There should be no place for racism in any civilised society. To fight it should be everybody’s duty, but parents in particular should be bound to take more responsibility for their children’s education, since they naturally play a crucial role in their social development.
Adapting to this challenge, parents of children of African origin in Berlin, organised in an association called Eltern schwarzer Kinder (Parents of Black Children or ESK), tackles racism by creating an awareness of the problem by sharing experiences with affected parties and through child training. “Children must not be left alone to deal with the problem,” stated Anke Zwink, one-time chairperson of the association, in a report.
ESK focuses on measures to prepare infant and teenage Black children to cope with racism. Arguing that Black children need the active support of “sensitised parents” in a society where they are a minority because of their distinct identity, Mrs Zwink and her colleagues are convinced that their ability to help depends largely on their own willingness to engage in vigorous self-appraisal. This process is deemed necessary because the ESK believes that negative attitudes towards other races are subconsciously present in one’s own personality.
The assumption is derived from the belief that, growing up in a predominantly White society, the parents themselves were exposed to negative attitudes towards other races by their immediate environment, books, the media and other sources.
In an article for the US-based Parents Leadership Institute, Patty Wipfler writes that “the two most powerful purveyors of racism in society are the media and the adults they know …because children are not, by nature racist. Nor are they born with damaging assumptions about people in any definable group”.
Communication with affected persons in the form of sharing common experiences is an effective means of relieving distress from race-related psychological problems. By exchanging information, parents are able to alleviate their own fears and gain moral support from each other. This, in turn, motivates them to find adequate measures to assist their children in coping with racism.
Apart from encouraging constructive discussions among its members, ESK strives to implement its goals by organising anti-racism workshops conducted, among others, trainers of the Duisburg-based organisation Phoenix.
Phoenix trainers provide practical strategies to deal with the problem. “We put great emphasis on promoting contact between parents and arrange regular meetings (Kinderladen) for our children,” said Elke Paul, a founding member.
Indeed, contact with people of different cultural and racial identities is considered a major instrument in overcoming racial prejudice. Thomas Pettigrew, an American psychologist with extensive research experience in race relations, advocates “intergroup contact” as an important means of overcoming racial prejudice. This mode of conflict reduction can only be effective if the contact situation provides the participants with an opportunity to become friends. Therefore, building friendship or a relationship based on relaxed, unguarded human contact is a key instrument in eliminating racism.
Another recommended approach to eradicate racism is “to refer to others as individuals, and not by their race”. For time has not helped to institutionalise the internationally accepted norm that people are born equal. Yet acknowledging the equal status of other human beings is a basic step in promoting trust and understanding.
In this regard, the ESK members aspire to help their children form a positive self-identity by exposing them to selected literature which portrays Black people in a positive light. The association also reaches out to the general public through speeches, and by writing critical letters to publishing houses for derogatory contents found in their books under the premise that “wherever racism is identified, it must be categorised as such”.
Social change, however, in any direction is a gradual process. In having the main role in determining the social education of their children, parents should teach by example and should not shrink from fulfilling the difficult task of helping their offspring define themselves in a society where the colour of their skin is an issue they have to contend with.