Just the other day, I was struck by how pervasive stereotypes are in our society. And I’m not really talking about the racist side of the equation. It’s more of the socially-accepted “-isms” that affect us in the form of stereotypes. It’s really a fine line actually and we see it throughout our lives.
Think about statements like “XYZ are lazy people” or “ABC are very money conscious”. Those are racist statements that could be diluted down enough to merely be perceived as stereotypical. But we see these stereotypes on TV, read it in the paper or in books, hear it in the classroom and even around the dinner table. While it is important to discuss difference between societies, members of different groups, and various cultures with your children so that they understand what perceived differences are, it’s also critical to talk about where the lines are drawn between outlining differences, making these differences stereotypical and when it crosses the line to racism.
The school district that my kids are in is not that diverse. While we moved to this particular district because of it’s high rankings among schools nationwide, we moved from a more culturally diverse school district. So, what we gained in education, we lost in culture. Our family is mixed race: Korean and Caucasian. We do our best to maintain the Korean cultural within our family so that our kids have that identity. But just because our family is “different” doesn’t mean that it is something that kids understand or accept.
But kids do understand stereotypes and it is commonplace for them to use them in daily discussion or activities.
Case in point: the other day, my daughter drew out a picture story. And it was indirectly about stereotypes, but more importantly, was really a “love is blind” story. Regardless, I thought that it was interesting enough to share and it had a happy ending to boot.
(You can see larger versions of the images above on my Flickr account.)
My daughter did this completely unsolicited, and what I find interesting was the fact that these were cultural stereotypes: French being “too proper and uptight”, Asian being ones who “eat sea food” (my daughter is not a big sea food eater with the exception of fish sticks) and Americans being “overweight”. But by the end of the story, the cultural stereotypes were broken down, love was found and a family was born (actually two families if you count the dogs).
How do you talk to your kids about stereotypes? Do you accidentally promote their use or do you think that it comes from mainstream media or kids’ peers? What kind of conversation do you have with your children to ensure that stereotypes don’t become racist remarks? If the words aren’t coming from their mouths, try having them draw some stories and then talk about them. It might be interesting to learn their perception of the world around them.