Increasingly insensitive, crude and discriminatory racial remarks about ethnic groups other than their own have been heard to escape the lips of our young preschoolers at an alarming frequency and with a degree of nonchalance that is disconcerting. A good number of young children in the local childcare scene reveal a warped impression of other races, especially those of darker skin tones, as they pass comments such as, “Eee… Indians are so smelly,” or create verses to juvenile games like, “A, E, I, O, U; ‘Mangkali’ (referring to Indians) love you! Dr. Darlene Powell Hopson, co-author of Different and Wonderful: Raising Black Children in a Race-Conscious Society explains that because of their advancing perceptual skills, children are increasingly able to recognize the apparent outward differences in people- varying skin tones, facial and bodily features, hair textures, and eye colors. With this enhancing perceptual ability follows the development of children’s individual character.
As each child’s sense of identity and interpersonal skills begin to mature, his individual preferences, likes and dislikes, as well as his own opinions begin to form and become established in him. A sense of autonomy naturally unfolds along with the urge to exercise and assert this newfound personal right to make one’s own views heard and known. This implies that the child will begin to form opinions and judgments of a person based firstly on the most obvious aspect of the other party- the outward appearance.
The child will decide if what he sees appears pleasing to his eyes. Because preschoolers also develop a desire for social acceptance, peer pressure will majorly influence his final decision of whether he will open his arms in approval, acceptance and favor of that individual. Retaining a discriminatory attitude toward someone because of his/her race causes serious obstacles to young children’s healthy development. “[T]hey end up with a warped perception of the realities and demands of everyday life. (Veel, E. Singapore’s Child: Celebrating Diversity (July 2008), pg. 29. ) If Feng Kai, a child with a bias against other races, is given the opportunity to make a choice between partnering with Govindasamy and Mei Ling, thinks to himself, ‘I don’t want to hold hands with Govinda. I don’t want my hands to become dirty,’ and ends up choosing Mei Ling instead, Feng Kai deprives himself of the chance to become better acquainted with Govindasamy and to benefit from his association.
In judging Govindasamy by a baseless biasness, Feng Kai chooses to stop himself from making a friend. If this misconception is not corrected, Feng Kai will learn to allow the superficial aspects of things to influence his daily decision-making significantly. In teaching Feng Kai to look beyond the obvious outward differences of skin color, and into Govindasamy’s values and personality instead, we help Feng Kai to develop the ability to recognize and appreciate actuality beyond superficiality – an ability that will help him function effectively as a person.
Dr. Roy Kaplan, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Conference for Communities and Justice, comments, “Nobody’s born a bigot. ” Evidence shows that prejudices which exist within the young are nurtured primarily by the influences that children are exposed to most often and most extensively. Principally, these include their home environment, the behavior of family members and close friends (including the peer pressure they are subject to in school), as well as the childcare setting.
While the moral education children receive from home and the examples that family members and friends set that influence children most profoundly are factors beyond our power to control, the childcare setting is the only aspect in this, our cause to foster racial awareness, which lies within our ability to manage and steer in the direction of our objectives. It is essential for children to learn that they must overcome racism and all forms of bigotry; for if not, our society’s rising generation will grow up o sow racial discord which could reap very adverse repercussions for Singapore: a breakdown of societal unity and a rise of internal contention and dissensions could very possibly ensue. But in order to achieve this democracy in the childcare sector, children must first understand why they ought to overcome racial biasness and look beyond the differences that exist within them. This is where our action research entitled ‘Multicultural Education through Creative Drama’ comes into play in the picture, to facilitate the conversion of racial disharmony to racial unity among young children in Singapore.