Nobody is Born a Racist, You Have to be Taught

Almost twenty years ago Parenting magazine did a special report on race and the family. In the introduction the report read: “Racists are not born, but made. Racism begins not in courts and classrooms, lending institutions and housing authorities, but in homes. Specifically in the interaction between parents and children. What exactly are parents telling their children about race these days? How are racial attitudes being formed?”


Those questions are still valid today. Just what are we telling our children and grandchildren either in words or in actions? Are we dealing with racism, bigotry and prejudice in our own lives, so that we can be examples and teachers of God’s concept of one world to the children? Do we truly believe and act out our belief that to reject someone because of the color of their skin is to reject the teachings of Jesus and to discount his death on the cross?


Children must be “carefully taught” to hate, to distrust and to form friendships only within their own race. The teachings are often subtle and are part of our culture and our language. For the sake of all children we must change ourselves and our society.


Are we careful and sensitive in the language we use? Do we only see on television stereotyping images of persons of color? If we hear or see negative images, so do the children. Even in our schools history is often taught from the perspective of the white race. Do we help children see that many people have been hurt and even died due to intolerance and bigotry in the past and this is still happening today?


Our actions will tell children what we truly believe about the issues of racism. The simple gesture of welcoming persons of another race to your neighborhood conveys to a child that you respect the persons and are glad to have them as neighbors. Your willingness to stand against injustice in your community and the nation, whether around the issues of housing, immigration, education or police activity, will give a message of fairness and hope to the children watching.


It is the children of all races that are being damaged and hurt by the racism, prejudice and bigotry they see and experience. Our racism should not be passed onto the children. Instead we should be giving to children a sense of respect for all persons and cultures; the ability to work together despite differences; and the firm belief that we all are brothers and sisters created in the image of God.


Joyce D. Sohl has been Laywoman-in-Residence since 2009 as a full-time volunteer. She retired as CEO of United Methodist Women in 2004. She is the author of 4 books, a teacher, retreat leader, writer and non-professional musician. Here at the Center her work is in the area of Spiritual Enrichment with such programs as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers & All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, quarterly retreats, and art exhibits.