This week in class we’ve been doing some really important talking about the concept of prejudice. We discussed how prejudice means to pre-judge someone, to assume things about a person based on where they’re from, their religion, their age, their gender, or the color of their skin. We talked about how it’s different from disliking an individual who you know. I shared with the children how my mom wanted to be a doctor in the 1950s, but people told her “Girls have to be nurses; they can’t be doctors.” I also told them about my grandmother, born in 1900, who used to say really negative things about Italian people – and how that made me feel uncomfortable, because I loved her, but I also sensed that what she said wasn’t right or fair.
This morning we had a special visitor, Bailey’s dad, Barry Timmons. He shared with the class the story of how when he was 8 or so years old, he went to shop at Macy’s to buy a birthday present for his dad. Two security officers took him into a separate room and searched him – someone the age of one of our third graders – to see if he’d stolen anything, simply because he had dark brown skin. He asked the children how they would feel if that happened to them. “Mad.” “Embarrassed.” “Furious.” “Sad.” From there he went on to emphasize how we should always treat everyone with respect, how we’re all the same color underneath the thin covering of our skin. He encouraged the children to get to know people who seem different from them, and to think of differences not as something bad, but as something that makes each of us unique – and interesting! And then we talked a little about how sometimes you can feel shy around people who seem different from you, and so you don’t reach out to them – but when you do, sometimes you make a new friend.
I’d encourage you to ask your child about this conversation, and perhaps to use it as a springboard to a family discussion. Was there ever a time when you felt that you experienced prejudice? Was there someone in the older generation in your family who seemed prejudiced, and how did you feel about that? Or the scariest topic: have you ever caught yourself thinking something prejudiced? I told the class this morning, and I’ll confess to you all now, that I’ve always had a bit of a prejudice against sororities. “Those women are silly and not very smart,” I assumed – without even ever knowing one personally! Well, last night, my youngest, my daughter Ruth, came home from college for a few days. After filling me in on classes and her job, her face brightened. “Oh, and I forgot to tell you. I’ve joined a sorority, and it’s really great!” Well, as she told me more, I realized how very wrong and unfair I’d been. Isn’t it funny how life sometimes gives us these experiences so that we can then in turn help the young people in our lives? Remember, we are always modeling for them. They learn from us all the time, whether we’re deliberately trying to teach, or not. If we’re brave about talking about our complex feelings, instead of trying to be wholly admirable, it will help them learn to do that in turn.