Tuesday 27 October 2009

Children and Dealing with Prejudice

My daughter said something a few days ago that stopped me in my tracks. We were out walking after dinner when we walked past a group of Roma standing in the street. As we passed them Little Lady held her nose and then let out a breath saying, “Phew, good job those smelly gypsies are left behind”. I was tempted to start telling her off. I hate racism, it is un-Islamic and inhumane in every way and makes my blood boil. Then I had to stop and consider that children are not born racist, they pick up their attitudes from those around them.

I am very aware of people from ethnic minority communities in this country being very vocal in their criticism and prejudices against the Roma. Every time someone opens their mouth to dismiss them, it makes me wonder why they cannot see the parallels between how they treat this new community in our midst and their own experience of coming to this country.

I accept that the way they live is different to what we are used to, but the way we live is in some ways different to what people were used to when we first came here. That’s not to say that whatever a person does we turn a blind eye, but Muslims and people from minority ethnic groups might have a got a grasp by now of how it feels when someone with the same background as you does something wrong and you are faced with the injustice of the whole community being tarred with the same brush.

In the end I explained to my daughter that when her beautiful, elegant grandmother first came to this country, she had to put up with people telling her that her clothes were funny, that they and their food smelled funny and that they should go home. I tried to give her an idea of how they were paid less for doing the same jobs as others and how often they had to do the worst kinds of jobs and live in not very nice homes with not much space. That now that the Roma are coming here, they are in a similar position and that she needs to consider if she wants to become like the people who were not very nice to her grandparents.

This is not the first time I have had to discuss matters relating to race with her, I remember when she had questions about darker skin and hair, but it was the first time I have heard her say something so overtly racist. I hope I have made her think and re-consider, because hating someone because of their ethnicity or background not only makes us incapable of being a fair and just individual, but also shuts you off from a world of culture and experience which would bring so much colour and learning into your life.

BTW - If you would like to learn more about prejudice towards Roma, a good blog I read sometime is Pesha's Blog.

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