Fostering Open-Mindedness in Children: A Focus on Race and Bias

The past year has shown us both internationally and locally that racism and bias are two topics that continue to be of great consequence. The murders of George Floyd (46), Breonna Taylor (26) and Ahmaud Arbery (25) woke the world up to the systematic racism that is rife in the USA and galvanised many to take a closer look at whether being non racist is enough and if more effort should go into being actively anti-racist in our everyday lives. 

The world realised that more needs to be done in the way of educating people of all ages as to the many faces of racism, the way it shapes and affects the everyday life of those impacted and why it needs to be addressed, starting in the home.

As a parent, one way you can support this cause is to incorporate the need to raise open-minded and unbiased children in your overarching parenting strategy.

Racism in the Cayman Islands

There are few instances of outright racial discrimination in the Cayman Islands, however there can be occurrences of bias and bigotry, most of which are directly tied to incorrect assumptions about a person and the stereotypes often placed on his or her race. With over 120 nationalities represented in the local population, the framework to engage with persons of many different races is sometimes met with an underlying swell of casual racism and prejudice.

Typically the three kinds of bias at the forefront of these interactions are:

1. Expatriates vs Locals

This is by far the largest, most profound and certainly the most widely discussed case of prejudice in the Cayman Islands. There are several debates within any number of political, social, familial and employment arenas as to whether expatriates are given preferential treatment over Caymanians (which includes born-Caymanians and Status Holders) in regards to job openings and career progression, housing rentals, acceptance into primary and secondary private schools, and even social situations, like ordering a drink at the bar.It’s not fair, however, to treat this as a blanket statement; not every Caymanian or expatriate feels this way. In fact, the majority of Caymanians welcome and befriend expatriates. However, as is the case in most places in the world, there are a select few who feel strongly against “all others”, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality.

2. Caymanians vs Status Holders vs Right to be Caymanians

The term “local” is usually reserved for born-Caymanians, who differentiate themselves from persons who have received Caymanian Status or the Right to be Caymanian, even though in both latter cases the said individual may have been born in the Cayman Islands and may have lineage that dates back several generations.

3. White Caymanians vs All Other Caymanians

Within the Caymanian crowd, there’s also a separation of what are considered ‘White Caymanians’: those of fairer complexion who are also usually well-to-do and live in wealthy neighbourhoods. Even more confusing, is the reference of someone being described as ‘West Bay White’, which generally means they have fair (but not white) skin and light but coarse hair, and aren’t necessarily wealthy. Even further, it’s often said that Cayman Brackers feel superior to those from “Grand” (Grand Cayman).

Caymanians are generally mild-mannered, which often leads to common occurrences of casual racism, whereby prejudice may be portrayed micro-aggressively in the way of jokes. Someone may nonchalantly refer to another as the “N-word”, without meaning for it to be used in a racist manner. Or, a residential neighbourhood may be classed as ‘white’ because it’s predominantly occupied by Caucasians. Further, a particular private school may be referred to as a ‘white school’ while public schools are typically attended by Caymanian children.

These scenarios are unfortunately culturally accepted and rarely challenged, which is why it’s even more important to put a stop to these and other, more traditional forms of racism as and when they occur, thereby changing the course of racial acceptance as it relates to local culture.

It can be tricky to address racism or bias when encountered but there are three key factors that play a pivotal role in fighting racism and shaping an open-minded and aware child:

  1. Rising above stigmas
  2. Leading by example
  3. Keeping an open dialogue

If feel your child may be displaying signs of racism, know that racist behaviour can also be unlearned by consciously implementing these elements.

Lead by Example

Raising children to be accepting of all races, to be socially aware and to develop positive social attitudes begins at home.

It’s never too early to begin thinking about teaching your child to be anti-racist. A Harvard study has shown that babies as young as nine-months-old are able to recognise the difference between races. Further, researchers at Northwestern University found that children as young as four had a “strong and consistent pro-white bias.” Not only are young children absorbing the stereotypes they’re shown at an early age, alarmingly they are standardising social status labels and biases exhibited by family members.

As a parent, you are the role model; how you interact with and refer to people of different races – whether Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African American or mixed-race – will demonstrate to your children how they should as well. Also, whether you choose to meekly ignore racist comments or stand up firmly but fairly to them also speaks volumes to an observing child.

A few examples of how you can respond to racism are:

  1. Please don’t make racist comments in front of me or my children.
  2. How did you reach that conclusion?
  3. Where did you learn that?
  4. Comments like that say to me that whiteness is superior, and I don’t agree.
  5. Your comment implies that …

Remember, you want to address the comment as it’s made, but there’s no need to do so in an aggressive manner that encourages a standoff.

“Modelling accepting behaviours is the best and easiest way.” – Bobby

Unlearning Racism

The silver lining to this important issue, is that racism can be unlearned through committed and ongoing effort in the home.

The goal is for children to learn that it’s okay to talk about race openly and non-judgmentally; it’s okay to point out differences in skin colour, hair texture and other features, provided they are doing so in a curious way.

Engage with persons of different races in a respectful way and use opportunities where racism is portrayed – mild or aggressive – to stand up in the fight against racism and as conversation starters at home.

The world and our small but mighty trio of islands is full of so many beautiful people representing every skin tone imaginable; rather than feigning colour-blindness, let’s celebrate diversity and normalise conversations about race.

“When my kids were little I used the very simple analogy of dogs: Dogs come in different colours and shapes, but they are all dogs. Just like people come in different colours and shapes, we are all people.” – Nicole

Rising Above Stigmas

Unfortunately there are stigmas attached to certain races and nationalities. In the case of African Americans, this is often driven by the historical background of slavery that divided whites from blacks; however, cultural differences and societal norms can also play a role in how we perceive some nationalities and minority ethnicities, such as Muslims, Filipinos and Latinos.

The problem lies in making assumptions around that race and using stereotypes and labels to oppress them.

Coming upon someone of this mindset presents an opening to discourage stereotyping and stigmatising, and to discuss respecting differences.

A simple approach to teaching your child to rise above stigmas is to celebrate diversity among your and your child’s friends. Ask yourself if your child’s social group is mostly representative of one race and seek out play dates with persons of different races. Have your child join sporting and activity clubs that include children from various backgrounds to broaden their interactions. You can even go as far as taking a closer look at the medical professionals and service providers you use – is the former only white and the latter minority races?

Consider also incorporating toys into your child’s play that represent varying skin tones. There are a number of books (see book lists below) that indirectly speak to racism by celebrating the beauty in darker skin, as well as movies that show the struggles of the black community. Use brown (not peach or yellow) colours when painting and colouring characters and seek out puzzles and other activity games that offer a diverse mix of races.

It’s important as a parent to demonstrate to your child that you value people of all races. Positive interactions with other racial and social groups early on helps decrease prejudice and encourage more cross-group friendships.

“My daughters are proud black women who do not accept anything blindly and they are quick to jump to the defence of anyone they think needs support.” – Kathy

Opening the Dialogue

As a parent, it is often difficult to decide when – or if – you should broach the sensitive, and often controversial, topic of racism. While racism is a charged subject matter for sure, opening the dialogue and speaking candidly about racial bias, how it may present in your everyday life and how to respond if witnessed or experienced gives your child the gift of awareness. Being intentional about conversations relating to racism will empower your child and lessen his or her ignorance and naivety; this is particularly important for tweens and teens who are more likely to encounter racism and are immensely influenced by their peers.

Before talking with your children, do some research on conversation starters based on the age of your child – remember, every family’s conversation will be different. Begin by stating that they will not get in trouble for their answers and if they’re unclear about something, you can look it up together as a family. Be amenable to questions they may have and respond in a non-judgmental way that encourages the dialogue and assures them – responses such as “Why do you think that?” and “What makes you say that?” will help them expand on their thoughts.

Social pressures in the shadow of heavily publicised racist incidents should be used as an opportunity to broach the topic; while barbaric and disheartening on every level imaginable, historic cases like the following fatal shootings make racism relatable to children of similar ages: Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones, shot by a police officer during a raid on her home after a grenade was launched into the house. The police officer faced no charges. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin who was innocently walking home from the shop and shot by George Zimmerman, or the savage murder of 18-year-old Anthony Walker in the UK who was racially abused and then ambushed in a park and killed with an axe. Watching news reports around these and other cases with your older children is a great way to learn together and open the door for deeper discussion. It’s equally important to keep the conversation going after the media have stopped airing reports and interest begins waning on social media as this sends the message that confronting racism is not a fad, but a lifelong effort.

There are several online articles offering age-appropriate advice. The Centre for Racial Justice in Education is an excellent hub of information on how to speak to children about discrimination, how to support children of colour, what white children should know about race, resources for educators and more; there’s even a tip sheet on racial stereotypes and an activity book for African American families to help children cope with crises.

Some conversation starters from The White Families’ Guide for Talking About Racism:

  1. Have you ever mistreated anyone because of their skin colour?
  2. Have you ever thought anything bad about someone because of their skin colour?
  3. Have you ever seen something racist happen or heard a racist remark? What was it?
  4. What did you do or say after it happened?

The Black Families’ Guide for Talking about Racism shares some conversation starters:

  1. Think about a time you have been treated differently because of how you look, speak or where you are from. How did it feel?
  2. Can you truly tell who is good or bad just based on how they look?
  3. What if you had a friend that made fun of your skin colour? What if you had a friend that did not stick up for you when other people were being racist towards you?
  4. Sometimes you might see a person being racist towards someone else. It might be one of your friends, someone at the playground or even a stranger. They may try to say it was a joke, but racism is never a joke.
  5. You may have been taught at school that racism is over and that Black people are treated fairly now. This is not always true. We have been fighting for years and are still fighting for equality today.

Consider asking the parent’s of your children’s friends what steps they are taking within their homes, and touching base with your child’s teacher to check whether this is a topic being discussed in the class.

Ultimately, the choice to have these conversations is entirely yours to make based on what you feel is best for your family.

“I tell [my grandkids] every single day how beautiful they are; how treasured and special. If that foundation of self-worth is planted and planted deeply, it will be easier for any harsh words to be deflected.” – Renee

______________________________________________________________________________

Books & Movies on Racism

Children’s Books
‘I Am Enough’ by Grace Byers
‘We’re Different, We’re the Same’ (Sesame Street) by Bobbi Kates
‘All Are Welcome’ by Alexandra Penfold
‘The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family’ by Ibtihaj Muhammad
‘Where Are You From?‘ by Yamile Saied Méndez
‘Anti-Racist Baby’ by Ibram X. Kendi
‘Hair Love’ by Vashti Harrison and Matthew A Cherry
‘Woke Baby’ by Mahogany L. Browne
‘A is for Activist’ by Innosanto Nagara

Young Adult Books
‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas
‘Dear Martin’ by Nic Stone
‘Come On In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home’ by Adi Alsaid
‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race’ by Beverly Daniel Tatum
‘All American Boys’ by Jason Reynolds

Parents’ Books
‘How to be Anti-Racist’ by Ibram X. Kendi
‘Tell Me Who You Are’ by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Movies
‘The Hate U Give’
‘Hidden Figures’
‘Remember the Titans’
‘The Colour of Friendship’
‘Betty & Coretta’
‘Ruby Bridges’
‘Akeelah and the Bee’

For more diverse and inclusive picture books for kids of all ages, visit hereweeread.com.

 “We have variety of books with characters of different races.” – Sarah

Online Resources for Parents

Black Lives Matter – #BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organisation in the US, UK and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centring Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives. blacklivesmatter.com

#TalkAboutTrayvon Digital Toolkit for White People – It’s important for white people to break ‘white silence’ and have honest conversations with friends, family and neighbours. These conversations can help us find others to build with and change the minds of people who disagree about racial justice. The digital toolkit commemorates the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death and contains sample content for social media that speaks to anti-Blackness. blacklivesmatter.com

The White Families’ Guide for Talking About Racism: How We Can Grow to be Anti-Racist? – Naomi O’Brien and LaNesha Tabb, two elementary teachers and mums, created this practical guide for white families and caregivers raising white children who are ready to have conversations around racism and how to actively help in the fight against racism. Naomi and LaNesha also penned a Black Families’ Guide as well as a People of Colour Families’ Guide for non-Black families. See the Educational Resources tab on their website. laneshatabb.com

How to Talk to Your Children About Racism – Guidance by Age –The way children understand the world evolves as they grow, but it’s never too late to talk to them about equality and racism. This online guide by UNICEF offers some age-appropriate ways to start that conversation and explain that racism is always wrong. unicef.org

Embrace Race – Raise children who are thoughtful, informed and ‘Brave about Race’ through informative webinars, action guides, articles and more. embracerace.org

Social Media Accounts to Follow

The Conscious Kid – Parenting and education through a critical lens. @theconsciouskid

Black Lives Matter – The official social media account for the #blacklivesmatter movement. @blklivesmatter

Everyday Racism UK – Encouraging active listening, learning and doing the work to fight everyday racism. @everydayracism

On Racism – Insights from peer-reviewed articles and research on racism and anti-blackness. @onracism

Let’s Talk Racism – A personal blog and safe space for all to speak freely about racism, without being racist. @letstalkracism

This article was first published in Cayman Parent magazine, November 2020

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