Stop Racism Before It Starts

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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!”

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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?

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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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