What To Do If...
there's not much diversity around you.

A few posts ago, my friend K asked my thoughts on what to do when surroundings are not exceptionally diverse. What a great question. Though I was raised in very "white" schools and neighborhoods, I have been so fortunate as an adult to have had great multi-cultural experiences with people I know and places I've lived. K was specifically asking in regards to raising her young daughter and how she can better expose her family to more diversity. Here are my thoughts:

1. Start small. Start with baby steps and vow to do a little more each week, month, and year. Set realistic goals for your family and break those goals down into bite-size pieces. Having attainable goals helps spur you on to making more goals in the future.

2. Use your library. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I doubt many of us have truly exhausted all the resources available at our local library. Make an attempt to check out at least one book each week for your kids that includes characters that look different from your own family. Maybe you're thinking "Duh, Cathy, we do that all the time." But I remember Zinabu's dinosaur phase when all he wanted to read was dinosaur books and I had to plead with him to read books about real live people. Perhaps your kids have their favorite authors and you get their favorite stories again and again and you're not introducing them to deeper topics as often as you think. Publishers do a wonderful job these days of including a variety of ethnicities in picture books, but you can also dig a little deeper and look for stories about a variety of people and their cultures. Also, libraries often offer classes and presentations for the entire family that are free. Keep up on the schedule at your local branch and take advantage of anything that looks interesting. If there's nothing interesting being offered, bring it to your library's attention. I bet they'd be thrilled if they knew their patrons wanted something more multi-cultural.

3. Visit big cities. Leave your comfortable suburb and jump into the nearest large city. You may not have much diversity in your neighborhood, but that shouldn't stop you from going out and finding it. Do not be afraid to go to a metropolitan area and have lunch there or visit the parks. Take in a movie or eat at a new restaurant. Just walk the streets. Surround yourselves on a regular basis with people who are different from you. If you never do this, if you never allow your children to see everyday people who have a different skin color or speak a different language, they can grow up scared of anyone who does not look like them. I see it often in other children where we currently live. Elementary-age children who stare at my kids as if they're aliens. Or young mothers who assume all young black men are thugs and out to assault them. Visually expose your kids to diversity.

4. Change your place of worship or school. This is a tough one for a lot of people and I realize not entirely realistic for everyone. We live in a city that allows us to pick whatever school we want. We are not bound by what neighborhood we're in. Therefore, we make sure our kids are not attending all-white schools or surrounded by all high socio-economic families. Not everyone has that luxury. I get that. But as much as it is up to you, consider making a change in where you send your children to school and where you worship. Our church happens to be a wee bit too conservative for us, but it is probably the best at integrating people of all races and all backgrounds. We love that.

5. Find a pen-pal. There are multiple organizations that allow you to sponsor a child in impoverished countries and change that child's life for the better. And that is all well and good. But be sure your kids don't think that every person in Africa or Asia is poor and helpless. Google "pen pals for kids" and you'll find a list of websites that can get your started. Let your children exchange letters or emails with other children from all over the world. If you find a successful pen pal, get to know that kid and his/her culture as best you can. Anything that will help your children learn that the world is so much bigger than their own backyard.

6. Travel. Yes, we'd all love to win the lottery and jet off to Australia at a moment's notice, but seeing as how that won't happen anytime soon... plan your family vacations with more purpose. There is not one state in our country that is lacking in history museums or cultural treasures. We're headed to the Grand Canyon for spring break, and my plan is that we visit a Native American reservation and dig into some of their history as we're traveling.

While these idea barely scratch the surface, they're actions we can all take to help bring the world to our children. I hope this helps, and I'd love to hear your ideas as well.


Bridget said...

i love your new mission. love it!

jayme said...

I love each of these pieces of advice. For me, the biggest thing is learning how to be comfortable outside of your traditional "comfort zone". Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable. As parents, we are constantly modeling for our children, and if we demonstrate (either in our words or in our actions) that we are afraid of certain people / places, they will learn to harbour those fears as well.

The park suggestion in particular is one of our favourite things. We're lucky to live in a very diverse place, so we don't necessarily *have* to go too far, but we make a point of exploring and spending time in each of Chicago's neighborhoods. We're often the only white people wherever we are, and we've learned to be comfortable with that. And I absolutely love watching my children make friends with the other kids at the playground, all in the pursuit of fun. They don't let minor differences like skin colour or language affect who they'll play with, and why should they?

Izzie's two very best friends are English language learners with fairly limited english. One primarily speaks Japanese, and the other a dialect of Chinese, and yet at parent-teacher conferences yesterday, their teachers said that the three of them seek one another out, and are often laughing hysterically at who knows what!

The other piece of advice that I might add would be to seek out and discuss examples that challenge common stereotypes (both positive and negative stereotypes).

Anyway, I continue to love the mindfulness you bring to your posts. love you!

K said...

Thank you! I agree with Bridget...LOVE the new mission. I've loved keeping up with your family, and now especially look forward to your insights in this area.

Thank you for mentioning the importance of different socio-economic groups! I've struggled to explain to some of our friends and family why we plan to move into the 'cities'. "Why would you want L going to schools there, wouldn't it be better to be in a suburb, etc." What they really mean when they say this, is why do you want to have your child go to school with people who are 'different from and perhaps less fortunate ($$) than you'.

One thing that is very important to J and I is that our child(ren) learn that there are countless different opinions in the world, and ours are not the only valid ones. (Does that make sense?)

I agree about the travel! So important and there are options in so many places, many even just a short drive away. Our daughter is too young to really 'remember' a lot of our traveling experiences, however we want it to be part of her life and love the varied people we meet and experiences we have (it's amazing who will approach you when you have a smiling, waving baby/toddler! She is a people magnet!).

krisVS said...

I love your ideas!

While we had the privilege of living in a diverse neighborhood in MPLS while our girls were young, here are a few more things we enjoyed:
1) Food! Look for ethnic markets and restaurants, or at least have your kids choose something they've never eaten each time you go to the grocery store--it will lead to conversations about different parts of the world.
2) Use your local colleges and universities as a resource too. They often have speakers and events, and many are open to the public.
3) Local festivals celebrating holidays or ethnic heritage are a great way to experience another culture.
4) NPR! Our kids have listened to it since they were infants strapped into a car seat, and now can't live without it. Their coverage brings you around the world and knowledge about current events will foster compassion and understanding.