The best educators in life are children under age 5. I experienced a week of education taught to 4 adults and a 9-year-old, on how to talk to strangers.
As we pulled up to our cabin, we were greeted by a 4-year-old. Immediately, she showed curiosity and openness that exists in most children before age 5. “Hi! Are you staying with us?” I told her we were her neighbours. She smiled, pointing to her stuffed animal said, “This is Mr. Bunny.” I said it’s nice to meet Mr. Bunny and my name. I asked her name and she told me.
Fast forward 48 hours, and this little girl and I bonded as if we were always in each other’s lives. Because of this my husband, her parents, and her older sibling, met each other. Over the week we five spent time in the backyard, talking, laughing, and connecting on a human level. The 4-year-old bounced back and forth between us.
The data tells us by the time a white child is around 5 years-old, they have been socialized to know they are different from everyone around them whose skin colour is different from theirs.
Think about this, when you were a child, how did your parents react when you asked a black person “why is your skin that colour”? or, you asked, “why is that lady in a wheel-chair”? or “why is that man so ‘fat’”? Most parents would shush the child, or tell them to be polite or, embarrassingly laugh off the questions without answering them.
A moment of socialization just occurred, and a teaching opportunity missed for how to talk to those who look visibly different or have different abilities.
You stick with your own ‘tribe’ because of familiarity. For some whites because they do not know how to talk to BIPOCs (BIPOC - Black, Indigenous, People of Color.) They are afraid to make a mistake, a faux pas, or be rejected. These are the top reasons some whites do not have BIPOCs in their circles.
The older sister was a perfect example of what the literature on race and racism tells us. She did not look me in the eye at first, was cautious, and certainly showed more awareness of the ‘reality of life’ than her younger sister. But! Within the 48-hour period, she was sharing detailed stories about their adventures at camp, things about her school, favourite sports etc.
What changed? Along with her family, she learned how to talk to people who they do not look like. They learned visible differences are not barriers but invitations to get to know folks as humans.
It all start with a simple question, “Hi! Are you joining this department? Welcome!” or, “Hi! I’m Phyllis, welcome!?”
So, you are rejected. Keep building these human bridges. They serve to support the next generation. That is all I want. That our children and their children inherit a better world, because we took the time to talk to someone who did not look like us.
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