so I rarely buy homeschool-curriculum-type books for my kids. A while ago, I picked up a geography reference that looked fun. To my utter horror, while flipping through it yesterday, I found the following sentence: "Race is a distinction based upon biological characteristics common to a population. The eight main races are...". ARGH!!! The whole book's getting trashed because if it can't get the fact that "race" doesn't exist, I don't trust anything else in it either.

I posted the above rant on Facebook & a great discussion followed. One of the comments I made was that we have a widely multi cultural/national/religious family, so we live diversity. It's never been an issue for us to talk about differences in language, country of origin, skin tone, hair type, cultural practices, etc because our kids are constantly around many close family & friends who are open to the discussions & questions that arise. As an adult, I now realise that my very liberal upbringing, where cultural diversity was a constant & we were encouraged to speak up against bigotry, wasn't that common. The Facebook discussion morphed into one of how to discuss these issues with kids. How to discuss the obvious differences that kids often notice, like skin tone or accent, without using "race" as a default descriptor? How to inform & be open without becoming uncomfortable with the discussion?

I've been thinking about the discussion all day, then driving in the truck with my kids, a song came on the iPod: Beds Are Burning

My 9 year old yelled "AC/DC"!!! I told him not quite, this is by Midnight Oil, & explained that they're an Australian band too so the accent sounds pretty similar. We turned the song up & listened. When it was over, I asked him what he thought it was about. He gave me his ideas & said it sounded a bit angry & a bit scary. I agreed & explained that the Aborigines in Australia had the same things happen to them that happened to First Nations people in Canada. The song is a political one, challenging Australians to give land back to the Pintupi. He's really sympathetic to First Nations causes, since it's one we talk about a lot as it's close to my heart. He told me he thought it was great to make music about important messages sound really cool, so more people would hear the message.


This got me thinking about how often songs have led to chances to talk & learn like this with my kids. K'Naan's Wavin' Flag: Somalia & what took place there in the 90's, what it must be like for kids in war zones. U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday Religious bigotry & violence in Ireland. Tanya Tagaq Preservation of Inuit culture. There are thousands of songs that can be springboards to discussing culture, language, ethnicity, religion & all things in between. If there's a song we hear that they ask about, I'll often show the kids a youtube video of the artist performing it. When I first showed my oldest the K'Naan video (he was about 8 at the time) he told me it was cool that K'Naan looked like him. "Hey, he's really tall & thin like me! His skin is darker than me though, & he's got really curly hair, but mine's blond & straight." Kids do notice the differences between people, but they notice the similarities too. We don't need to place inaccurate racial labels on people when we can simply describe who they are, where they're from, what they've accomplished.

If this is something that matters to you & if you don't know where to start...try your playlist!