5 Ways to Encourage Diversity... From Birth!

BabiesIt happens to us more often than I would like to admit: we're out and about, running errands in our middle class, suburban community, when a baby becomes frightened by the sight of my tall, dark-skinned husband. One infant, strapped to his mother's chest in a baby carrier, became inconsolable while she stood too close to my African American husband in the grocery store. The parents immediately become apologetic, as if their baby had done something wrong. The incident left me wondering: can babies be racist?

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Of course babies are not racist! At birth, our little ones are the purest forms of human beings ready to absorb whatever teachings their world provides them. Even if a baby displays prejudice against another person who doesn't look the same as their general grouping, I would hardly classify the behavior as "racist". However, studies that examine baby's reactions to others can help parents understand why racially homogenous environments do little to combat racism. A study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst published in Developmental Science determined that by nine months of age, infants are "better at recognizing faces and emotional expressions of people within groups they interact with most"; an interesting finding considering our real-life experiences as a mixed race family.

At their core, many parents are fundamentally against racism and want to encourage equality and diversity as values in their child's upbringing. So how do you start teaching your baby to not be racist? How can we raise kids to value multiculturalism? Here are 5 tips that every parent (regardless of skin color!) can do to ensure their babies grow into well-rounded and open-minded adults.

Multicultural Books
For the many advantages that literature posses, reading to your baby is a great way to introduce diversity into your environment. Choose books that depict renderings of real people with varying skin colors, different hair texture and facial features. While although the messaging will be above your infant's understanding, simply exposing them to people of color in literature can begin the development of a diverse environment.

Bilingual Music
Babies love music! And exposing your baby to music that highlights varying languages, beats and instruments will begin to create a love of all languages in your infant. Bilingual music is innately filled with exposure to new cultures, traditions, and values that can help raise a child that appreciates multiculturalism. As a Cuban American, many of my childhood memories center around salsa music. Although I can't recite the words or even the names of bands or singers, Latin beats and salsa music help to form my understanding of Cuban identity from a bi-cultural experience. Music is a part of every culture; finding enjoyment in cultural music helps to remind your child that, although different, we are very much the same.

Diversity in Toyland
This is a simple, yet not to be overlooked, task that parents can make to raise babies who are not prejudice - diversify their toys. It isn't a common sight, but there is something so beautiful to me when I see a white girl carrying a black or brown doll because I know that parent values diversity and multiculturalism. As you begin to collect sweet relics and toys for your baby's nursery, consider diversifying their space with dolls of different ethnicity. It's okay that our world is filled with people different from us. New figures, like Doc McStuffins, are changing the landscapes for many American children. Raising your baby to embrace what makes us all unique, while reminding them that we are all same much the same, is the foundation for raising children who are not racist.

Diverse Environments
Books, music and toys that embrace diversity are a great way to set the foundation of multiculturalism for your baby, but nothing will quite be as effective as creating a real life world of varying skin colors. Take your baby out into the world and interact with all the people in it. Check out new areas of town, visit new libraries, seek like minded parenting groups on meetup.com, do things that promote interactions in new languages. Babies (and adults!) begin to see, familiarize and trust those who do not look like them when you make the efforts to create a diverse environment from birth.

Model Your Values
I wouldn't dare raise my kids to be color blind. In a world that offers so many unique perspectives, I choose a multicultural approach. I want my children to see their brown skin and think its beautiful, despite those that will tell them otherwise. I also want them to treat others with different values, religious beliefs and languages with respect. I know this isn't always easy. Even within my own interracial marriage and bi-cultural family, differing cultural norms can be cumbersome to navigate through. But, I believe in communication. I believe that when coming from a place of sincerity and respect, we should be allowed to ask questions and begin dialogues. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. Raising babies to not be racist isn't really the topic at hand - we all know that babies come to this earth are pure as anyone can humanly be. Raising parents to embrace multiculturalism; who reject racist comments and jokes; who encourage their children to judge their peers by their actions, and not by their skin color, is really what we're doing when we set up diverse environments for our babies to grow up in.
-By Vanessa Bell

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