We are privileged to have Puja, a member of our parenting community, write this powerful and persuasive piece for us. Her passion for the topic is captivating as she shares with us her personal experiences and inspirations.
In this three-part article, Puja shares with us three things we can do as parents to raise children who will stand up for change. This is Part 1.
Watching recent events in the US unfold, many parents around the world have found themselves wondering how they can support their children to understand, recognize and combat racism. The discourse has broadened to other forms of discrimination, perhaps some which seem more applicable to our community - for example, classism and wealth inequality - and how these forces interact and intersect with each other. To raise the future generation of changemakers we need to
1) share knowledge of social justice issues
2) encourage the right attitude and mindset to address these
3) provide appropriate capabilities to create change.
Then allow this virtuous cycle to reinforce itself over and over again
.An analogy could be to think about how we teach our children to cook. There are three parts to cooking
1) Our children need to know the recipe
2) believe that they can cook
3) and have the tools (e.g. stove, time) to do so.
Each of these parts need to work with the other - any one part on its own or even two cannot result in a meal. Finally, repetition refines and allows one to tackle more difficult recipes. Part 1: Knowledge
+ Baseline entitlement
One of the first things our children need is a deep understanding of the human rights they should expect for themselves and for others. A poor immigrant Bangladeshi construction worker does not feel entitled to much (if anything) in Singapore, whereas a rich male Caucasian resident might feel entitled to everything as long as it is not too inconvenient for others.
Neither is healthy.
Our children need to recognize that everybody, irrespective of gender, the shade of their skin, marks in tests, money in their bank, personality (even if they are rude and dismissive and we don't like to play with them), deserve basic human rights of safety, health, education, shelter, autonomy and respect. We want them to know this, so that they can stand up not only for others, but also for themselves if the situation arises.
+ Spectrum of discrimination and our place in it
In basic terms,
Discrimination allows the sub-human treatment of an individual or groups of people by reducing their entire worth to singular attributes (for example, colour of their skin or gender) that people have no control over.
For classism in particular, it takes away choice and power from those with less wealth. It is easy to get into the fallacy that poverty (or racism or sexism etc) exists in far-away places. But a closer examination will make it clear that poor people not only live in rental HDB flats but also potentially in your own homes.
Each of these forces of discrimination exist along a spectrum - from microaggressions to those that are systemic or institutional. This can be difficult for children to comprehend – narratives in society often lead us to think in black-and-white, simplistic terms (for example, CMIO). As another example, contrary to what our extremely competitive society may lead us to believe, resources are not scarce. There could be plenty for everybody. We need children to know that arbitrary divides are often intentional, systemic and lead us to a scarcity mindset, while at the same time allowing us to feel self-pity. As was evident during the beginning of circuit breaker, a scarcity mindset makes us hoard resources and become more individualistic.
When we understand the spectrum, say, of wealth, we can find our objective place in it. Most of us instinctively categorize ourselves as ‘middle class’ and constantly look up to those who have more, even as we are in reality extremely wealthy (if you are reading this on the internet, you are wealthy). But, as we look closer, we realize that there will always be someone who is richer and someone poorer.
Acknowledging this reality can allow our children to feel gratitude for the brand name shoes that they are able to have today while empathizing with those who can't.
This makes it easier to focus on what we have in common with people who don't look or act like us, rather than the differences, which helps our children to develop empathy.
A page from the book “The table where rich people sit” by Bryd Baylor
+ Intersectionality and history
Finally, we need children to understand the interconnected and interdependent nature of various forms of discrimination. In simple terms, a poor Malay woman who is a single mother faces exponential (vs additive) discrimination and marginalization. To understand this further, we need to look at history - where we are now and how we got here. Centuries of colonization, generational trauma, unchecked capitalism, patriarchy, and other factors, all feed into discrimination, to the point where we imbibe it and render it invisible. History is dialogue and opinion, not a long list of facts to be memorized.
We need to teach our children to question what they are taught and allow them to look at history from differing non - dominant perspectives.
Which stories are legitimate?
Which messengers are trustworthy?
For example, how could Columbus "discover" the Americas if there were millions of people living there for centuries before he washed up on to its shores? How would indigenous Americans describe the arrival of Columbus? Could a more accurate term be "invaded"? History is not just something that happened to people who lived a long time ago. When I found out my grandfather's life's possessions were looted and that he was jailed by the British before Indian Independence, history suddenly became real.
We need to learn, question and teach these critical-thinking and fact-checking skills to our children to prevent erasure (I knew of Spanish colonizers that occupied the Philippines, we also had a footnote about the subsequent American colonizers, but I was never taught the names of Filipinos who fought against them) and tokenism (one story of Martin Luther King in a sea of white American men).
Our children cannot listen if only one type of voice is allowed to speak, they cannot help to heal if they don't know of wounds inflicted.1
Want to read the rest of the Blog?
Foot Note: 1. Modified quote by Ashia Ray, Raising Luminaries: Books for Littles
About the author:
Puja Bhojnagarwala is a flawed human being who has made innumerable mistakes and continues to do so. She is the mother of two children, is in an inter-racial marriage, is wealthy, lives in a safe country that grants her some paid parental leave and works at a company that allows her to take extended unpaid leave.
She has not been offered several opportunities because of her gender or passport, has been shamed and ridiculed for looking a certain way / not speaking in certain accent(s) / for her choice in food, suffers from bouts of depression and will never forget the first overt racist attack.
In a nutshell, she is extremely privileged. She actively works to combat all forms of discrimination, but will fight tooth and nail against sexism, leading her to receive the former (and potentially current) title of the black sheep of the family. She knows it is a fallacy, but still aspires to “have it all”.
Authors Note: This article is inspired by not only my personal experiences and work, but also by hundreds of authors and speakers who have led me to be here. Special gratitude for Teo You Yenn, This is what inequality looks like and Ashia Ray, Raising Luminaries: Books for Littles whose works have immensely influenced this article. This article captures some (not all) concepts - there are several that have not been included.