Barack Obama's election as the first black president of the United States emphasized the country's ability to overcome deeply embedded racism ... but also brought out the very worst in grown-ups and kids who were outraged at the historic outcome.
Before the election and in the weeks after Nov. 4, hundreds of hate crimes cropped up nationwide as racism reared its ugly head. That the United States — the great "melting pot" of the world — saw a racially motivated backlash wasn't necessarily a surprise but it was often shocking. Obama likenesses hung by nooses from trees. Spray-painted racial slurs surfaced near college campuses. And Obama has the distinction of receiving more death threats than any other president-elect in history (he gave his acceptance speech and took the stage with his family standing behind a wall of bulletproof glass).
The reality of a black president has riled white supremacists and those who've been raised in generation after generation of bigotry. As kids around the country keep a close eye on their parents' attitudes about the election and our new president, the stage is being delicately set for how children will view other people who are different from them.
What to Watch:
Talking to kids about discrimination and the importance of embracing diversity (in appearances, cultures, races, ethnicities, opinions, etc.) is more important now than ever. Without the right perspective, kids — especially the younger set — may distrust someone based solely on how they look. Moms and dads must step up and help their children value diversity, regardless of which candidate they chose on Election Day. We need to provide guidance and education about the wonderfully diverse world we live in, especially for kids growing up in isolated communities with fewer minorities, and emphasize that it's not only OK that we're all different — but that acceptance of differences in beliefs and cultural heritage is one of the principles on which this country was founded. Parents should be mindful of cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them, and demonstrate an attitude of respect for others. Remember, kids are always listening, so it's important to be aware of how we speak about people who are different from us.
This dawn of a new era can and should be an opportunity for teaching kids, from toddlers to teens, how to respect and learn from others, value differences, bridge cultural gaps, reject unfair stereotypes, discover common ground, create new bonds, and accept people for who they are and what they can offer.
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