A third-grade teacher trying to assemble her class in the school yard after a play period grew increasingly impatient. Just as the line started moving, a straggler, his face smeared with sweat and grime, ran up. "Why look at you, Billy," barked the exasperated woman. "You're all dirty. You look just like a little colored boy." All the youngsters laughed, except for two black children in the group. Shamed embarrassed, they stood in silence, their eyes averted from the laughing throng. Without malice, the teacher had planted a seed of prejudice.
"By the time he is an adult, even many an intellectually enlightened person is unable to explain to himself why he feels repelled by members of another so-called racial group."
Most adults don't deliberately tutor children to be prejudiced, but nevertheless, kids are infected with grown-up biases. While we adults like to consider ourselves as being free from bigotry, facts tend to prove otherwise. About 80 percent of Americans have an appreciable degree of prejudice, claims psychologist Gordon W. Allport. He defines prejudice as "an avertive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group."
Though we were born free from prejudice, growing up in a specific family, race, religion, or nation has conditioned us to show preferential treatment to members of our own group. The natural clannishness we're exposed to contributes significantly to the development of bias. As people cluster within their primary groups, communication with outside groups frequently breaks down and antagonisms grow. Differences are blown out of proportion; misunderstandings multiply and conflicts sometimes erupt. Racial attitudes are usually built into a person during the early years of life, claims John Gill in, professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. How? By a series of influences and incidents controlled and interpreted by the members of one's own family and social group. "These developments often take place during an age period before the child has fully developed the use of language and critical experience, and they are usually associated with basic emotions," Gillin states. "Thus by the time he is an adult, even many an intellectually enlightened person is unable to explain to himself or to understand why he feels
10 Rules For Combating Prejudice
1. Create a respect for differences, keeping in mind that it's normal to be different. 2. Judge each person as an individual and not as part of a group. 3. Recognize that there's good and bad in every group. 4. Remember that the best teaching is done by example. 5. Stress the things that we all have in common. 6. Don't generalize from isolated incidents and don't gossip. 7. Agree to disagree agreeably but speak up when confronted with prejudice. Demand facts and proof. 8. Don't label. Think of a person as a unique human being. 9. Know your community and do something together with your neighbors. 10. Develop the capacity to listen.
repelled by members of another so-called racial group. "It would seem that. while education of a ll adults in matters of race is eminently desirable, the crucial aspect is the education of parents and other rearers of children. It is they who must be motivated to train and raise the next generation of children without building into them unreasoning and unnecessary attitudes toward other groups of human beings." The most important influence parents can wield is their own good example in fostering brotherhood on a day-by-day basis. If a parent is aware of his own biases and can deal honestly with gut feelings. he's bound to be able to help his child overcome negative attitudes toward others. Actions speak louder than words, so it's essential for adults to monitor their own behavior.
Lie Turns to Truth
One striking example of parental concern led to a mother's dramatic change of heart. A Negro woman confided to her white friend that she had tried to protect her children by lying to them. "White people really love blacks," she reassured them. She didn't really believe that. but she wanted to prevent prejudice from hurting them. Through great sacrifice she was able to send her youngsters to a private school where most of the students were white. Anticipating love instead of hate, the children easily made friends, and soon classmates were visiting their home. Despite the growing relationships, the mother became increasingly anxious. "I dread the day when racism rears its ugly head," she told her white friend. "I'm afraid my kids are going to get hurt." But her fears proved unfounded, for racial incidents never occurred. Instead. the friendships deepened. Finally. the
"Children cannot be deceived; they quickly perceive adult motives. The love that parents manifest at home and teachers radiate in the classroom will be emulated by the children."
mother confided to her neighbor: "Those children taught me what I believed to be a lie can be the truth." Despite misgivings, that mother was able to project positive attitudes toward a "different" group; happily, her children caught those feelings. "Rearing children of goodwill is basically a problem of educating parents of goodwill," points out James M. Egan of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. "Many forces shape the mind of a child - church, school, neighborhood, community - but there is little doubt that the first and primary influence is that of the parents, especially the mother. The problem then becomes one of reaching the parents, especially the preschool parents, so they may at least be aware of the effect of their attitudes upon the preschool child." Through the years NCCJ has been putting that philosophy into practice by preparing program materials for use by church groups, PTAs, home and school associations. Workshop training sessions involving parents and youth have ca used both to reexamine attitudes while deepening understanding. For several years, the New York City chapter of NCCJ and the American Red Cross have conducted seminars for pregnant women and their husbands, stressing the importance for parents to form correct social attitudes even before a child is born. Human relations groups such as NCCJ believe that while legislation. court decisions and mass appeals through the media can produce positive results, attitudes really change when people are confronted with facts and feelings on a personal basis. "The directed kind of attitude change can be done best in a workshop atmosphere with close relationship of people and ideas for an extended period of time," states James Egan. Such positive approaches of raising children of goodwill can be beneficial, but, unfortunately, for many parents the training may come too late to prevent the development of a prejudiced personality. How can one influence those youngsters who have caught biased attitudes? Frances R. Horwich, writing in PTA Magazine, explains what adults can do. "For those young children who have already learned to be prejudiced against someone or something, we must put forth great effort to help them acquire an understanding of other people: their differences, their talents and abilities. But we can do this only when first faced up to our own prejudices, determined to root them out. Then it becomes possible to guide our children into an appreciation of others."
Grown-ups of Goodwill
Yes, raising children of goodwill requires grown-ups of goodwill, for every person communicates the loves that dominate his life. Children cannot be deceived; they quickly perceive adult motives. The love that parents manifest at home and teachers radiate in the classroom will be emulated by the children. "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing," said Albert Schweitzer. This truth is further illustrated in Dorothy Law Nolte's poem "Children Learn What They Live": "If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith. If a child lives with approval; he learns to find love in the world." Striving to be a sterling example to his children may well be the most ambitious and significant challenge of a parent's life, but it is the best and possibly the only insurance against rearing a child who is prejudiced against his neighbor.