They Are Us

Teaching children about respecting diversity in Aotearoa
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Like all of you I was shocked and horrified by the traumatic and inhuman acts of violence carried out by the gunman in Christchurch last Friday.

My thoughts immediately went out to all of those who senselessly lost their lives and their poor families whose lives will be changed forever. Like most of you I asked myself in disbelief, “How can this happen in New Zealand?”

I mourned the lost illusion, that we live in a country where things like this just don’t happen.

I have spent many hours reflecting and asking myself why? How I can explain this tragic act of terror to my children, or even make sense of this myself?

I have been so inspired by the outpouring of support and the stand of solidarity from New Zealanders all over the country.

However, I have also been reflecting about how much truth is in statements such as; “This is not us” and “These Australians came to our country a bad name”. Along with many posts that I have read on social media from people standing with the Muslim community. These have been inspiring and heart-warming, I have also read numerous posts from people in New Zealand speaking out about racism that they have encountered as an everyday occurrence.

This has caused me to ponder on the following questions:

Have we grown so apathetic to everyday prejudice and discrimination that it takes something so horrible to wake us up to this hard fact?

And, how can we remedy this going forwards? Can it even be remedied?

No Child is Born Racist….

No child is born racist. No child is born with hate in their heart, but it doesn’t stay this way. Even the gunman who killed all those innocent people was not born racist or with hate in his heart.

My question for you is how do we keep our children this way?

How do we teach children to celebrate people for being people regardless of race, gender or age?

How do we as teachers fulfil our responsibility under our curriculum to support children to:

Experience an environment where: There are equitable opportunities for learning irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity or background.

and

They are affirmed as individuals

Te Whariki 2017 pg 37.

Start with the man or woman in the mirror

Children are extraordinarily intelligent beings, in the first three years their brains are on a data gathering, fact finding mission. Our children are constantly downloading from those around them trying to figure out what it means to be human. We as significant adults in children’s lives have tremendous influence over shaping their minds and ultimately their lives. Our children pick up on our emotions, our words, our actions and our prejudices.

No you may not view yourself as discriminatory or racist, but….

I would like you to take a moment to critically reflect on things that you might have said in front of your children or the children in your care.

Sentences that begin with words like: “I’m not racist but…” or “look at that damn Asian driver!” You might have used a derogatory nickname to describe a culture of people, or you might have linked a certain behaviour to a race of people. This is all discrimination and racism.

We may be ashamed to admit it, but we might have been guilty of this in the past. If you were not, you might have heard someone else say it and not agreed but given an embarrassed laugh or pretended that you didn’t hear the remark.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

And that my dear New Zealanders is where we need to start! Let’s all check what dormant racism or prejudices we have in our closet – lurking from our childhoods or our pasts and examine them through the lens of respect and empathy.

Ask yourself, “is this kind?”

“Would I like to be treated like this or be spoken to or about like this?”

Let us recognise discrimination and racism in others and courageously challenge it when we see it. If you see something, or hear something that doesn’t feel right, let’s say something. It might not be our fault, but it is all of our responsibility. We cannot change others around us, but we can change ourselves.

And remember that our children are always watching downloading and learning from us.

Let us be mindful of this and teach our children lessons that will make this world a better place and not teach them about hate which will tear us apart.

We are all New Zealand.

The past is where you learn the lesson. The future is where you apply it.

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Kia kaha Aotearoa.

If you would like to support the victims of the Christchurch shooting you can donate at the Victim Support Give a Little page by clicking here.