#blacklivesmatter, anti-racism, children, early childhood education, peace, police brutality, race, social justice, taking action, unity, white allies

Introducing Anti-Racism to Children While Honoring Innocence

Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
(Originally Posted: June 8, 2020)

We are living in unique times, where the conversation around race, anti-racism, and equity are at the forefront of our minds. We are living amongst a new generation of activists–not just those who are marching in the streets, but activism through social media, as well as through parenting… It is a beautiful time to be living in. I personally, have felt my heart warm at the diverse images of protestors. The work that parents and teachers have put into raising a race conscious generation that is working toward not just being people who are not racist, but going the extra step in developing a generation that is anti-racist is noticeable. I do believe that as this movement continues to spread, we will become closer and closer within the generations to come, to a world that will have eliminated racialized injustice.

There is a a plethora of information out there, especially now, with regard to how to raise children who are anti-racist. While I concur with much of what is out there, I do think that there is a way to instill these values without exposing young children to historical details that may be inappropriate for their age. I believe that there are alternative approaches to raising race conscious children without compromising their innocence or sense of safety. Let me tell you a story…

I was blessed with the opportunity to attend an early childhood education center where the staff and students were primarily of color. My teachers were African-American, from the Caribbean islands, and more. My classmates spanned the tones and hues of the rainbow. This was also true of my kindergarten through third grade experience, having attended an African-centered charter school. I had the unique opportunity, in comparison to the typical public school experience, of seeing teachers, school leaders, staff, and classmates who looked like me, as well as learning our history and having books and images that reflected the make up of the class year-round and not just in February.

Yet, there was another side to this. We began learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, Ruby Bridges, and slavery as young as kindergarten. I remember wondering why a White person wouldn’t like me just because of my skin color and feeling scared by that. As I got slightly older, around second and third grade, I remember avoiding the television during Black History Month, because the movies and shows that were supposed to be geared toward children consisted of violent and scary images of: dogs attacking protestors, White protestors screaming at children who were integrating schools, etc. Being exposed to this at a young age broke my sense of safety and trust around people who were White. (I say this generally, as I did have friends who were White and felt safe around them.)

Fortunately, having friends from all racial backgrounds helped me to separate historical context from my personal encounters with individuals in seeing them for who they are, rather than what their ancestors did. Yet, as I consider how to share ideals of love, compassion, justice, cultural pride, and standing against oppression (namely racialized) in my own children, I have to say that I think my approach will be different. It is inevitable that they will learn the ugly truth of slavery and racism in our country. However, I just don’t think that that needs to happen as young as it did for me. I don’t want to traumatize them, steal their sense of security, make them that feel that the world hates them simply because of their color, or breed hatred toward all White people based on history. I want them to develop pride in where they come from, love of all people, and possess an activist’s heart that stands against injustice regardless of whom the victim is.
For me, that means teaching the following lessons:

  • Allah loves diversity. He has intentionally chosen to make us each different, unique, and beautiful in our own ways. There is no one standard of what it means to be beautiful. The only factors that make a person better in Allah’s eyes are our hearts, our character, and our piety. Allah does not look at our color, race, gender, abilities, or anything else beyond what’s above as making us better than any of His other creations. We all know the famous line from the Prophet’s (saw) last sermon where he states: “All mankind are descendants from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab. A White person has no superiority over a Black person, nor does a Black person have superiority over a White person, expect by piety and good action.”
  • Allah dislikes oppression. He wants us to be “the best nation” to serve as an example for humanity. That means that we are tasked with helping others when they are being treated unfairly.

And taking the following action steps:

  • Having books, dolls, television shows/movies, and friends that represent the diversity of the larger world by way of racial, ethnic, linguistic, ability, and religious background, to name a few.
  • Standing up for someone who is being bullied in school, on the playground, or amongst adults within our society.
  • Making sure that they feel loved and beautiful for who they are everyday.

There will be plenty of time for them to learn about the past, as it will inevitably show up in their futures. In sha Allah, I am planning to have those discussions as they see, witness, and experience racism or discrimination directly or happening to someone else. Life will afford us learning moments to delve into these topics at age appropriate levels. But for right now, while they are four and nearly two, all they need to know is that they should be proud of who they are, that they should embrace the differences that Allah has created, and that they should stand up when we see something wrong.

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