Diversity seen through the eyes of children

R.I remember a colleague being surprised by the answer his 12-year-old daughter gave him to the question: “Do you have foreign schoolmates?”. The little girl simply said, “Foreigners in what sense?” A conversation that reminds us how the perception of reality can be radically different from generation to generation, based on different life experiences. If a child from kindergarten is used to being involved with peers of different origins, then how can it consider them as “foreigners”?

The question of “race”

We are the “elderly”, accustomed to a significant ethnic homogeneity when we went to school (as I have told here), to be able to identify those who are not “Italians-Italians” with surgical precisionbased on a last name, a shade of skin, a mother showing up at school wearing a veil.

(Photo illustration Melitas)

For this, I find it quite ridiculous any well-meaning anti-racist speech on our part, unless it is a matter (obligatory) to deny racist words or attitudes to which children have been inadvertently exposed. We do not have to explain to our children that children are all the same and “races” (races?) Are equal. They are the ones who explain it to us, simply by living.

Likewise, they are quite useless the books that tell how all the children of the world should be friendsand that by explaining it they point the finger at some differences that children would not even perceive (one day I will make an article about children’s books that are actually books for parents).

I do not want to downplay racial differences in the name of a simplified “we are all equal”, just remember that what we emphasize always has historical and cultural reasons. We carry on our shoulders, in a more or less conscious way, the weight of history, colonialism, the manifesto of race, the mistakes and clichés that have accumulated over the centuries. And these are burdens that will sooner or later also fall on our childrenI hope as late as possible, to be able to handle certain discourses rationally, already based on a solid base of acquired brotherhood.

(Photo illustration Melitas)

There is no value judgment: my 4-year-old son does not perceive his schoolmate Vanessa (not his real name) as “black”, not because she is “good” or anti-racist. He does not notice it simply because he was born in via Quarenghihave seen people of all colors since she opened her eyes and neither at home nor at school do we focus on those kinds of differences.

Conversely, I remember my two-year-old cousin crying in despair in front of a black friend of my uncles because it was the first time she had seen one. It is not a question of racism, but of habit. And the same, of course, applies in reverse colors.

So they do not see the differences?

That is not to say that children do not see the differences. Is it they do not see them as we do: it is us who have codified some characteristics as more relevant than others. For us between a white woman and a black woman, the most relevant difference will always be the skin color. For a child, it could be something else: the hairstyle, a mole on the forehead, the nail polish.

I owe my nails one of the worst figures made in public: “Mother mother why does that lady have claws?”referred to a customer in line by the baker with spectacular long nails (he is used to mine, nipped).

(Photo illustration Melitas)

Children observe everything, point with their finger, make inappropriate comments. They notice the unpleasant realities that we struggle to explain: the homeless, the drunk, the beggar. One day, the younger brother of one of my friends, in the car, started listing: “One, two, three …”: he counted the prostitutes along Villa d’Almè-Dalmine.

And we are in balance, on the one hand, with the need to educate them (“You do not comment on people’s physical appearance,” “You do not say ‘it’ or ‘it’,” “should I really explain to him what a prostitute does?”) on the other with the desire to preserve them from our mental plans that they never, as when we confront them, appear old and inadequate.

The relationship to disability is also a matter of habit. We have a friend of the family in a wheelchair, so for the kids it is a given that some people move like this, which is not surprising. However, the friend is used to having to qualify for the “Formula 1 race” with his powerful vehicle because the kids have a lot of fun with it.. I imagine that when they grow up, they will be able to ask for explanations (from him or us) and they will receive it, but if there is one thing I have learned from the psychologists that I often consult to this column, is that we must not anticipate the needs of children.

I also think my child has a disabled child in the classroom (I’m not sure, with Covid, the relationship with other parents is virtually zero, as well as opportunities for socializing), but I do not want to ask him explicitly. I take it for granted that for him it is a companion among others. With peculiar qualities that should not be denied in the name of a false “we are all alike”, but that they can not even all be included in the label “disabled” which I think my son would not even understand.

(Photo illustration Melitas)

I have encountered some more difficulties with the less obvious disabilities, e.g. relating to the autism spectrum. For example, if an older child in the park is behaving in an unconventional way or has attitudes that may seem “threatening” to him (screaming, knocking objects – in fact things that my son sometimes does too), then notice that there is something of “dissonant”. It can be hard to explain to him that it is not just a child who is a “bad boy”, especially if it is an impromptu acquaintance.

However, there is an objective difference that my four-year-old son always grasps, like all his peers, and that is the one between man and woman, between boy and girl. It’s not a difference based on gender stereotypes: it does not distinguish between male children who “play football” (also because he does not like football) and female children who “play with dolls”. I have not yet heard him comment on “male and female things” (maybe he never will, maybe), and it is not necessary for the girl to wear a skirt or have long hair to identify her as such: she generally differs well from the same and ask if you are in doubt.

It took him a while to understand that the sexes are defined, that his sister will not become a boy like him “when he grows up”. For now the big boys are all “fathers”, and the women are “mothers”. The elderly, invariably, “grandparents”. And that’s all that matters.

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