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Stop Racism Before It Starts

Christine Yount Jones

Five-year-old Katy's first time to see a lot of black people in real life was during a trip to a large city. Katy turned to her mom and said, "Look, Mom, The Cosby Show!"

For many children, Katy's experience is the norm. The only time they see people of other races is on television.

The church often compounds the problem when ethnic groups huddle together in their same-language, same-culture groups. Segregated churches can create racist attitudes in children.

But church-growth experts argue that homogeneous churches are foundational to church growth. The "homogeneous unit principle" states that "like" people will attract other "like" people, and thus a church will grow.

But do we want to sacrifice children's appreciation of racial diversity on the altar of church growth?

Our children live in a world where an ex-Ku Klux Klansman can run a serious campaign for governor of Louisiana. They live in a world where young people are attacked and killed because of their skin color.

They also live in a world that's becoming more and more culturally diverse. Nationwide, minorities make up 70 percent of the enrollment in the top 25 U.S. school districts.

Will your children's ministry combat racism in the church or propagate it? What will you do now to embrace the "people of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" that will worship God in heaven?

Arm yourself to obliterate racist attitudes or messages in your ministry:

1. Begin young. Most 2-year-olds notice skin color differences. If they also hear inappropriate comments about skin color, they may decide that different-color people aren't as good as they are. Therefore, embrace and celebrate people of all colors.

2. Don't ignore racial differences. If children ask why a child's skin is a different color, say something like, "Natasha's skin is white because her mom and dad have white skin." With older children, you can explain that the amount of melanin, the substance in the skin that accounts for color, determines the darkness of people's skin.

Louise Derman-Sparks, author of Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children (National Association for the Education of Young Children), says we "can't ignore [kids'] questions because kids make up their own theories, many of which are incorrect and can lead to prejudice."

3. Don't tolerate prejudice. Forbid racial slurs or name-calling in your classroom. If you hear ethnic or racial insults, confront them at once.

ReGena Booze, a master teacher at Pacific Oaks College and Children's School in Pasadena, California, says: "When Rosa gets called a 'yucky Mexican,'...I say to the children, 'Yes, Rosa is Mexican, but yucky is not part of who she is. Let's find out about her...Rosa's family came from Mexico before she was born and her family can speak Spanish. So can Rosa. She's very smart because she can speak two languages. But yucky is not a part of who Rosa is."

4. Break down stereotypes. A personal encounter with people of other races is the best way to break down stereotypes. Get kids working together in multiracial teams. Invite special guest speakers of all races to your classrooms.

5. Redecorate. Examine your classrooms to discover any items that promote racial or cultural stereotypes. Do church pictures show Jesus with children of only one race? Replace these pictures with pictures of Jesus with children of all colors. Use multiracial dolls or only stuffed animals in your nurseries.

6. Examine your literature. If your curriculum's art doesn't represent children of all colors, adapt it and complain to your publisher. If this segregated approach extends into the content, consider getting rid of it. Ask these questions when examining your curriculum: Are characters in stories named only Sally and Bill, or are they also named Li and Maria? Are the heroes in the modern-day stories predominantly one race or all races? Are there examples from everyday life from more than one culture?

7. Use multicultural activities. Regularly use different types of ethnic music for creative movement or during rest times. Infuse your craft time with multicultural crafts, such as origami or Scandinavian Christmas ornaments. Celebrate Kwanzaa (a December African-American celebration of family) or Cinco de Mayo (Mexican Independence Day on May 5).

Serve ethnic foods as a normal course of your program. Your kids will enjoy baklava, sopapillas with honey or Native American fry bread. Ask parents of all ethnic origins to take turns providing a favorite snack from their cultural heritage.

For more ideas, check out Rainbow Activities from Creative Teaching Press, 800-444-4287 ($6.95) or Positively Different by Ana Consuelo Matiella from Network Publications, 800-321-4407 ($14.95).


THE POWER OF LOVE
John Perkins, publisher of Urban Family magazine, answers the question: How can we help people overcome racism?

*Love is every person's most basic need.
"The first step is to help them understand God's love and its power. Our love for Jesus is to be demonstrated by the way we love each other."

*Treat people equally.
"A second way we can help people overcome racism is to treat them with evenhandedness. A young teenager named Rosa, who battled feelings of inferiority, was involved in our summer youth work program in Mississippi. After she came to Christ, she said: ÔI was amazed at how John and Vera Mae loved me just as much as they loved the other children. That drew me to accept the love of Jesus.'"

*Become secure in God's love for you.
"A third way to overcome racism is to deal with our insecurities and help others deal with theirs. Insecurity causes one person to exploit another."

"If you do these things for every child in your ministry, you'll affirm the dignity of people of all races."

Copyright© 1992 Group Publishing, Inc. / Children's Ministry Magazine

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