Are Teens Being Taught to Appreciate Other Races?

Janelle Harris

Multicultural dollsMulticultural” might be a buzz word that gets the general public all wrapped in "We Are the World" emotion. It sounds so inclusive, like we’ve defeated the prejudices that some say are passé. I mean, we do have a Black president, don’t we? (Insert snort of indignation.)

Minorities aren’t seeing their cultures become part of the European-heavy mainstream. We’re given a month of acknowledgement, then whisked back to the fringes until our next time to shine. Just because the masses enjoy zumba classes and rave about the grub at Chipotle doesn’t make us non-majority folks any closer to being understood and valued than we were before.

But it’s not just the majority. It’s Latinos with a lack of appreciation for Asians. It’s Indians with a lack of appreciation for Africans. Despite their coming-up in the most multicultural, super-blended generation yet, that ethnic and racial aloofness trickles down to our kids

That is, if we don’t teach them to empathize with and see the beauty in other cultures, whether your family is white, Armenian, or Puerto Rican. It takes a concerted effort, since we’re living in a society that still celebrates Columbus Day and acknowledges Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. But it can and should be done.

We get a heavy dose of American (which, keep it real, means “mostly white”) history from the time we cop a squat on the story rug in kindergarten until we sprint across the graduation stage in 12th grade. Who doesn’t know about Paul Revere and George Washington and Thomas Edison and Clara Barton? I learned about them in school, and sure as I’m wishing for spring, a textbook is opening right now to fill the mind of some unwitting teenager with that same ol’ tired information.

But kids should be learning about the valiance of Native Americans, too — not just their victories in war, but the day-to-day resilience that led to contributions beyond measure. Hispanic Heritage Month goes by with barely a whisper, save a few attempts by major corporations to ballyhoo their support of it as a big-up to their public relations teams. But Latino teens shouldn’t be the only ones learning about the makings of their culture. We all should.

And don’t even get me started on black history and the bones we’re thrown every now and then that ostensibly should shut us up and help us “get over it,” if you can in fact get over 400 years of marginalization with the help of a few museums and monuments. Folks should know how our history stretches from the first civilization in the world to the amazing things we’re doing as I type. And most of it has nothing to do with music, dancing, or fried chicken.

I’m not bitter. I’m just hungry for change, and with this generation coming up, I see the opportunity to make that happen. Kids are blank canvases to be splashed with whatever coloring we brush over them — and I want more parents to learn and share the idiosyncrasies of people who don’t look like them. Especially, especially when it comes to one minority group appreciating another.

I'm from D.C., and D.C. is bona fide, unquestionable Redskins country. But I'm not a Redskins fan. How can I be? Of all the other groups of brown and yellow peoples on the planet, I empathize with their struggle the most — not that it’s a contest, but I just feel deeply apologetic and sorry for the experience of being pushed, pulled, and played out by the government. So cheering for a football team that calls themselves what basically boils down to a racial slur is the equivalent of rooting for a squad called the St. Louis Niggers or the New Orleans Spics.

Every year, a representative group of Native Americans descends on the Nation’s Capital in an appeal to have the name changed. It clearly bothers enough of them to fan the fires of protest. I would be a real (insert inappropriate curse word here) to slap on a Redskins snuggie and ball cap knowing, seeing firsthand, how hurtful that mindless marketing is to their people. What’s funny is the Smithsonian built an entire museum dedicated to Native American culture — in a city whose biggest sports team slaps them in the face by refusing to change its name.

Needless to say, my daughter, D.C.-ified as she tries to be, is forbidden from wearing anything representing that horribly named NFL franchise. I’m making a conscious effort to make her a conscientious person. Not just about her people, but all kinds of people.

How do you teach your children about other cultures? Be honest — do you do it at all?

Image via vikk007/Flickr

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