A year ago, I became the Queensland state coordinator for Together for Humanity Foundation. The foundation works in schools with grade 4 to 12 kids to fight racism and inspire cultural openness. It turns out that, out of 50,000 kids in Australia who have participated in the program, over 90% have had racist attitudes towards other cultures.
“All people are…”
It may be hard for you to accept, but most kids are racist because they live in a racist society, in which stereotyping is a survival mechanism. It is not surprising to read their surveys and discover they think “Muslims are scary” and “Asians sell drugs”, mainly because they are exposed to this type of information at home or in the media.
Whenever I ask the kids, “Have you ever personally met a scary Muslim or seen an Asian selling drugs?” their answer is “No”.
You see, our main aim is to get them to meet at least one Muslim (Asian) in person in order to break their belief that “All Muslims (Asians) are scary (sell drugs)”. It only takes one kind and gentle Muslim (Asian) to change that racist attitude by creating doubt.
Kids and grownups with stereotypical beliefs
Although it is tempting to say kids are racist because they have undeveloped filters and little life experience, I think grownups use exactly the same type of thinking. Adults fall into the “All people are…” trap many times. They do it at work (“Bosses don’t care” – I do not know about you, but some of my bosses were very caring people), in their personal relationships (“Women love diamonds” “Men like to watch soccer” – I do not like diamonds and Gal does not like to watch soccer) and even towards their kids (“Teenagers are hormonal” or “Boys are rough” – my teens do not act “hormonal”, because I respect them and my son is a gentle kid).
As you will probably agree, having stereotypical, over-generalizing beliefs is reflected by our attitude in daily life. I do not think we can really blame kids for learning to make unfounded broad statements from the adults in their life.
The “doubt” technique
In education, there is an easy technique to help kids let go of beliefs that are not good for them. I have used this technique for years with grownups too and it is very useful, so I would like to share it with you. This technique is not only useful for weakening racist ideas, but for any unhealthy belief.
Imagine the belief is on a table, which is supported by legs. Each leg is some proof or evidence that makes the person hold the belief (“I saw it on TV”, “I read it in the papers” or “My mom/dad/teacher said so”). When we question the validity of enough legs, the table will fall and the belief will be broken.
This way, when kids (or grownups) have one counter example, their misconception (in the racism case) weakens. Similarly, if a boy believes that all the girls gossip, he only needs to meet one girl who does not gossip to weaken his belief.
As a parent, you can ask, “Are you sure all the girls gossip?” (emphasizing the word “all”).
Sometimes, this question alone is enough to shake the “table”.
If this is does not work, ask, “Can you find an example of a girl who doesn’t gossip?” (then give him time to think).
If he cannot come up with any examples, give at least one example that contradicts this belief. If you are his mother, say, “I’m a girl and I don’t gossip” (hopefully, this is true). If you are his father, say, “Mom is a girl and she hates it when people gossip” (very true in my case).
[For a wonderful example of how one woman has done this, read Racist Kids.]
It is as simple as that! If the belief changes to “Some girls gossip”, “Some Muslims are…”, “Some men like to watch soccer” or “Sometimes I find it hard to stay focused”, your kids’ attitude towards life will be different.
Sure, if the belief is strong enough and has too many support legs, it will take more rounds to break enough of them so that the table can be tipped over, but since I have been able to do it with grownups whose tables were solid and very well supported, I am sure it will be easier with your kids.
How to break a belief with doubt
- Discover your kids’ beliefs. Just listen to them speak or ask them to write down 100 things they think about school, friends, boys, girls, parents, teachers, math, housework, homework or anything else.
- Decide if each belief is beneficial for your kids or not. For a good reference list of beliefs, read my post series Things I want my kids to know.
- Pay attention to over-generalized negative expressions, like “Every time I put my hand up, she ignores me”, “They’re always mean to me”, “All the boys in my class are childish”, “Whenever I go near them, they move away” or “She never listens”.
- With doubt in your voice, ask, “Are you sure it happens every time?” or “Are they always mean to you?”
- Ask, “Was there ever a time when she let you speak in class?” or “Did they ever play with you nicely?”
- Offer counter examples. If you have a personal example, that is great, if you cannot find any, try giving examples of things you have read, heard or learned. Things you have experienced yourself have much more credibility than what happened to some unknown person, so start with your child’s inner circle.
Watch out for general statements that are positive, because they can do magic and empower your kids to achieve and succeed. It is better not to doubt them, because that will weaken them too. For example, if you kid says, “I always do my homework on time”, even if it is not 100% true, it is better not to doubt it.
In one of my workshops, came up with some wonderful statements that, if adopted by everyone, could change the world. Here are some of them:
- “Everyone was born” – after losing 2 baby brothers, my daughter Eden, who was 5 years old at the time, had to be convinced that everyone she sees had been born and stayed alive (see 35-hour baby).
- “All people want to be happy” – if you ever meet someone who prefers to be miserable, tell them, “Be miserable if it makes you happy”.
- “Everyone needs sleep” – sleep is one of the most important, yet the most neglected ways to keep healthy, happy, relaxed and productive.
- “All the people in the world want to live in peace” and “All you need is love” – this week, I got this video clip of a most wonderful project to unite the world. People from 156 countries singing for the Starbucks Love Project – beautiful!
Here it is. I hope you will like it too.