Teaching Tolerance to Young Children: Raising Awareness About Racism

Updated on June 5, 2018
janshares profile image

Janis counseled many populations during her career including children and families in need of parenting skill assessment and interventions.

Tolerance Means Seeing Past the Skin and Into the Soul

Never let children lose that sparkle of innocence and self-love. Parent them with love and dignity.
Never let children lose that sparkle of innocence and self-love. Parent them with love and dignity. | Source

Children, Bigotry and Racism: They Model Their Parents

The poem below is about the impact of an innocent "racist" statement delivered by one child and received by another.

Children unwittingly repeat what they hear and model what they see, good or bad. Recent reports across the United states, following the surprise presidential election, sadly indicate that children not only model their parents. Children are also influenced by the negative rhetoric and behavior of politicians in positions of leadership.

The moral of the poem is that parents, as well as leaders in positions of power, should pay attention to how they may be indoctrinating our precious children with messages of hate, bigotry, prejudice, and judgment, by what they are teaching them through exposure to untoward speech and behavior.

True belief systems are often manifested in one's statements that come in the form of jokes and jabs, "locker room talk," name-calling, or sexist, racist, xenophobic banter in conversations.

This can tend to make children uncomfortable as they are trying to work through something they feel is wrong but cannot articulate to their parents.

This may lead to false perceptions about other races and cultures and subsequent conflicts about associations and friendships.

The examples parents set, in particular, are far more powerful and have a longer lasting influence on shaping young children than media figures or gaming devices. However, negative political campaigns and elected officials can obviously have a significant impact as the country has witnessed.

If we are not careful, we run the risk of raising another generation that includes two categories of misinformed children: those who are conditioned to believe that their little friends of color have "dirty skin" and those who internalize the belief that they have "dirty skin." This is sadly illustrated in the poem below.

Diversity and Tolerance Displayed

The Time: Late 1960s

The Place: Delaware Park, Buffalo, New York

The Setting: The Wanderers Cricket Club with visiting Canadian team; the children of team members play together as their fathers play cricket.

"Dirty Skin"


Out of his ignorant eye

he saw my "dirty skin"

Into my innocent ear, I heard

but stood perplexed.



He repeats in his Canadian-Anglo tone,

"Ur skinz durtee!"



Confused as I couldn't find the soil

He smiled sardonically, then laughed

Looking, for the first time, at a Black child.



Like the bruised apple of the bunch

Or the over-ripe brown banana in the fruit bowl

I was damaged goods in the eye

of a little White boy.



For the first time

I understood shame and quiet anger

Around age 9, for the first time,

I felt insulted.



Then I knew, for the first time

what it means

As a little Black girl

to have dirty skin.


(JLE 2007)

Tolerance: Unconditional Loving Acceptance of All Humanity

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington, DC
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington, DC | Source

H.O.W. To Make A Difference

Humanity One World (H.O.W.) is a movement initiated by a Hubpages writer named Bill Holland, aka billybuc. He challenges all of us writers, individually and collectively, to do something to make a difference in our world of despair, violence, hunger, and injustice, by spreading love through action. This is my poetic contribution to the movement, focusing particularly on the negative impact of racism on children. For more information, visit Humanity One World.

The Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington, DC
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial, Washington, DC | Source

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Janis Leslie Evans

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      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thanks so much, SinDelle. So glad you thought highly of this poetry hub. Your point about children mimicking even if they don't understand is so true. It's a precursor to the later attitudes. Thanks for stopping by.

      • SinDelle profile image

        The Little Shaman 3 years ago from Macon, GA

        This is fantastic. Children are absolutely like little sponges and they will indeed take in everything around them. People sometimes become too used to saying whatever they want around children, operating under the assumption that the child cannot understand them. Even if the child does not understand, they still mimic. As they get older, they understand and adopt similar attitudes much of the time. As an adult, all too often we see the unintentional damage parents have caused to their children by simple carelessness.

        Really an excellent post. Thank you.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much for stopping by to see what all the "hubbub" was about. :) I appreciate your taking the time to read, comment, vote on, and share this hub. It means a lot.

      • Writer Fox profile image

        Writer Fox 4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

        Very moving poem, Jan. Voted up and shared!

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

        Yes, starting young is the key. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        I have had many people stare at me as a South African I know exactly what you mean about racism but children need to be taught from a young age about color.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        OMG, izettl. I appreciate that, thank you :-)

      • izettl profile image

        Laura Izett 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

        It was a really good hub and I posted it on my facebook.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much for your in depth reply, izettl. I appreciate your sharing and openness on your views. Thank you for taking the time to visit, read this hub, and leave valuable comments.

      • izettl profile image

        Laura Izett 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

        My belief is that kids kind of have it right. When they first encounter someone "different" from them they may stare , but they're being curious. They want to learn about anything they think is different. They are not being rude, they are trying to figure it out and if more people wanted to learn about those different than them , there would be more tolerance.

        I think we could learn from kids. My dad was intolerant, I guess is a better word for it. i only knew that because my first crushes as a young girl was first on a dark skinned native american and then an african american so i figured out his views. but my mom was very open toward everyone. I didn't see the differences, still don't.

        I think there are parents that purposefully steer their children from certain types of people, etc. I think there are parents that don't even know what they're doing and this hub is great for that. I haven't talked to my children about differences, but they're young. I want my daughter to feel natural about being around anyone different from her and it seems she does. I've said things like it would be really boring if everyone looked alike.

        I think it is equally important for those with a differ color of skin to not focus on that as a downfall or a reason why some one may not like them. I know people avoid others so that they don't accidentally offend. But that's not the answer either. We need to relax as a society and not place pressure on being overly politically correct either. I didn't vote for Obama but certainly not because he was black nor would I vote for him just because he is black. So it goes both ways. Minorities could also stand to be more open to whites as well.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you for your words of wisdom on this subject. I appreciate these powerful comments and your visit.

      • Support Med. profile image

        Support Med. 5 years ago from Michigan

        A very touching poem. It is important to understand that children can often interpret prejudicial body language, including facial expressions, as well as tones of voice, even when their language is not being spoken. Many of us have experienced this in one way or another. Unfortunately, some people think that being 'intelligent and/or nicely' prejudiced excludes them from being acknowledged as prejudiced. It is important for children and all of us to understand that prejudice is out there and can strongly affect us - and it is also important for children to understand that they are of importance and to have confidence and good self esteem - so when we come across such encounters, they will not hinder our joy or our progress in life.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Hi James-wolve. Thank you so much for your warm comments. I'm so glad you felt the poem. I appreciate your visit and the vote up.

      • James-wolve profile image

        Tijani Achamlal 5 years ago from Morocco

        So heartbreaking but beautiful poem.The message is too poignant .We should teach kids tolerance,coexistence love and what it matters is not the skin but the content of characters as Luther King says.Voted up

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        I appreciate your thoughtful comments, pstraubie. Thanks for the visit and reading. I'm glad to share it.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

        Little ones hear selectively. When we say, please clean your room, that may fall on deaf ears.

        But if we say something ugly about a neighbor or about someone of another race, they hear it and get the message loud and clear---it is ok to say those ugly words, my family does.

        Teaching our kids to love and respect others begins right in our home. Thank you for sharing this.

        Your poem holds a poignant message

        Angels are on the way...:) ps

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you for your comments, Tayshia. So glad you stopped by. Are you familiar with the organization, "Autism Speaks?" It's a good support system.

      • profile image

        Tayshia 5 years ago

        Beautiful.... Thank you for sharing this and informing your readings of H.O.W., I will check that out. We need to teach our children to be kind and citizens of the world. My son has autism and I worry horribly about bullying when he gets older, he's only 3 now....

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Hi Shadow Jackson. I'm happy to offer inspiration to you. Thank you for stopping by and reading this important hub. I hope you start that story. I appreciate your comments, fanmail, and follow.

      • Shadow Jackson profile image

        Billionaire Brains 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        This is very inspiring. I have an idea for a story that I want to write and submit to magazines about racism and this reminded me of it.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        That is a beautiful story, SandCastles. Thank you so much for sharing how you made a difference for those children. I look forward to reading your work. Thanks for the comment, the follow, and for taking the time to read this hub.

      • profile image

        SandCastles 5 years ago

        That's a very good poem. When I worked with little ones on the Reservation, the kids teased other kids that were either too white or too brown, calling them, "white kid" or "black kid". The native kids felt really ashamed of their skin colour if it wasn't the right shade of brown. I talked about puppies, labrador puppies (I'd brought my labrador to school so they knew about them). I said, "If I had a yellow lab, a brown lab and black lab, what if I only liked the brown lab? What if I kicked the black lab. Would that be right? What if I didn't feel the yellow lab?" All the kids looked horrified, "That would be mean". Yes, I said, because they are all puppies; they are all the same, they just have different coloured fur but they are all just as lovable. And all of you are just as lovable no matter what colour your skin is. And it seemed like they understood.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, girishpuri, for your comment. I'm so glad you appreciate the importance of this piece. Thanks for the visit.

      • girishpuri profile image

        Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

        Racism is evil, your poem truthfully reflects the bare facts, very much touching, God bless you.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much for stopping by, travmaj. I'm so glad you liked this hub and appreciate your votes.

      • travmaj profile image

        travmaj 5 years ago from australia

        This is so deep and so meaningful and touching. An important message for all of us. especially to parents who can make that all important difference in bringing up their children. Thank you for this. Voting up.

      • janshares profile image
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        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much shiningirisheyes for you support and for liking this important hub. You do speak truth.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you, web923. I so appreciate your generous comments and your personal story. Thanks for stopping by.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, HLPhoenix for those comments. I appreciate you telling your experience with your child and liking the poem. Thanks so much for sharing the hub.

      • HLPhoenix profile image

        HLPhoenix 5 years ago

        Heartbreaking poem... showing how a child can literally be shell shocked perhaps for life... by a thoughtless comment by another, intentionally mean or just lack of exposure... that comment stays for life no matter how we work to eradicate the damage.

        I understood fairly young that the world had people who hated other people because of their race, religion etc... I deliberately taught my child that these things were unimportant. I didn't know then that I was paraphrasing Martin... I wanted him to judge people by the content of their character and not any other difference they may have had from him.

        Definitely, a poem and Hub that belongs in Billies... H.O.W.

        Sharing.

      • web923 profile image

        Bill Blackburn 5 years ago from Twentynine Palms, California

        Excellent Hub with a noble topic. As a white boy growing up in a predominantly Black neighborhood back in the 60's I can identify with how it feels to be on the receiving end of discrimination. You did a fantastic job writing this Hub. I give it an awesome and up!

      • shiningirisheyes profile image

        Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

        Jan - This is an important and significant addition to Billy Buc's H.O.W. movement. Many want to say that racism is a thing of the past, not from what my eyes, ears and heart have seen and felt. Thank you as these ridiculous and miserable narrow-minded teachings truly do get handed down from generations past.

        I am voting this up and sharing it. Great job.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Hi Audrey,

        So glad you liked it, hope a lot of readers see it and take in the message. Thanks for stopping by and for your support.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Hi Anna,

        Thank you for sharing your sincere comments, you made me smile. I appreciate your visit and so glad you liked this poem.

      • Anna Sternfeldt profile image

        Anna Sternfeldt 5 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

        Oh, what a poem! So beautifully written and sad, but true. And your comments are so important, of course a lot of ideas and prejudice have roots at home, with the parents but also in our surrounding society, media, schools and all kind of stuff. I always get sad when I see my friends in Malaysia (and I know this is happening in other countries as well) buying cream to bleech their skin, to make it more white. I try to tell them how beautiful they are, but their preference is the white skin, no matter what I say. I don't know how we could change that the white skin is admirable. Myself, I try to say to people with darker skin whenever I have the chance that they are beautiful. We have many immigrants here in Sweden and they often have so wonderful clothes, with many colours, while we westerner are so bland and boring, and I often just say to someone on the street: Wow, you look so beautiful, and they usually look very surprised but happy. I hope this may have a meaning for some of these people, that they may feel that they might look good, that at least a funny white Swedish woman thinks so :-)

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

        This is a great piece Jan--and so important! Everyone should read this--

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Me too, Vickw. Thank you for sharing your story and liking the poem. I appreciate your heartfelt comments.

      • profile image

        Vickiw 5 years ago

        Beautiful, meaningful poem, janshares. I grew up amid racism in South Africa. When our child was born we decided to leave, as we couldn't bear the idea of her growing up in that environment. But it is still everywhere. Glad you are my friend.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        HoneyBB, your comment has me in tears. I'm so moved by your personal family history. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm glad that my hub brought forth a story that needed to be told. I appreciate your visit.

      • HoneyBB profile image

        Helen Laxner 5 years ago from Illinois

        Very important message and one I hold close to my heart. My great, great grandfather (during civil war times) was an outspoken abolistionist and because of that his 246 or so acres of cotten fields were burned, I think his house was burned down too and he and my great, great grandmother and all their children had to hide in the woods until they could safely make it from Tennessee to Pennyslyvania but he was captured some time after that imprisoned and hung. I think that his love of people and his humanity was passed down through my grandparents, parents, etc. It makes a big difference if you stand for people because we are all God's children...one soul.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thanks again, I'm grateful for your comments and support of this poem.

      • keviette profile image

        keviette 5 years ago

        The message in this poem is very strong and I hope everyone that reads it will be able to understand the affect racism has on people of any race. We are all made equally, and nobody should be discriminated

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        I appreciate your comment, keviette. Soon come, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read and like it.

      • profile image

        keviette 5 years ago

        This poem, I believe, has a very strong message. Great job on this poem, and I hope to read more like this

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thanks BlossomSB, for stopping by and reading this. You're right, very difficult subject. I appreciate the comment.

      • BlossomSB profile image

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

        A great poem on a difficult subject. After all, we're all the same on the inside. I had a friend whose little boy was upset by some remarks at school and she told him to say that when God was making him he was properly cooked and that's why he came out brown!

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, Radcliff, for your insightful comment. Yes, other factors such as societal conditioning are involved. I will check out that book. I appreciate your stopping by and liking my poem :-)

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Powerful comments, Bill. Thank you so much for stopping by and giving me a positive boost on tackling an important but touchy subject.

      • Radcliff profile image

        Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

        Great poem. I just left a comment on Bill's hub about a book I'm reading called Nurture Shock. This book discusses research that demonstrates how segregation is more innate than we thought. Ignoring our differences (like race or sexual orientation) and expecting kids to grow up "color blind" is unrealistic. In other words, to assume that the white child in the poem learned racism at home isn't necessarily correct--he may have made an innocent assumption if he had never seen brown skin before. This isn't to say that racism isn't passed on from a child's parents--we just need to realize that differences should be discussed starting at an early age and not avoided. Thank you for sharing!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Excellent message, Jan! Racism is a trait fostered at home. By nature kids are not racist. Your point is so important, and I hope to God thousands read this and internalize it.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you, Mark. Well said. Thank you for stopping by.

      • Curiad profile image

        Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

        A great message and poem too. We are all one, from the same beginnings, and toward the same end.

        mark

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, Vincent for sharing your story. That is an example of unconditional, self-sacrificing, true friendship. I'm grateful for your generous comments, votes, and sharing.

      • profile image

        Vincent Moore 5 years ago

        I was a young lad of just 12 years old when I became the best friend of a black boy, me being white many of my friends admonished me and I would not back down. This boy and I became best friends and nobody could come between our friendship, we remained friends all our lives, unfortuantely he passed over a few years back. Racism is evil, their should never be a barrier between races. We are all on this earth to love one another, no matter our color. Thank you for sharing this magnificent writing, voted up and shared.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Wow, Mhatter, thanks for sharing that. It starts wih the parents. Thanks for stopping by and reading this one.

      • Mhatter99 profile image

        Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Thank you so much for this. A teacher, Mr. (Johnny) Land, came into my life and gave it purpose. My mother would never talk to him.

      • janshares profile image
        Author

        Janis Leslie Evans 5 years ago from Washington, DC

        Thank you so much, justateacher. I'm happy that you liked the poem and appreciate the lessons. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read it.

      • justateacher profile image

        LaDena Campbell 5 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

        Beautiful poem and great lessons...you are so right about the innocence of children and how their parents speak to them and around them...

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