Last updated 3/10/2021 at Noon
Hearing that six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published due to racially hurtful messages, I started to wonder what other stories in children’s literature may also need to be examined?
One that immediately came to mind is “Little Black Sambo.” Originally a story that took place in India, written in 1899 entitled “The Story of Little Babaji,” it was a story that garnered attention of American civil rights activists in the 1930s and ’40s. The title was changed to “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” depicting a very dark-skinned child. This version is probably what most American children have heard and, unfortunately, remembered as a negative stereotype.
Stories heard at an early age become imbedded in a child’s memory. Perhaps more of our children’s literature needs to be reexamined.
Having just emerged from Black History month and viewing many accounts of unfamiliar history and documentaries such as “How It Feels to be Free,” I was surprised to find how many of my long-standing stereotypes were incorrect. I was embarrassed to recognize how many I need to update and reassess. Perhaps others experienced the same thing.
Children as young as 3 and 4 start to classify, and often sort things according to color. This can be the beginning of recognizing another child looks different from them. They are naturally curious and will ask questions, so it’s a wonderful time to introduce kids to people of other cultures. Prejudices and stereotype thinking can begin as early as preschool years and it’s important for adults to guide ideas toward inclusion.
By 7 and 8, kids develop empathy and are interested in learning about the world around them, so it’s a perfect time to explore differences among races. When children develop a positive self-concept without feeling better than someone else, they grow up accepting and affirming differences.
Books that reflect numerous racial differences help kids feel good about themselves and the differences of others. An OPB website, Precious Children, Diversity in the Classroom (www.pbs.org/kcts/preciouschildren/diversity/) has an excellent article, “Activities that Promote Racial and Cultural Awareness,” with much valuable information and suggestions for activities to help build understanding and acceptance of differences.
I am enrolled in a virtual course that has participants from all over the world. It’s exciting for me to get to know people from all corners of the U.S. plus India, Ireland, Canada, and Spain. This creates a rich and vibrant community and gives me a glimpse into the lives of other cultures. How wonderful it would be for children to have the same type of experience on a regular basis. Is there an ethnicity exploration resource where they can become familiar with different cultures?
During the years our family was growing up we invited several exchange students into our home; some for a few days, weeks, months, and even a year. Our kids grew up learning about different cultures and how other people lived. I highly recommend this practice for anyone who can do it.
A few years back one of our sons was teaching and living in Japan. Our other son is married to a German woman and lives in Germany. Not too many years ago both of these countries were our enemies, today they are our allies and friends. If we can do this globally, we can do it here.
I believe white supremacy is a concept that has no place in the U.S. It’s important that those of us who are white recognize this and do all we can to teach our children that everyone is created equal and we all have the right to be treated as equals.
Changing beliefs and patterns can only happen when we recognize them. Take time to analyze your beliefs and see what needs to change. Change isn’t easy and can be uncomfortable.
We want all kids to be able to walk, side-by-side, with all other kids. Take a minute to examine your beliefs, the stories your kids hear, and all the ways you may be passing on stereotypes and misinformation. They will grow up and one day be the adults running our country. Let’s do all we can to make sure they do it knowing that all men and women can walk together, side by side.