Recently, a Member of the Parliament was in the news because he inadvertently exposed the Indian mindset and its obsession with fair skin. While his statement was condemned for its discriminatory nature, it showed how widespread the issue of racism is within India.
We, as a society, pride ourselves for being liberal and tolerant. However, we often judge a person based on their skin colour. As a result, our children learn from us and start discriminating based on how fair or dark a person is. “Parents must sensitise their children from an early age about stereotypical images and issues of colour,” says Nritijuna Naidu, Programme Manager, *Schools of Equality.
Children often learn to categorise objects based on colour and dimension, and follow the same rule for people. So, from an early age, they learn to differentiate between people based on their skin colour and how they look. Often, children prefer people who resemble them more. Since, a parent’s opinion also influences a child’s preference, we, as parents, must try to incorporate values that teach our child not to discriminate.
Tips on how to teach your child that skin colour discrimination is wrong
- Talk about it: Never hesitate to talk to your child about colour discrimination. If you avoid talking about it, he might think of it as a ‘taboo’ subject and question you frequently about it. This way, he will miss out on an important life lesson. Answer his questions on different physical characteristics of people, including skin colour. Remember to educate him on why he should be more sensitive to differences in how people look. You can use simple analogies to better explain the concept. For instance, tell him that though people, like flowers, may be of different colours, they are all similar on the inside. You can keep the explanations simple, although an older child might seek something more detailed. “Parents can, in fact, use a scientific explanation in this case,” says Nritijuna. “For instance, explain how Africans have more melanin in their skin to protect them from the harsh sun as opposed to people in colder climates, and that darker pigmentation provides the necessary protection they need,” she explains.
- Don’t ignore it: If your child does pass a hurtful comment, don’t ignore it. “Don’t be too strict and condescending about it either. Approach the subject head on and use the opportunity to talk about it,” says Nritijuna. Ask her what made her say it and what makes her feel that way. Discuss how her comment affects the other person and how she herself would feel if a similar comment was made about her. Sensitise her to the cultural and racial differences among people and teach her that colour does not define a person or his background and occupation.
- Be a role model: Your own biases and prejudices about physical appearances are easily passed on to your children. They observe your actions and words and pick up those negative attributes. So, address your own preconceptions and stereotypes to be an effective role model to your child. “Avoid using terms like ‘black’ when describing a person”, says Nritijuna. Help create an environment that accepts people for who they are and what they look like. You can encourage books, movies or television shows that include people from various backgrounds that don’t discriminate. Children are also exposed to colour-based stereotypes on various media. Advertisements propagating skin lightening and fairness creams convey the wrong message. Nritijuna says that such instances can, in fact, be useful learning experiences. “When you both see such an advertisement, ask your child what he thinks or feels about it. Start a discussion and explain your views too. The aim is to get them thinking,” she says.
- Encourage to empower: Empower your child to think differently and judiciously. Help her understand diversity and respect it. If your child is a victim of discrimination, offer her the support that she seeks. “Make your child understand that although people may continue to pass comments, it doesn’t change who she is. She must, instead, learn to value and love herself and be comfortable and confident about who she is,” Nritijuna explains and adds, “help her disregard the negativity and encourage a positive body image.” Also, inspire her to stand up for her beliefs when she witnesses any incident of colour discrimination.
Remember that children always need an adult’s guidance and support to help them be more accepting of others. Do your best to impart these important values to help your child become a more sensitive and a kind-hearted individual.
*Schools of Equality (www.schoolsofequality.org) is an activity-based programme that engages students in discussions of equality and diversity.
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