Archive for March, 2016

TV Shows Open Discussions About Diversity

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Kid Watching TV

Raising a child these days means navigating a world that is far from black and white. Opening a dialogue with your kids about race, ethnicity, religion and bigotry is more important than ever.

If you watched the Super Bowl halftime show with your family, you might have seen superstar Beyonce make moves that were interpreted as a Black Panther salute. Or maybe you were watching the Grammys with your tweens and teens and saw rapper Kendrick Lamar shuffle onstage in prison chains to perform his song “The Blacker the Berry.” And in last week’s episode of sitcom “Black-ish,” the family addressed racism and police brutality in a frank and funny, but serious, way.

We live in racially-charged times. Pop culture is often the forum for showcasing issues of race and diversity and for sending messages about that – messages that can be good or bad, but almost certainly messages that prompt a conversation.

On ‘Black-ish,” mom Rainbow kept shielding her six-year-old twins from the family conversation about police brutality and racial profiling, until eventually she realized they were listening. The two young children wanted to know what was going on, and Rainbow found they were the ready to absorb and comprehend it.

Showrunner Kenya Barris said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly said even though “Black-ish” is a sitcom, it’s important to delve into serious, real-world topics to get people talking. “The episode was about having a conversation with your kids and about what’s going on in the world.”

As your kids watch TV, you need to know they will see things that might bring up sensitive cultural issues – about racism, diversity and differences among us – of all kinds. A new ABC show, “The Real O’Neals,” is all about a Catholic family whose teen son announces he’s gay. An ABC show, “Fresh Off the Boat,” showcases the cultural challenges faced by an Asian American family who runs a steak house in Orlando. Fox announced in February that it has ordered a pilot for a Muslim family sitcom.

No matter which shows your child watches, there will be themes that could prompt questions, and that’s a good thing. During childhood, attitudes are molded directly and indirectly by the people around us, from teachers to neighbors to homeless people your kids may walk by on any downtown city street. As parents, you play a crucial role in shaping your child’s outlook.

According to Civilrights.org, guidance is critical between the ages of 5 and 8, and by age 12 children have developed a complete set of stereotypes about every ethnic, racial, and religious group in our society.

But where do you start? And what do you say?

Teaching tolerance often starts simply with the Golden Rule, which transcends all religions: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or simply just treat people as you would want to be treated.

More specific tips from Tolerance.org:, which offers valuable classroom resources for teachers, include:

  1. Speak openly. Be honest about our country’s history that includes bigotry, sexism and stereotypes. A child who knows the racial history of the Confederate flag, for example, understands what the symbol means and the power of it.
  2. Model equity. When you say that boys and girls are equal but refuse to buy your son an Easy Bake Oven because it’s a “girls’ toy,” what message are you sending? Is it the one you want to send?
  3. Do something if you witness injustice. Challenge racism, bigotry and stereotypes, and encourage your child to take appropriate action, too.

We live in one of the most diverse societies in the world. Children need to learn to live and work with people whose race, religion or culture is different from their own. The most important thing you can do is talk honestly with children about what they’re seeing and what they’re feeling. Know what they’re watching on TV and online. Watch with them. And be ready to discuss it.