It is Never Too Early to Teach Acceptance


Nadira Tasnim


Recently, Nickelodeon shook social media with a powerful message directed towards their audience: “You have the right to be treated with equality, regardless of the colour of your skin. You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice, and hatred.” Afterwards, they aired a 9-minute long commercial with nothing but the sound of breathing — to honour George Floyd and show just how long 9 minutes is.

These seemingly harmless acts have sparked the anger of concerned parents who think that children should not be exposed to politics at a young age — that their minds are innocent and pure and should not be contaminated by political propaganda. “If anything, all you’re doing is scaring children,” commented one Facebook user, “and that is wrong.”

Before we delve into this topic, let us first recall Tamir Rice, who was only 12 years old when he was fatally shot by a white police officer for playing with a toy gun. Let us think about 13-year-old Tyre King, who was shot dead after allegedly pulling an air gun from his waistband while being arrested. Let us not forget Antwon Rose and Travyon Martin, both of whom were 17 when they were shot. Let us remember 16-year-old Laquan Mcdonald who was shot 16 times by a police officer.

More of such examples can be found if we were to dig deep enough, but even these few serve to show how children as young as 12 aren’t free of racial profiling, and how police officers tend to associate black skin with violence, no matter the age.

While white parents are trying to protect their children from a harmless message that calls for equality and acceptance, black parents have been forced to teach their children that they are and will always be treated differently for their skin colour. Black children grow up learning tactics to remain safe when walking through the streets — to not wear hoods, to not act suspicious, to keep their hands out of their pockets, and to comply when getting arrested.

Teaching children that they might be the next victim should be far more cause for concern than teaching children that everyone is equal.

No one is born racist. Children have the remarkable talent to pick up behaviours and attitudes from the people around them. If a white child sees his parents locking the car door or walking faster if a black man passes by, then in the child’s mind, black men will automatically be associated with danger.

It has been found through countless studies that racial prejudice may peak at ages 4 and 5. While at birth, babies look equally at faces of all races, by 3 months of age they start looking more at faces that match the race of their caregivers, and by 5 years children start choosing playmates based on race.

Interestingly, black and Latinx children tend to show no prejudice towards their own groups, as compared to white children of the same age, who tend to be strongly biased in favour of whiteness.

Thus, if racism tends to start at a tender age, then it can easily be concluded that children should be taught early on about race, empathy, and how racism affects countless lives every day. Parents have the moral duty to teach their kids not to judge someone based on their skin colour, but schools can play an impactful role as well. With children of different races are gathered in one classroom, discussions about race and racism can be hugely beneficial for them.

Nickelodeon’s message to their audience may have angered many white parents, but imagine the influence it may have on black kids who have been bullied in school or have been constantly treated differently than their white peers; who have always watched or read about white characters in TV or books and have rarely seen someone like them represented. For them, it won’t just be a message of equality — it will be a token of acceptance and love, and will help to mitigate the trauma they may have experienced due to racial discrimination.

Luckily, children between the ages of 5 and 7 can learn to dramatically improve their racial attitudes in as little as a single week through explicit conversation about interracial friendship.

At the end of the day, being able to complain about a message on TV is certain evidence of white privilege, and as Nickelodeon responds to concerned parents, “Unfortunately, some kids live in fear every day. It’s our job to use our platform to make sure their voices are heard and stories told,” priorities should be focused on the safety of black people and not on the minor inconveniences of white people.

 


Nadira Tasnim is a Harry Potter obsessed math-nerd who loves watching psychology videos in her free time.

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