Teaching Diversity To Children

My Personal Guide For Elementary School Students

By Courtney Daly-Pavone June 5, 2020

*This article is a 4 minute read.

I grew up in a diverse New York neighborhood. I am biracial, my mom was black and my father was white. I went to predominantly white schools, attended a mostly black church in my youth, and spent a lot of time in Europe at camp, college, and in various exchange programs. I didn't know what color was until age seven when a friend asked, "What color are you?" I thought that was a bazaar question. I remember thinking, "How can a person be a color?" 

I've dealt with racism, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. I've shelved these experiences, but the events of the past few weeks exposed my scar tissue. 

I married  a white man from Southern Italy. In some respects we are kindred spirits. There is a derogatory name for Southern Italians-Terrone. It means someone who works with their hands, a peasant. When we flew to Italy for our wedding we had a lay over in Rome. At a security checkpoint, my boxed wedding dress ran through a scanner. The agent asked me, "Oh you're getting married congratulations where is your wedding?" When I replied Sicily, the agent said, "I hope you're not marrying a Terrone!" Thankfully my husband didn't hear him , but I when I said he was from the South and the agent replied, "Oh I only said that because I'm a Terrone." I told him he should have more respect for himself.

Like all parents we had hoped that things would be better for this generation, and in some respects it is, but cases of police brutality and the current political climate expose the work that still needs to be done. 

When I Knew It Was Time To Discuss Race With My Child

When my son was five his girlfriend at school broke up with him because she said he was "too dark." He was hurt and confused by her words. When I mentioned the incident to his teacher she said she was aware of their conversation, and had admonished her. Later my son received apology letters from the little girl and her mother. We forgave them. I realized it was a good time for our talk.

My 12 Tips What Every Child Needs To Know 

#1 Start With Geography

Display a world map in your child's room, or a globe. Explain, and celebrate culture, language, and landmarks with them. Start with Pangaea let them know that at one time the continents were connected creating a supercontinent.

#2 Why Human Beings Have Different Skin Tones

Start by telling your child that we are all human beings. We may look different on the outside, but we all have hearts, minds, and feelings. Explain that 200,000 years ago civilization began in Eastern Africa. 60,000 years ago some human beings started to leave Africa. Over several thousands of years, skin tones evolved with the darkest populations around the equator and the lightest ones near the poles. Explain that some people think their race, or color is superior, but that is called racism, and it is not true.

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santyana Philosopher

#3 Discuss African American History As a Family

10 million African American Slaves helped build the U.S. economy by providing free labor.  Waves of immigrants later provided America with cheap workers from the 1880's to present day.

5 Key Facts To Share With Your Kids About African American Slaves

African American Slaves Built:

The White House

Wall Street

The Smithsonian

The U.S. Capital Building and many additional landmark buildings.

#4 The Civil War

Teach children about the war between the North and South that was fought over the institution of slavery.

#5 The Thirteenth Amendment

This amendment to the U.S. constitution made slavery illegal in all states. It passed in 1865.

#6 Reconstruction

After the civil war, Jim Crow Laws existed for 100 years, and ended in 1968. 

Under Jim Crow African Americans were denied:

The right to vote. 

Hold jobs.

Get an education or other opportunities. 

Those who broke Jim Crow laws were arrested, fined, jailed, faced violence and sometimes death. 

#7 Segregation

Until 1954, African Americans went to separate schools, used black only bathrooms, and had to sit on the back of the bus. Many blacks did not have access to higher education. Several towns didn't have black high schools. For example, my aunt Helen had to leave her home in Baltimore and live with a family in Washington DC to earn her high school diploma. 

#8 Teach Your Child About African American Patriots

Despite slavery, segregation, and lynching blacks enlisted in the military and fought in every U.S. war from the American Revolution to present day only to return home and face discrimination. 

#9 Civil Rights Movement

The 1960's saw some of America's greatest hero's such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, WEB Du Bois, and Malcolm X. Find books on some of these inspirational people at your local library and book stores.

# 10 Present Day

Tell you child that while there are still injustices, progress has been made. In the words of Dr. King, "I have a dream that my four little children will be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin." There are black astronauts, teachers, cops, lawyers, artists, musicians, chefs, doctors, political leaders we even had a black president and the future is bright we just have to treat everyone with fairness and respect. 

#11 There Are Good Cops

Teach your children not to fear law enforcement. Most cops are good people, they are who we call when we are in trouble, or hurt. 

#12 George Floyd

Your child probably already knows who George Floyd is. Talk to them about his death, and how justice awaits the cops charged in his killing. Let them know that Americans of all races are protesting on the streets because it is their 1st Amendment right, and they never want this to happen again.

For Younger Children

Don't Miss Sesame Street's Town Hall On Racism Saturday June 6th @ 10 AM on CNN

Check out these anti-racist books for Kindergartners: “Black Is a Rainbow Color,” “Last Stop on Market Street,” “Each Kindness” and “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.”

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