If you follow pop culture at all, you’ll know that this week, Adidas announced it was terminating its lucrative relationship with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, as a result of his recent horrific anti-semitic statements. In doing so, the ultra-popular global sports company pronounced to the world’s youth that hateful speech is wrong and won’t be tolerated. Adidas’ decision signals to kids that there is, in fact, a stark difference between right and wrong—and that it does not matter how much money may be lost, we must all stand up for what is right.
What a powerful message. As a child psychologist, I believe it’s an incredibly important lesson for our kids to learn, especially coming from one of the highest-profile and respected sports brands in the world.
Adidas drawing this line in the sand opens up the opportunity for parents to begin a dialogue with their kids—even very young ones—about antisemitism, racism and prejudice. But what should those conversations look like?
How to talk to kids about antisemitism, racism and Kanye West
Here are some conversation starters for parents who want to tackle this topic head-on.
“When you look at the community around us, maybe at the kids on the playground, you may hear disrespectful and mean things being said to other people. This could be because they’re different in some way.”
“Seeing or hearing mean things might make you feel angry, sad and confused. It’s okay to ask questions when you don’t understand why something bad, disrespectful and mean has happened in the world around us.”
“When something mean happens, we sometimes call it ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment.’ And when it happens because someone is different in some way, we often describe it as ‘prejudice.’”
“Prejudice is also when we make up our minds about someone before getting to know them just because of the way they are different from us. Racism is when someone believes that another group of people is inferior because of their background or heritage. Anti-semitism is hostility to, prejudice towards, or discrimination against Jewish people specifically.”
Once you’ve opened this dialogue, you might choose to explain specifically what Kanye West said and why it was so hurtful. You may also want to praise Adidas’ decision to stand against hateful speech and point out why it is such an important message to give to today’s young people. This would be a good time to teach your kids that in Canada, we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Harassment, prejudice and racism are against the law.
In these kinds of conversations, it is not uncommon for children to ask “why?” Nobody is born with a mean attitude. Prejudice is something people learn. Many children may not understand why anyone would choose to say something unkind. Here is a good way to explain the “why” to children:
“People sometimes pass along mean or disrespectful ideas down from one generation to the next without really thinking about it. Sometimes people hurt others because they were once hurt like that themselves. And sometimes, people fear what they don’t know or what they don’t understand. When adults have these kinds of attitudes, their children often learn these attitudes too.”
It will be important to conclude any discussion along these lines with a clear statement on what your family believes and what values are important to you. This is your chance to help your child understand the difference between right and wrong. When children learn these important lessons at a young age, it helps them become little humans with a strong moral compass.
“Even though there are differences between us, we are all equally important. Everyone deserves love, respect and equal opportunities, regardless of what we look like, how we sound or how we live our lives. Learning to understand and appreciate what makes us different helps people to accept one another and come together.”
I believe this is how we can make a difference and create peace among us. Changing attitudes starts with open and honest conversations with children. We can help make the world a better place one child at a time.