In a heartwarming video, pairs of young friends are asked to think on one question: “How are you different from each other?”
In the viral video from the BBC kids network CBeebies, the pairs of children usually have a very clear difference, be it height, race, disability, or gender.
But the elementary-age kids tended to focus on differences that were a bit more … elementary.
Toe size, lettuce appreciation, position on the soccer field, and whether or not their homes had squirrels in the roof were all discussed by the BFFs.
It’s a delightful, charming scene, but there’s an unspoken message here that needs to be addressed.
Reading through the comments on the post, lots of readers applauded the children for not paying attention to their more obvious differences, like race, gender, or disability. “Why can’t adults be like this? Why can’t we all be like this?” one viewer wrote.
But that’s just it: Children should be raised to recognize and celebrate the fundamental differences between people. And they can only learn that if we openly talk about them.
Whether their parents talk about it at home or not, kids notice race.
Their parents might assume that by not talking about race or difference, their children will grow up “colorblind” to the challenges of society. Not only is that view misguided and denies people their own identity, but usually the opposite happens. White children as young as 3 or 4 years old in the U.S., Europe, and Canada, already show a preference for other white children. Kids are curious and learning new things about the world around them, so they often draw their own conclusions about how things work. If race isn’t talked about at home or at school, those assumptions (sometimes totally incorrect) can go unexamined for years.
Parents raising children of color usually have these conversations, earlier and more often, simply as a matter of necessity. If we hope to encourage the next generation to be conscious of and thoughtful about difference, then more white families (and educators) need to start having these conversations. The same goes for all families when it comes to disability.
As early as 5 to 8 years old, children are old enough to learn and consider social issues and their implications.
The can understand that people of color and people with disabilities may be underrepresented in the books they read, the characters they watch on TV, or even in their classrooms at school. As parents, grandparents, and trusted adults in children’s lives, it’s important to model your own friendships with people different from you. Read books with characters of color, different types of families, and characters with disabilities. Don’t shy away or shush children talking about differences. Help clarify their thoughts and assumptions.
Our differences make us strong. Our differences make us unique. And our differences make us beautiful.
But these differences in race, religion, ability, class, gender, and more must be acknowledged and celebrated with specificity and respect. (Even if that difference is liking lettuce.)