Kids have no “isms”

I have been trying to learn the names of the other kids in my son’s preschool group. So the other day, when he talked about William (name changed to protect privacy), I asked, “Is William the little Black boy?”. My son thought for a second and replied “No, he was wearing a blue shirt. It’s Dennis who was wearing black.”

This made me feel really stupid, and I changed subject at once before I instilled racism in his mind. Of course, he has no concept of what Black means. It’s not like we’re going to explain to him that all people are not the same and that some have a different skin color. When he asks about it, we’ll answer his questions. But it brought home the point that kids really don’t notice, or care about, this kind of thing. They are not born with racism, it’s a learned behavior.

It reminded me of something that happened years ago. My sister was driving to a family party and her stepson, who must have been 4 0r 5 at the time, was in the car with her. He was asking who was going to be at the party and trying to make links between people – who is the child of who, who is who’s husband, etc. At one point, he asked “Who is Angela’s boyfriend?”

Now, my aunt Angela has been married in the past and has two children. But several years after her divorce, she fell in love with a woman. I think she was as surprised as we all were by the whole thing, but nobody in the family made a big fuss over it. We just want our loved ones to be happy, no matter how they do it. So in this case, my sister could have tried to launch in a complicated explanation of sexual orientation, but she was smart enough not to. She simply replied matter-of-factly: “Angela doesn’t have a boyfriend, she has a girlfriend, it’s Louise.” The little boy paused for a second, then said “Oh…” and he changed subject.

He accepted it as a fact of life. It wasn’t something weird for him, because he had never been told that it was wrong, or different, or strange. That day, he just learned that you can love someone of your own gender or of the other gender, and that it doesn’t warrant a convoluted explanation. That’s just how things are. Now one of my cousins has come out of the closet as a teenager, and I love to think that the way we acted with his aunt and the way her sexual orientation was presented to the youngsters helped show him that we don’t care who he loves, we just want him to be happy, too.

Kids are not sexist, or racist, or homophobic until we teach them to be. They may notice the differences, but they’ll just accept them as normal if we don’t make a big fuss about them.

One Response to “Kids have no “isms””

  1. Anne Says:

    It’s true that the concept of race is learned. My son spent 5 years in a very multiethnic day care and I also realized that for him, skin color was like hair color or eyes color, it could change from one person to the next. And didn’t mean anything at all.