1939 • Germany
Alex Steiner: Son, you can't go around painting yourself black, you hear?
Rudy Steiner: Why not, Papa?
Alex Steiner: Because they'll take you away.
Rudy Steiner: Why?
Alex Steiner: Because you shouldn't want to be black people or Jewish people or anyone who is…not us.
Rudy Steiner: Who are Jewish people?
Alex Steiner: You know my oldest customer, Mr Kaufman? Where we bought your shoes?
Rudy Steiner: Yes.
Alex Steiner: Well, he is Jewish.
Rudy Steiner: I didn't know that. Do you have to pay to be Jewish? Do you need a licence?
Alex Steiner: No, Rudy. […] It's like you're German, or Catholic.
Rudy Steiner: Oh. Is Jesse Ownes Catholic?
Alex Steiner: I don't know.
Rudy Steiner: I just wish I was like Jesse Ownes, Papa.
Alex Steiner: I know, son– but you've got beautiful blonde hair and big, safe blue eyes. You should be happy with that, is that clear?
—The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
"I guess I have to do it now. It does not feel right to tell my little boy about all the atrocities that has happened because of the race, gender, ethnicity, et cetera.
I wish that poor innocent soul would never have to learn about it. But I do not want him to be unaware of the past. One day or the other, he would come to know about it."
You might never be ready for that day, but one day, you would have to speak to your child about the various forms of discrimination. You would hesitate: the child is too innocent to learn about hatred that has tormented us. "Maybe not today. Let him not know about the bias now." But you can't delay it forever. It would be better if you taught your child about the transgressions like racial discrimination before the child experiences it for themselves.
You fear that after telling that innocent kid, you would be staining them, contaminating their minds, and then they would start noticing colours. You would hope that they understand it, but for someone who has never been wicked, how would that clean kid possibly understand what you are trying to say? They would not be able to parse the fact that at one point of time in history, people treated oppressing others was fine.
Q. I wonder what is the best way to tell a kid about the cruelties like oppression, racial discrimination, gender-based discrimination, ethnic cleansing, xenophobia or any form of bias? How would you even tell about the cultural differences?
Q. I wonder how old was I, when I first noticed bias, oppression and siblings of such heinous deeds?
I would strongly suggest you listening to You've Got to Be Carefully Taught, a 1949-song composed by Richard Rodgers, and lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II for South Pacific.
Link to the song on Spotify, or listen here: