Racism 101: Teaching Tolerance

The 1960s pulsed with the civil rights movement -- school integration, affirmative action, fair housing and more. But though we have worked toward equalizing our society, the seeds of racism are still lodged in too many hearts.

Reading headlines in newspapers across the country is, sad to say, a lesson that could be called Racism 101. In New York City, four white police officers fired 41 bullets at and killed an unarmed African immigrant. Three white men in Texas used a pickup truck to drag a black man to his death. In Wyoming, a young man who was gay was tied to a fence, pistol-whipped and left to die. Two infamous Columbine High School teenagers testified on video to their hatred-filled hearts.

As if these incidents weren't chilling enough, there were burnings of black churches and charges of racial profiling. American communities today seem to be facing bitter racial intolerance and hatred as virulent and violent as any in Mississippi in the early 1960s.

The fight against racism doesn't belong only on the floor of the House of Representatives or in the Senate. It is an initiative that each of us has to launch in our own homes and communities. We parents have to equip our children to live and work harmoniously with people of all colors, creeds and orientations. The only way to turn the tides against intolerance and hatred is to become personally committed to talk about these issues.

Where does a parent begin? Start with headlines from your own backyard. As the authors of The Roller-Coaster Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years and Parenting 911, we start our talks to parents armed with stories from local newspapers. In our region, several high school students were arrested for pouring gasoline in the shape of a swastika and setting it afire on the football field. One of our children was warned not to wear a FUBU logo or she'd be called a "wigger" (a white who wants to look like a black). Such experiences make the issue concrete and real.

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