Building a New Way; How to Promote *Integration* in your Home
I remember as a child when an extended family member bought me an African American Holiday Barbie because "the white one was sold out everywhere!" This family member apologized as I opened the box and all I remember is feeling confused. I thought she was beautiful! Her dress was the shiniest yet and her hair and skin were so unique compared to the rest of my collection. Then it was explained to me that "You know, most kids like to play with dolls that look like them."
Given the current atmosphere, this childhood memory seems extra prophetic. As a slightly-overweight brunette, I never once owned a Barbie that truly looked like me! And the African American Holiday barbie? She was my favorite because I didn't own any one like her. I didn't want her uniqueness to stop there though, I wanted to own a variety of dolls to reflect their different personalities. But culture kept telling everyone around me, "Kids play with toys that look like them." From that Barbie to personalized American Girl dolls, the idea of only playing with that which is me was marketed and pushed heavy...
This is where we as parents, caregivers and professionals need to do better. This is where we as consumers can make an impact. Rather than assuming our children should only play with toys that "look like them", we should be allowing them to explore the world for all it is and all that is in it! This is how we grow as a human and as a community.
Months ago, I mentioned our children's innate ability to recognize patterns and prefer that which is familiar. I also discussed how change and differences in our environment instinctually alert us to danger. Rather than surround our children with the sights, smells and sounds they'll always know, we need to educate them on that which is novel. That which is different from them.
Giving your child these experiences improves not only their ability to tolerate others, but it will give them a deeper understanding of others' perspectives. It will build empathy. Empathy is our ability to feel how another is feeling; giving us the power to comfort and soothe others, allowing us to help them problem solve (if that's what they want from us). Not all of us develop the same levels of empathy. Some people will literally feel another's pain, while others struggle to comprehend it. The only way to develop empathy is through shared experiences with others, especially others who provide an alternative angle.
While driving this weekend, I was listening to a woman of color on the news. Unfortunately since I was driving, I was unable to catch her name! But I learned something very valuable from her. She said that diversity is not what people of color are looking for. Diversity is natural. Integration is what people of color are seeking. This deeply struck me as I commonly use the word diversity. But we have created these boundaries between groups, even in areas of diversity. We do this sometimes with actions as small as encouraging our children to only play with dolls that "look like them". And it's time we stop that. We are a rainbow community and it's past time to include that vision.
Today, I'm going to give you 7 ideas on how to promote integration into your child's world of play.
1) A Monthly Subscription Box:
If you could visit a new country every month, wouldn't you? Now you can bring that experience to your children without leaving home!
The way to many hearts is through the stomach. Get a taste of new cultures and see what sparks your child's interest. Research more about the country online!
You can pick a new destination every week and while cooking each food, try to learn something new about each dish's origin or why these ingredients are so important. Many times cultural dishes involve crops that are local to the area, what a wonderful way to fig deeper in a culture and it's geographic region.
If you can afford to, traveling and experiencing new places is the the best way to open your children's eyes to new things. You don't even have to go far! Take a trip to the nearest city, visit a museum but also find out where the locals eat. After a day in the city, maybe your next adventure could be out to the country. Discover the local treasures near you.
Encourage your child to join a team or a sport. The cooperation between players is a great way to learn about others, but also try to get your child into the history and star players of the game. Who has truly beaten the odds to excel? There may also be empowering clubs in your community. I am a female runner who loves supporting my friends in Black Girls Run!
Go to the local food pantry or soup kitchen. Sign up with Habitat for Humanity. Find a way to give back to those in your community who are struggling. Allow your child to see this side of life.
I've been adding to my Recommended Readings lots of new and old multicultural options in order to expand the horizons of the children I work with. Feel free to browse my ideas from the link at the top of the page!
There are wonderful sets online that include all of our neighbors and community members. These are a must-have in my therapy bag!
Get creative. There's no one way or wrong way to integrate everyone into your child's life experiences. Will you may mistakes? Of course! We all do. It's important we learn from these mistakes and allow them to bring growth. More importantly, we need to allow our children to develop empathy in order to become even better adults than us and forge a better future for our community.
Also, please share with us, how are you promoting integration at home?