A preschool class contains one black kid – we’ll call him Billy — and all the rest are white. When a parent of one of the white kids asks, “So, is there something different about Billy?” that child will likely answer, “Of course! He’s different from everyone in the class.” “Why is that?” “He’s the only one with dinosaur shoes.”
Racism doesn’t exist among small children. They don’t care about the color of your skin; they only care if you like to play any fun games. In their world, there is no black, brown, yellow, white or any other color. There are only other kids. Everyone is different, but that doesn’t make them bad. The idea that someone should be inferior because of skin color is ridiculous to them, much like discriminating because someone has straight hair or wore an orange shirt. How, then, do we get from there to the prevalent racism and hatred that’s evident all over the world? As a member of a family that has every imaginable race within its ranks, I’ve pondered this question for countless hours. The one obvious thing is that no one is born racist; somewhere along the way, society teaches them to hate.
The beginnings of racist thinking
Look at the environment of any racist person. For the vast majority of them, the teaching started at home, likely at a young age, by watching their parents’ actions and listening to their words. Something as seemingly harmless as a vaguely racist joke may leave an impression on children who are trying so hard to learn about their world. If someone laughs at the joke, then they assume it must be acceptable. It gets even more sinister from there – muttering about the overall degradation of the neighborhood (and who’s at fault), or even plain informing children that “some people are just better than others.”
Racism that’s inadvertently taught in schools
Once you get to school, the one-sided history lessons may not be readily apparent. These are getting better overall, but there are still some lingering revisionist histories that are clearly skewed to a certain ethnic group. For instance, children may learn about the hardships of pioneers, mountain men, and other Europeans against the Native Americans. They may not hear about the destruction of the First Nations, the mass slaughters, the forced moves, the Indian schools and the biological warfare. They learn about Manifest Destiny and the transcontinental railroad, but not the death of millions of bison – and certainly don’t question why people felt entitled to just take from others. No one really talks about hundreds of thousands of Africans who died in slave ships on the way to the New World, or the Chinese who died by the thousands doing work that no one else was willing to do. Few are told of the Japanese relocation camps throughout the United States.
Authority and peer racism in adulthood
Anyone who hasn’t internalized racist messages by adulthood still has plenty of chances throughout their career, marriage, and acquaintances. Messages from friends, family members, elders and even clergy continue just as they did in childhood. If someone doesn’t hear different messages or experience anything different, then they’ll just keep accepting the ideas without examining their rationality. Sometimes without even realizing it, they then perpetuate the mindset with their children.
Overall, it’s not natural or normal to hate someone for arbitrary differences. Millions of people have either conscious or subconscious feelings against others, whether it’s for race, gender, country of origin, or some other factor that doesn’t really mean much from an objective view. Few people can point to any reason at all to harbor such hateful thoughts. If they’re not recognized and examined logically, then the baseless hate or feelings of superiority simply continue from one generation to the next.