Prejudice is taught, not instinctive

“Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.”Denis Leary

Many times parents overlook the reality that they are in fact their child’s very first teacher. Children are incredibly impressionable, and therefore they often adopt the qualities and behaviors of their parents – the good, and unfortunately the bad as well.

Children are not born prejudice towards other races.

The don’t enter this world prepared to be homophobic.

And while they understand there are differences, gender stereotypes are a non-issue.

What they are born with is the capacity to love, to be accepting and perhaps most importantly to recognize that being different is not always a bad thing.

As I said, parents are their child’s first teacher, but sadly they rarely understand just what it is they’re teaching their offspring.

Brothers and sisters growing up

I grew up with an older sister. And as with many brothers and sisters, you often wind up playing with each other’s toys. There were times when my sister played with my Legos and transformers, and other times when I played with her dolls and play kitchen. We were kids without any preconceived notions of societal stereotypes – allowed by our parents to just have fun doing whatever we chose to do.

The other day I overheard a father tell his young son (who was playing with his sisters Disney castle) that it was a “girl’s toy” and he wouldn’t know how to play with it because he was a boy. That he should stick to playing with “boy’s toys”.


As your child’s first teacher, just what do you think you were “teaching” him with that comment? Do you think it was a positive message?

Suddenly a child born without any understanding of gender stereotypes has been taught its existence in a matter of seconds. He will no longer dig through his sister’s toy box without a voice in the back of his head telling him these are “girl’s toys” and little boys shouldn’t play with them.

And while you might not think this is an issue when he’s five years old, what happens when he’s twenty, and those antiquated gender stereotypes begin proliferating through his relationships?

How unfortunate that instead of allowing this child to find his own way in the world, his mind was tainted by the qualities, behaviors and prejudices of his parents.

Leila Aboulela once wrote, “All through life there were distinctions – toilets for men, toilets for women; clothes for men, clothes for women – then, at the end, the graves are identical.” A powerful revelation indeed.

Children deserve to be children – filled with innocence and exploration. Parents should be guiding them and molding them into young human beings with moralities and compassion, not judgements and prejudices.

But that’s just what so many parents today are doing to their children. They are creating an entirely new generation of racists and homophobics who believe there’s no place for gender equality in our homes, schools and society.

Famed entertainment critic Roger Ebert provides the perfect conclusion for this post: “Parents and schools should place great emphasis on the idea that it is all right to be different. Racism and all the other ‘isms’ grow from primitive tribalism, the instinctive hostility against those of another tribe, race, religion, nationality, class or whatever. You are a lucky child if your parents taught you to accept diversity.”