There is nothing more disturbing than watching a child use a racist slur or mock someone based on their physical appearance, caste, colour or race. Recently, former West Indies cricket captain Darren Sammy shared his experience of racial discrimination in India. We tout about our country’s diversity and inclusive culture, but there exists deep-rooted prejudice in our society.
Mandar Kamble, a senior accountant from Mumbai was in for a rude shock, when he saw his 10-year-old son being bullied by another boy for being dark-skinned. “Kids quarrel and make up but I was upset because the older boy who kept calling my son ‘Kallu’ (black),” recollects Kamble.
Heena (name withheld to protect identity), a single mother from Pune was flabbergasted when her eight- year-old son perched himself on the kitchen stool and asked, “Mom is it true that Chinkis eat pigs (pork) and bamboo.”
A shocked Heena took a moment to evaluate and asked herself, whether her son even knows that the people he was referring to are Indians from the North east. She asked her son why he had used the term “Chinki”.
He told her that some of his friends in school used it to call a classmate. Heena asked her son how he would feel if someone called him “fatty”. He promptly responded in the negative. “It was a Eureka moment. It was an innocuous question but I explained to him why it is a racist slur and wrong to judge people based on what they eat or wear,” she says.
The recent killing of George Flyod (46) by a white police officer in the US has opened up wounds of racial discrimination across the world. In India, more often than not people from the minority communities have been called “Beefeater” by some of our politicians to score brownie points. Even as the nation reels under the Coronavirus lockdown pressure, there have been reports of people from Northeastern states being called ‘Corona’.
All parents want their children to grow in a safe and compassionate society. However, parents would be mortified if they come to know that their child spews racist slurs. Children repeat words that they hear or see in their immediate surroundings — home, school and society, TV or social media.
They may not understand the meaning of these terms and that they are offensive. They may just take them at face value and utter while squabbling or to prove a point. This can be a very tricky issue to handle for teachers and parents.
Strike a Conversation
Maria Abranches, a teacher-cum-active listener from Goa, who is associated with Befrienders India, says children pick vocabulary from home and their immediate surroundings. “People can go on pontificating but what one really needs to do is talk to children.
You have to teach them to respect others and explain why it is not right to make racist, sexist or personal comments against anybody,” she says.
Parents need to understand that when it comes to raising children, mere observation is not enough. You need to have a conversation with your child.
According to Abranches, adults make racist comments because of their deep-rooted prejudices with the intention to belittle or hurt someone. Children use slurs without understanding the meaning or consequences.
“But kids are smart. They understand if you gain their trust, create a scenario, put them in the shoes of the victim and explain why it is hurtful to make racist, casteist or personal comments,” she explains.
Chennai-based Kesang Menezes, a certified parent educator and founder of Parenting Matters says that during a teachers’ workshop, she was horrified to learn that some students were uncomfortable sitting with kids from the minority community.
“Even kids have prejudices. It is important to sensitise parents and children.”
Be a Role model
She suggests parents who care to raise sensitive children need to have honest conversation about what injustice society does towards prejudices. “To be a good role model, parents should first teach their child to respect others.
That should be the core teaching. I have seen many US-returned parents in India make their child’s nanny sit on the floor and eat in a separate plate and cup. Would they dare do the same to a nanny in the US?” Menezes asks.
Children are curious. They want to know why people from a particular faith dress in a particular way, eat vegetarian or non-vegetarian food or look different.
“You have to be patient and explain to your child if you want them to be sensitive, compassionate and accepting of others. These conversations need to be at home and in the classroom so that kids don’t mock or make racist comments,” she says.
It is an ugly truth that you cannot eliminate racism from the world, but you can certainly make your child aware of it. You need to make them sensitive, compassionate and tolerant by explaining that racist, casteist, and sexist or personal comments only hurt people. After all words can make or mar relationships!