RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Berrigan writes: "Racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and good old fashioned ignorance have not disappeared from the playgrounds and yellow buses of the United States."

How do we teach our children to be accepting? (photo: unknown)
How do we teach our children to be accepting? (photo: unknown)

Inoculating Our Children Against Fear and Hatred

By Frida Berrigan, Waging Nonviolence

19 May 13


www. Don't do it, Patrick. Don't do it. Dogs pee here."

A woman was giving my husband a hard time because our 10-month-old son had dropped his banana on the ground. Patrick picked it up, licked it and was about to hand it back to our boy. Seamus grabbed for it eagerly and scarfed it down. A minute or two later, he was grunting for more.

The woman was disgusted. I was too. Not by Patrick, of course, but by a judgmental woman who hadn't shown any interest in our adorable boy until he was in danger of being exposed to whatever lurked in the grass on the Norwich town green.

"If we threw away everything this child dropped," I said with just a hint of heat, "he would be skin and bones. We do this kind of thing all the time. As you can see, he is the picture of health."

Seamus is the picture of health. He is fat and happy, alert and engaged, and he has seven teeth. Going anywhere with this kid requires constant chit chat with admiring strangers.

I don't want my kid to eat dog pee, for sure. But I also don't want him to live in a hermetic bubble of germophobia. I do not wipe down the carts with sanitizer at the supermarket - that stuff smells so chemically. I do not bath him every day - it is a twenty minute wrestling match that I usually lose. So I have been trying to only give him full baths a few times a week. I do not scrub his toys every time they fall on the floor. For the most part, I just brush them off and hand them back to him.

I do try to keep him from eating too much sand, dirt, grass and leaves. But he is a curious child and encounters the world with his hands and mouth first. He usually gets some organic matter in his mouth every time I put him down, which I do often because he weighs a solid 25 pounds and when he wants to be put down it is pretty hard not to oblige him.

He likes sitting on our lawn (no dog pee there), which is sweet because he and I are in charge of the mowing (with one of those push power mowers that require constant stick removal). He also likes exploring the ground at the community garden (lots of wood chips and dirt to taste). Through all of this, I watch him carefully, edit his choice of stick, wood chip, leaf or weed and rescue him when/if he runs into trouble.

But I do not freak out every time he puts something "dirty" in his mouth. I have learned from more seasoned parents that this just causes stress and makes moms and kids grumpy. I am also finding out that the more Seamus is exposed to now, the healthier he is likely to be as he gets older.

Dr. Thom McDade, who directs the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University, found that children who were exposed to more animal feces and had more cases of diarrhea before the age of 2 had less incidence of inflammation in the body as they grew into adulthood. These inflammations have been linked to chronic adulthood problems like heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's. As Dr. McDade says, "microbial exposures early in life may be important ... to keep inflammation in check in adulthood." It is called the hygiene hypothesis and it is gathering credence amongst health professionals.

In a recent Swedish study, researchers found that early exposure to parents' saliva may help stimulate a baby's immune system, and that could mean a lower risk of developing eczema, asthma and sensitivities to certain allergens. They looked at parents who lick the baby's pacifier to clean it rather than washing it with soap or sanitizing it. The Swedes weren't on the Norwich green when Patrick licked Seamus' banana, but I think they would have approved.

Of course I want to protect Seamus from what is dirty. But I am not all that concerned about the dog pee (or worse) lurking on the ground where bananas and toys fall. I want to protect him from prejudice, from racism, from hatred - the real dirty underside of life.

While I washed the dishes recently, I listened to Snap Judgment on NPR. The host, Glynn Washington, described moving with his family from Detroit to rural Michigan when he was a little boy. On the first day of school, he got on the bus. The kids all went quiet: "See, we were the only black folk for miles around." He tries to sit in the first open seat, but a "tow-headed boy spit on the seat, right where I was going to sit. I kept walking down the aisle and every open seat had spit on it, daring me to sit in it." He finally found a seat at the very back, next to a little girl who silently moved her backpack to the floor to make room for him. They sat together every day after that.

Then the school bus route changed, so that Glenn got on the bus first. He kept sitting in the back with the girl - Mary Jo. One day she got on the bus smelling awful. It was winter and her family's pipes had frozen, so she could not shower after doing her farm chores. She masked her unwashed body smell with perfume and when she got on the bus, the whole bus erupted, screaming about how bad she stank. Washington called it the odor of "rotting flowers pressed on top of barn filth."

At first, he wished that she would sit somewhere else. Then he was ashamed, recalling how she had been the only one who accepted him at all. He moved his backpack to the floor and Mary Jo sat down reeking of perfume and chores. They talked for the first time that day - chatted all the way to school.

I cried into the sink thinking about how mean kids can be. I cried into the sink thinking about how kids can rise above it all and be so kind and generous.

Where would Seamus have fit into this story? Would he be a spitter? Over my dead body, I thought. No way. His father and I would see to that. No question.

But would he do more than not spit? Would he rail against his classmates' prejudice and racism; calling them out, calling them to something better? Or would he be the one to silently move his backpack to the floor? Would he be compassionate and accepting? Would he be brave and principled?

That story happened a while ago - Glynn Washington is probably in his mid-40s (You were hoping he was in his 80s, right? And that this terrible experience could be written off as an early 20th century phenomenon?). Forty years ago. Eight years ago. And right now. Racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and good old fashioned ignorance have not disappeared from the playgrounds and yellow buses of the United States.

Isn't this the real disease? Isn't this the real dirty, ugly germ cluster that we need to inoculate our children against? Isn't protecting our kids from this disease more important than sanitizing their toys? your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+46 # abstract668 2013-05-19 15:38
How to inoculate our children against racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and ignorance?

Let them experience the opposite. Put them in daily contact with people of other races, of other incomes, otherly-abled, and of various sexual orientations. Give them opportunities to know and respect these people. Practice media literacy in your home, and send children to a school where they learn how to regard the media with questions rather than awe. Have dinner together as a family regularly, and ask children to lead discussions about what is going on in their lives and in their world. Take them to demonstrations in support of working people, peace, justice, education, and Have them make their own signs. Take them to community meetings with elected officials and encourage them to express their opinions. Model community involvement, democratic practice, and social justice in your own life and in your family.

With the support of a network of loving friends, and the inspiration of our Unitarian Universalist church, I have raised two young men who are living lives of commitment to social justice. Remember the line about roots and wings! I'm here to say, it works!
+9 # cybersleuth58 2013-05-20 07:00
Thank you for raising good kids who know that the real world consists of all kinds of people!
+45 # SundownLF 2013-05-19 15:40
Does anyone remember the song from South Pacific - "You've got to be Carefully Taught?" Some of the lyrics are:

"You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught"

It seems we haven't made a lot of progress since then - just look at how hated President Obama is, and bullying among kids is still epidemic, maybe even more so due to the ready availability of social media.

Parents are still teaching these twisted values, yet consider themselves Christians with impeccable 'family values.'

Yeah, right.
+2 # Carbonman1950 2013-05-22 18:47
You've offered me a chance to detour so I will. A lot of people recall the musicals of the 40s and 50s as rather sappy and light weight, but many of them took on really big difficult social issues. You mentioned South Pacific, but Showboat also dealt with racial prejudice, and so did The King & I, and Flower Drum Song. It's been a long time since I saw most of them, but I remember the "lively" conversations the adults had after seeing them.
+26 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-05-19 15:41
So true. THANK YOU.
+28 # barkingcarpet 2013-05-19 16:04
"Racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and good old fashioned ignorance have not disappeared from the playgrounds and yellow buses of the United States."

No, however, more and more of the buses have.....

And there are still a LOT of good folks who are either brought up to judge people and things for who and what they are, or who do get past their upbringing and ignorance.

And then, there IS, the media, in the pockets of corporate spin, and perpetuating divisiveness, fear, scapegoating, etc, while the only security IS to be found in inclusive, diverse community with a willingness to listen to and address the real issues, those of fear, lack, inequality, and injustice.

There ARE many working for change and standing up to the ignorance, and we gots work to do, if we want to leave a planet worth living on for anythings future.
+5 # juliajayne 2013-05-19 17:04
Thanks for linking to that article, BC.
+11 # tbcrawford 2013-05-19 16:32
One smile or kind word made by everyone on the planet would truly change the world. We should start with ourselves. Let's try!
+6 # Billy Bob 2013-05-20 05:12
You know what else works just as well? Saying "sir" and "ma'am", "please" and "thank you". You'd be AMAZED at how well people of other races and creeds respond to that. It's like a code to them, telling them you're not a typical white conservative.
+13 # reiverpacific 2013-05-19 16:56
This links up nicely with a recent article on home-schoolers, who cloister their kids from even small-own prejudices and deny them any chance at decent, community-build ing socialization.
It's all being exacerbated by the class-war now in full swing, so kids have that burden added to the fragmenting influences of the corporate state and it's media mouthpieces.
It's not just here though.
In Indonesia, which consists of some 200 cultures and languages (bound by a common Bahasa indonesia) spread over some 13,000 Islands from North Sumatera to Irian Jaya/ Papua New Guinea -wider than the USA, it's a race/class struggle too. It used to distress me to see mostly upper-class women with beautiful olive skins (the color white folks get cancer from lying out in the sun to acquire!) plastering on white makeup in an attempt to look like "Perambuan puteh" (white girls) and ending up looking downright ghoulish. The darker you are there, the harder it is o be successful and they have everything from almost white Chiese to the almost ebony-dark Negroids of Ambon and Flores.
Africa and India have it too, with the additional complexity of vitriolic war-promoting religious hatred since the colonial ear when white invaders from Europe drew politically war-based lines on maps across traditional tribal lands without regards to the original inhabitants, much as the spread of settlers and their leaders did here.
But we claim to be "Civilized"!
As for hygiene:
+12 # Janice 2013-05-19 17:09
We have to change prejudices in the home. Our children are going to change it. The Republican party, a group of old white men, can not bear the thought of a black man being the most powerful man in the world. They do all in their power to force him to fail and in doing so they will become extinct.
-23 # JackB 2013-05-19 19:56
All the talk about Divine Barry being black comes from liberals. They never stop bringing up the subject of race. However they are not racists. The people who don't bring up the subject are the racists. Liberals are so easy to laugh at.

The problem Republicans have with Divine Barry is not his race. It is his incompetence.

Liberals, on the other hand, do things in reverse. They overlook his incompetence & go goo-goo over the fact that he is black.
+6 # Billy Bob 2013-05-20 05:14
You're right! THIS is why Republicans always say, "oh here we go with the race card again".

Republican politicians aren't angry that a black man won the White House. They're angry that a Democrat won it. The fact that he's black just makes it easier for them to fire up their base which is profoundly racist and responsible for sending him more death threats than any president in U.S. history.

This is why Republicans/con servatives hate "the race card". They know they're own elected officials merely hate Obama for being a winning Democrat and are just manipulating the racism of the base to further their own goals. They'd never cop to any racism on their own part. They don't need to. That's the whole purpose of code words (like "Chicago style", or "community organizer", or "thug", or even "socialist" - because they think only minorities collect unemployment insurance, or "Kenyan", etc.)

Republican politicians don't openly admit to any racism because they honestly aren't racist.

+4 # reiverpacific 2013-05-20 10:31
Quoting JackB:
All the talk about Divine Barry being black comes from liberals. They never stop bringing up the subject of race. However they are not racists. The people who don't bring up the subject are the racists. Liberals are so easy to laugh at.

The problem Republicans have with Divine Barry is not his race. It is his incompetence.

Liberals, on the other hand, do things in reverse. They overlook his incompetence & go goo-goo over the fact that he is black.

Au contraire, me ould sweetheart. It's the reactionaries who tend to bring racism up by denying it, then expressing it in so many less-than-subtl e-ways, like openly stating via ol' "Bitch" McConnell, that their primary goal is to ensure that Ob' is a "One-term president".
And remember Ghoul Cheney at the first large Rethug' post 2008 election gathering positing openly the same words, with the closest grimace that he comes to a smile.
Your statement is reflective of typically reactionary wishful thinking reflecting their own regressive and racist fantasy-world.
-5 # JackB 2013-05-20 19:06
My my, another pseudo-intellec tual. BTW - I'm hetero so your quest to find a sweetheart isn't over.

Racism & racist are standard liberal labels for those that don't agree with them.

Tell me Einstein, were you really floored when you discovered the Republicans wanted Divine Barry - a Democrat - to be a one term president? I suspect you really were.

Your last sentence is somewhere between nonsensical & silly but you did manage to get "racist" in. I suppose you will get a liberal "attaboy" for that.
+4 # reiverpacific 2013-05-20 21:09
Quoting JackB:
My my, another pseudo-intellectual. BTW - I'm hetero so your quest to find a sweetheart isn't over.

Racism & racist are standard liberal labels for those that don't agree with them.

Tell me Einstein, were you really floored when you discovered the Republicans wanted Divine Barry - a Democrat - to be a one term president? I suspect you really were.

Your last sentence is somewhere between nonsensical & silly but you did manage to get "racist" in. I suppose you will get a liberal "attaboy" for that.

I'm not a Liberal, I'm a socialist, fully functioning.
Your response is of a typical blinkered reactionary.
"Ould sweetheart" is a Brit' term of somewhat cynical faux familiarity and nothing to do with being gay or anything else so put yourself to sleep with a nice toddy bubba.
And I didn't vote for Obama as I'm not a citizen but I say my piece as I pay taxes.
And I stand by my last sentence -you just proved my point.
I'm done with engaging you as a hopeless case in terms of discourse.
"O' wad some power the gitie gei us,
to see oorsel's as ithers see us".
My national bard, who was far-seeing and forward looking, unlike your regressive ilk.
+5 # Billy Bob 2013-05-20 21:36
Why don't you reply to me? If you don't know about the Republican right's racism, let me fill you in on the "secret" that the other 300,000,000 Americans in this country already know.

Since you have obvious issues with homosexuality as well, don't get too worked up about me "filling you in". It's not meant to be taken literally, just like most of what YOU say.

Why is it impossible for Republicans to refer to a Democrat as "The President of the United States" without some lame nickname? Do you think calling him "Divine" somehow cuts us to the quick? No, it just makes you look like another sore loser.

Yes, most Republican voters are racists. We know this because we all know Republican voters. We hear them talk to us and to each other when they think it's safe to be honest.

Sorry, but the bullshit detector STILL works, even if you cover the bullshit with perfume after the fact.
+20 # L H 2013-05-19 17:24
I don't remember any bullies in school when I was growing up. We walked a mile or two home from school safely every day. Women weren't working as much then, and were at home for after-school, so families were closer. One family in the neighborhood had a television set, and we played outside most of the time. I listened to the "Lone Ranger" on the radio!

I have watched what is considered "acceptable" change on TV, in Movies, in advertising, in language and images, and now video games and internet. Seems the standards and laws that set the boundaries have been erased. Humans are depicted as stupid with emotional and violent reactions. So, these are the role-models for children?

Where are we going? We all have to choose. My daughter loves animals, so I chose to live where we could have chickens, ducks, then goats, and she milked her goats twice a day for six years while I made cheese. What she learned from this and from being close to Nature has shaped a beautiful, genius person who knows the difference between the sweetness of life that nourishes, and attitudes that are anti-life.

Stay close to Nature, read good books to each other, have a garden (and chickens!), and observe how life is ongoing always. There's a 'box' of brand new chicks peeping away in our livingroom right now! By Thanksgiving, they will be giving us eggs.
+14 # Eliza D 2013-05-19 19:06
Beautiful post!
+11 # MainStreetMentor 2013-05-19 21:55
I agree! A wonderful message of parenting, wrapped in common sense and with a charming method of delivery! Thank you, Frida Berrigan, for writing it!
+5 # L H 2013-05-19 22:25
Ha! I had to look up who Frida Berrigan IS! I'm more likely to write a 21st Century "Winnie the Pooh" which I love and is so wise!

My daughter reads to me while I make dinner. We're on the 14th book of "The Dresden Files". It's a great way to share! Thanks for your encouraging responses!
+3 # Billy Bob 2013-05-20 05:18
Good post, but sheltering your kids from bullies is just like sheltering them from other races. Bullies teach kids the value of diversity. Once kids realize that even they can be singled out, it's possible to teach them compassion.

I grew up at a time and in a place when most women stayed home and slaved over the stove, but WE DEFINITELY HAD BULLIES. in fact ours were much worse than most of the ones I hear about today - except that we didn't have Facebook to destroy someone's reputation permanently.
+2 # Doctor J 2013-05-20 14:09
L H,
Thank you so much for your post. Your advice to stay close to Nature is what will turn things around in this world. I pray that you and your daughter will continue to be showered with blessings.
+10 # tomtom 2013-05-19 19:38
Our taxes should be used to teach our children about their bodies, our organs, activities that promote health, activities that produce illnesses, each other's organs and their functions, sexually and otherwise. The benefits of loving eachother, and our many, glorious, unique, differences,. We shouldn't be taught to outdo our fellow students, but to solve problems, as teams, brainstorming, using all our resources, to find solutions to our problems. Pitting each other against each other is counter productive. It's our world, communally; we need all our individual assets and powers to make it work, properly. We're very rich; everyone can share in this bountiful beauty and joy, available to each and every one of us.
+5 # charsjcca 2013-05-19 20:03
Interesting. I agree. Good America is a cigarette in one hand and a drone in the other. This is called healthy living? I vote for wholeness!!!
+5 # ladymidath 2013-05-20 01:59
Brilliant article. The trouble is that helicopter parenting is really to blame for this. Because kids are not able to run around playgrounds freely like they used to be able to, they aren't making friends outside of their social strata. Instead they are being ferried to dance lessons, music lessons, soccer practice and carefully arranged play dates. People tend to stay within their own social circle and so the kids end up not interacting with various kids from different backgrounds.
Parents are wrapping their kids in bubble wrap, too afraid to let anything through. This is why adults in first world countries have the highest level of autoimmune disease. That and the fear of anything that is out of the parents control is what is harming the next generation. This and the continuing violence against other countries. We need to raise our children with respect for all cultures and ways of life and to stop letting fear rule us.
+5 # jwb110 2013-05-20 10:03
My grandmother said .."you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die".... Dog pee on a lawn is not nearly as dangerous as the chemicals that may have been put on it. Washing fruits and veggies is not about dirt it is about chemicals being ingested.
I am over 60. I am sure that I have eaten most of my peck of dirt. (I wonder how many kids know what a peck is?) I can't remember the last time I had the flu. I tend to not get colds. In fact, I am in good shape for my age. My mother just passed away at 90. She smoked for 70 years. The one thing she and I had in common was that in our younger years the air, and the water and the dirt were clean.
0 # Collkito 2013-05-29 08:21
Grand to see a fellow Scot correct political assignation by some chappy mistaking a Liberal for a Socialist, course that term strikes a terror into some people who fear it means a liability to make homosexuality compulsory or at the very least a Godless atheist, and a host of other fears that go through the bonce of uninformed minds. Many Scot’s have socialism in there chromosomes, inoculated with fairness and a tolerance, and intolerance of racism and social injustice. Simply social evolution.We are all born ignorance but with the help of other and personal en-devour we can overcome it, you are still ignorant at forty,..then you are simply stupid.

More specifically onto the pleasant topic, born and raised in the Outer Hebrides we didn’t get mollycoddle or neglected, tumbling about on small farms, bogs, crags, beaches and supplemented with a good ((free) education and for those minded access to a few varieties of religious persuasion, we were pretty much self-sufficient , I am not eating that was not an option on the menu. Above all good manners were sacrosanct, great preparation the big wide word I was to encounter.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.