Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

A version of this was published in Hot-Psychology in 2007

A few years ago, illegal immigration issues were being hotly debated in a nearby small community. While all this was being argued in the courts, there was an expression of strong opinion and ideas being expressed amongst my preschool students. I taught in an inner city public school with a diverse immigrant population. I received a new student from Thailand. The children playing at the play dough table observed her.

"I think the new girl is Chinese, like me."

"No-no, she is Vietnamese, like me; see her eyes are the same."

"Her hair is black like mine. Maybe she is from my country, Eritrea, Africa."

I listened, and I thought about how in any new situation we observe others and form opinions.

"You are all wrong," a child at the play dough table stated emphatically. "She is not Chinese or Vietnamese; she is just a girl."

If only we could all see past color, class, religion and regard one another as just people. When I do presentations at teacher workshops, I ask participants to tell me what they observe. Invariably, they begin to categorize.

"We're all early childhood teachers." Then they begin to dissect the group by ethnicity, hair color, gender. I listen. They look confused trying to figure out what I want. They continue.

When I speak, I begin with MY observations. "We are all people, male or female, we all have hair, eyes with which to see my materials, ears with which to listen, and feelings that can be hurt or bolstered by what I, as your group leader, say. We are alike in so many ways. Why is it that when we walk into a room, we begin to dissect by differences?"

Despite our best efforts, it is human nature for all of us to be ego-centric and ethno-centric. It is easier to be exclusive rather than inclusive. It's easier to pinpoint the negatives than the positives. I remind them that while they are teaching their students the universal message to treat others as they would want others to treat them, that they should also practice what they teach.

I had an older neighbor, Lisa, who told me, "When you're under five or over seventy-five, ethnicity or class doesn't mean a thing. When you're in your early years, all you want to do is play, eat your cookies and nap; you don't care what color the kid is next to you. It's how he or she treats you in the sandbox. And when you are in your senior years, it matters not what color your caregiver is, or what language he/she speaks. It's how they take care of you, feed and toilet you."

Why do we wait so many years to discover this?
On this Independence Day, let us all realize how interdependent we all are.


Sioux Roslawski said...

What a marvelous post. When I first started teaching (my first 9 years--in Jennings) my parents would ask every year, "How many white kids are in your class?" They did not mean to offend---they were just coming from their era (born in the 20's)--but were puzzled when I would have to mentally go from desk to desk, thinking, "Devon, Patrice, Yvonne..." and picturing them, to determine, "I don't know, I think..." Each year as my answers got more vague, they finally stopped asking.

How do we get so stupid from 5 to 75?

jabblog said...

I'd agree with the first - but the second, over seventy-five - NO! Ingrained prejudice becomes stronger, more irrational. Trust me, I've seen it at first-hand!

Claudia Moser said...

A wonderful post!

Bookie said...

Happy Fourth of July, Linda...hope you are staying cool!

BECKY said...

Lovely post, Linda! I agree with jabblog, too. I know of a very prejudiced, much older man. It still always shocks me to hear anyone speak so horribly about someone who's "different". (Thank goodness he isn't related to me!)

Debora said...

I think it's hard to be prejudiced against someone you know. Our school is 34% Native American. The Native children as a whole, are very distrustful of whites. One day, one of our students was reporting to a colleague that he hated the white teacher who was substituting in his class that day. When my friend said, "Well honey, I'm white, do you hate me?" His response was "No, Mrs. Reitz, you are Indian." Mrs. Reitz is a white-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned woman. But because the student was familiar with her, he said she was Indian. So I conclude that we must make every effort to get to know people. Then color-blindness will set in.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Awesome post! I have, on more than one occasion, been struck by how readily most young children accept others. A friend's kindergartner came home for weeks talking about a boy in her class. When my friend asked about him her daughter went on about his long eyelashes and curly hair, that he is funny, has a nice laugh, etc. My friend was surprised when she met the boy to learn that he was African-American. She was not bothered by it, just struck by the fact that her daughter never mentioned his dark skin. To the little girl, that was a non-issue. She never took note of it. This occurred years ago, and I've always loved that story.

My youngest is 17 and will be a senior in high school next year. She has a diverse group of friends, crossing ethnic and religious groups. These kids tease each other in ways that used to make me cringe. They take the stereotypes and mock them amongst each other; and by making light of them, exaggerating them, they say to each other, "Isn't this the dumbest thing ever?" No one is offended, no one gets mad. My theory is that at this stage their differences don't matter to them. They're bonding over SAT scores, college hopes, prom dates, and who got grounded for busting curfew. Skin color just doesn't rate as important. I can't vouch for other kids, but I see this with my daughter and her friends, and it gives me hope for our future. My daughter told me once that the problem isn't the kids. The problem is the parents. And I hope that as these wonderful kids grow into adults, that they maintain their current outlook and do not take on the mantle the older generation so often imposes.

Susan said...

Loved this post, Linda. Oh, if we could just think once again like children. Susan

Cathy C. Hall said...

Excellent, Linda! That's exactly why you're published so often!

Val said...

Today I was looking up the spelling of Alphonse, and happened upon Shirley Jackson's short story, "After You, My Dear Alphonse." It goes right along with your topic. Here's a link to the story:

Karen Lange said...

Good food for thought! Hope you had a good 4th weekend! :)

Tammy said...

Beautiful post. Hope you enjoyed your Interdependence Day!