By Catherine Hume
Over the last few months I have written about activities to do in the colder weather. At the moment around the world we find ourselves in a political season of anger, antagonism and distorted realities. We see confrontations and trouble, and we want to add something positive, but sometimes we don’t know how.
One incredibly important thing we can do to make a positive addition is to raise children and to teach children to act in peace and accept difference.
Three years ago, I watched the The Doll Test on Youtube. The Doll Test is a group of American children of different racial backgrounds are asked questions about physical and mental attractiveness and emotional and mental ability and asked to point to either a white doll or a black doll that are identical except for their colour. Young children are asked questions such as “Which doll is the one adults like?” And all the children point to the white doll. “Which is the clever doll?” And all the children point to the white doll. “Which doll is trouble?” And all the children point to the black doll. The black children are then asked “Which doll is most like you?” And all the black children point to the black doll. It’s eye opening that children so young are already indoctrinated with racism, not by racism being openly taught, but by subtle messages from wider society that they have absorbed.
While I was watching The Doll Test, I was childminding a boy who was born in India. We were in an area that is mainly populated by Pakistani families. I asked him to come and watch The Doll Test. He watched a bit and I asked him “Do you think people around here would play with a Pakistani doll?” He said “No.” I asked him why, and he shrugged and went back to his homework.
I thought back to when I was young. My nursery had a black doll in the toy box alongside white dolls. The couple who ran the shop at the bottom of the street were two men. A Sikh family lived with us and my father was the manager of a day centre for people with cerebral palsy. I went to a school with more disabled pupils than mentally and physically able pupils. So I grew up without any curiosity about people of different racial backgrounds, or LGBT people or people with disabilities, and I found it strange when other people had a problem with people who weren’t like them.
I was at school thirty years ago, so it surprising for me that families with children today can’t find books that have children of colour as lead characters, or they can’t find black dolls or action figures and they can’t find books or toys that reflect their own families, whether that is a family with disabilities, a racially mixed family or a family where one parent has died, single parent families or LGBT families. However, there are companies such as Common Sense Media who are publishing books featuring diverse characters, and there are companies such as Naturally Curly and Makies who make diverse dolls and action figures.
Because children receive messages about the world around them from a young age (such as the three-year-old in a nursery I worked in who said “Girls don’t play football”, which was quickly refuted by the nursery teacher, who said “There are many ladies who play football”). We have to give children the right messages about the world and their place in it from an early age, and not be afraid to tackle subjects. If we don’t raise subjects such as disability or racial differences, children will raise them.