Over the past few weeks, we have all watched the unfolding chaos on the news with heavy hearts.
After months of unity across the nations, we have once again been plunged into an unnecessary divide, fuelled by appalling ignorance and cruelty.
Racism has always been a prominent issue in many different forms, and when it is highlighted in the media, the true devastation of its callous intentions really hit home.
This is not the message we want to be sending to our young people, nor is it the world we want to bring them up in.
So how do we instil confidence in our young people in a world that can, at times, seem to be intent on drawing a divide between us?
It got me thinking back to the simplicity of childhood, and the beauty of seeing the world through a child’s eyes.
The cementing of friendship was so simple. We formed large friendship groups with those who were kind to us. (It was an added bonus point if our pals had Party Rings or Fruit Winders to share in their lunch-box!)
Children are not judgemental by nature. They are innocent enough to base their opinions of others on how they themselves find them, and not the unfair influences and generalisations of society.
I remember how enthralled we all were as children every time somebody from another country joined our school. They instantly became a playground celebrity, as everybody bubbled over with excitement.
We must have bored them to tears, asking question after question about their country, language, food and traditions. It was always so fascinating to learn about the countries we had been studying all year, whether it be America, Sweden or Dubai, from a first-hand account. We marvelled over the contrast in our accents, trying to copy the twangs of our new friends, who brought culture and diversity to our tiny village in the UK.
I fondly recall one of our teaching assistants, Miss C, treating us to an afternoon of Indian celebrations to mark an annual festival. She taught us Indian dancing, and brought in samples of various foods for us to try. (Parents everywhere were in despair as they ran around Tesco’s trying to locate popadoms and mango chutney, as we suddenly turned our noses up at Pringles! “No Dad, I want popadoms, like the one’s Miss C brought in!”)
Miss C always dressed in the most stunningly intricate clothes of the most vibrant shades and patterns. Her wrists jangled with thin gold bangles every time she moved.
As young girls, we looked up to her, and thought her seriously glamorous.
This is how we should celebrate our differences - with the inquisitive nature of a child. It’s okay to ask questions and be curious – this is how we learn, even as adults.
Given the chance, our differences actually behold the power to educate and unite us.
Hatred stems from fear, and fear comes from a lack of understanding, which is often down to ignorance, whether intended or not.
Discussing racism and discrimination with children can be a daunting predicament, but it needn’t be a taboo. We need to ensure that our young people have the freedom to ask any questions that they might have in regards to the prominent topics, and we should encourage them to share any concerns that they may have. Children often surprise us by how much they take in and understand, particularly when it comes to highlighted new stories and current affairs.
Our young people should be immersed in diversity from as young an age as possible. There are so many ways to involve children - from discussing styles of other cultures with your budding fashionista, or pointing out brilliant football players from different racial and religious backgrounds while watching the match.
Challenge your child to pick their favourite band, singer or actor, and find out three facts about the country they are from.
Indulge in the festivals and celebrations of other nationalities, and put a word into school about maybe making a day of it for all of the pupils to enjoy.
Host themed nights at home, involving the food and music of another country. You could even hold multiple themes in one evening – think one buffet food per country until you have a veritable spread to tuck into! Make little flags to place behind the bowls and perhaps write one or two key facts about the country of origin so everyone can learn as they pile their plates high with delicious goodies!
When you go on holiday, order a local dish.
Learn a few words, phrases or even a song in another language.
Bonus point – eat with chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant!
All of the above are subtle, fun ways in which we can assist in broadening the minds of our young people when it comes to culture, race and religion.
Our young people – and everyone else, for that matter - should have the self-assurance to embrace everything that makes them, them.
Every single culture, religion and nationality has the divine right to be celebrated, and our individual heritages and stories should ignite an enormous sense of pride.
By Cara Jasmine Bradley