I really like this particular letter because it's all about getting up close and personal. It's great to talk about people who are different than you, but one thing that is truly effective in changing hearts, minds, and attitudes is interacting with people who are different. Why is this the case? Well, when you interact with and get to know people who are different than you, they can help to debunk the myths that can be held about a group that they belong to. Think all Muslims are terrorists? Not my friend from school and her family. All Black people are violent? Not the nice man from my church who always gives me candy (this is actually something that happens at my church - one man gives my kids candy every weekend. They LOVE him - clearly!). All gay people are promiscuous? Not our family friend who has been in a committed and monogamous relationship with his boyfriend for the past 8 years. Without these interactions, it can be harder (not impossible, but much more difficult) to understand that stereotypes aren't applicable to everyone. This can be especially helpful for children, who need something concrete, rather than hypothetical, to really internalize that. Or better yet, interactions can help prevent stereotypes from developing and solidifying in children's brains to begin with.
There is a caveat to this, however. The interaction has to be authentic. It can't be forced or just for show. Kids will see right through that. And they are going to look to you as the adult to set the tone. So if you always say hello to the mom at school who is a different color than you, but are actually friends with moms who are of your same race, that sends a powerful message to a child. Kids are smart - they know the difference! Encourage your child to interact with people who are different, but follow your own advice as well. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Which one will you try first? Which is the easiest? Any additional suggestions on ways to reach out? Leave a comment below so we can all benefit from your great ideas!
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Dr. Sweeney is a licensed school psychologist and cultural competence expert. Here are her musings on life in a multicultural world.
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