How to Talk to Kids about Labels and Diversity

This podcast will focus on how to talk to kids about how to open up conversation about labels and diversity in a way that empowers us to hear different perspectives rather than limit people and fan the flames of culture wars. Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews author and educator, Irshad Manji.

Special guest: Irshad Manji

How do we educate our children about politically sensitive subjects like diversity without inflaming culture wars? On the one hand, people talk about the need expand labels to be more inclusive—we have certainly heard this as it relates to gender over the last several years. On the other hand, labels can constrict, restrict, generalize and wash over the unique aspects of each individual- the very characteristics that make our children amazing. How do we celebrate diversity without reducing it to a bunch of limiting words? How do we talk about this complex information to our children who are living at a time when topics of race, gender and sexual orientation are global conversations for both good and catastrophic reasons? Today we welcome Irshad Manji to the show to provide talking points to open up conversation on the heated topic of labels and diversity.

Bio

Irshad Manji is a globally acclaimed educator, author, and speaker. She serves as the Director of Moral Courage ED at Let Grow, a nonprofit that promotes students’ independent thinking and emotional resilience. Its signature program for students (teachers!), universities and businesses is Moral Courage ED, which empowers people to hear, not fear, different perspectives. Irshad is the author Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming Culture Wars.

Important Messages:

  • We are more than our labels.
  • The key to celebrating diversity- recognize two things. (1) Not merely about demographics. Like skin color or gender identity or religion. It’s also about individual thoughts and insights. (2) If we reduce people to the groups that we presume that they belong to then we are overlooking the really unique and interesting things about them.
  • Don’t assume you know someone based on labels. Ask questions from a place of curiosity not judgment.
  • Conditioned to see others through labels.
  • We’ve been put off and told in different ways not to ask questions about diversity. Considered “rude” or “taboo” or made to feel that “you should do your own research on that”- “because others shouldn’t need to explain it to you.” “I should not have to educate you about who I am.” That can be the message- nervous to ask questions. Might feel that they would offend. Fears of asking. Not irrational- we do live in a time when we get mixed messages about diversity and how we “do diversity.” Not getting straight talk. Where are the landmines? Where is the joy?
  • Get rid of the landmines.
    • Remind people who you are asking; “I’m not asking you this out of a place of judgment, but from a place of curiosity.” Not looking to put someone down. Genuine about wanting to learn. Give people the why before you ask the what.
    • “I have a lot of questions for you and by the way, you are more than welcome to ask questions about me. Let’s make this a conversation rather than a transaction. I’m your student and if you want to be my student too, then wonderful!”
    • State the fear outright. You are thinking and want to show you are being thoughtful here. You don’t have all the answers. Acknowledge. There’s power to that. Convo can be a learning experience for all of us. Acknowledge- “I’ve got a lot to learn and grow from as well.” It’s authentic and beautiful.
    • Kids these days have their finger on the pulse of the culture. They have a lot of knowledge. Expansive view of what gender and diversity look like.
    • True AND- while they have an expansive view of gender and sexual orientation is- but self-censor- fear saying the wrong thing. Cancel worthy? Reaction- might seem very dramatic. They know what would happen if they say in school what we asked. Fear of where they are coming from.
    • Thread- moral courage. Speak truth to power. Simplistic definition. In realm of cancel culture. (1) Easy to think that the only truth worth hearing is their own truth. (2) Many young people have been taught that because they are marginalized, that they are oppressed. Example, gender fluid, non-white, girls, etc.
    • But right now, according to Irshad, there is no better time to be these things (gender fluid, girls, non-white) than right now.
    • Many people think that to be these labels, there is no power- which is why they feel they need to “speak truth to power.” This is a disempowering way to raise children.
    • If learn that there is a group that are oppressors. And the others are oppressed. Then learn that they have no voice. But they DO have a choice and a voice. “How are you going to respond to something that offends you?” If you lash back to something you offensive, you will only make them defensive. They will recoil in fear and anger- maybe double down on the very thing that you found offensive.
    • ASK- a young person who is passionate and falls into the trap of lashing back. “Are you passionate about moving the needle on this issue and creating change or are you passionate about feeling superior because of the stance you are taking.” Passionate to make change- just like you, other people are human. Nobody does well when they act from a place of being shamed and scolded and humiliated.
  • How bridge gap? When offended. We as adults have to role model the very thing we are trying to teach. Don’t want them to freak out when someone says something triggering? Then we need to not freak out! Must speak truth to the power of the ego.
  • Must see it in ourselves before seeing it in our kids. The ego brain- emotional brain. Function- exists to keep us alive. Ego/Amygdala. Comes from primitive the part of the brain- can’t distinguish between mortal danger and slight discomfort. We cave to our ego when we lash out. “Ego, I respect you, one day you might save my life. Right now, in this moment, I am simply hearing something that is making me uncomfortable. I’m not going to die! So I’m not going to let you bully me. Or manipulate me into me becoming more dogmatic or defensive.” Role model with our own kids.
  • Labels- distort.
  • Look through lens of moral courage. The other person has information of their own. A context of their own. We don’t have that information yet. Instead of saying, don’t do something- ask questions. Place of curiosity not judgment.
  • Example; meeting a “black kid.” Parent: tell me more about this new friend. “Love hearing more about your friend.” “You mentioned that this person is black. Is that important?” “In 2 of my classes.” “I just hope you remember- all of us are many things. You are white- you are also a lovely singer, a great artist…” “No matter how someone defines themselves, there is so much more to get to know. I can’t wait for you to come home in the coming days and tell me more about your new friend. I’d love to know more about her and I hope she gets to know more about you.”
  • Example: Someone didn’t know Irshad, mentioned that Irshad was queer and just got married. “Just curious, is there a reason that you pointed out that I’m queer?” “Is it important to put in the context of what we are talking about.” “No need to be sorry- just hoping we all have more to think about.” “Help me to understand where she is coming from.” On verge of feeling offending, before assuming why they said it, ask them!! (Not schooling them- let them tell you what they are thinking! Or they will validate. Call them IN not out- think more than calling them out.
  • Labels as starting points, not finish lines.
  • Top conversations about race/racism. Remember- your child is not you. Your own views on these issues- they don’t have to be the same views that your child holds. You may want that- we all want more agreement- but the way to get your child to open up to you (not just you to them), approach them and appreciating- that they are coming from a world- living in a world- that is different from yours. You need to approach from a point of learning. If you want them to be open minded about your values- most reliable way- is to first give a fair hearing to them. That’s how our brains operate!
  • If we are feeling shame from the person who is trying to teach us, we don’t succumb to what that person is trying to teach us, instead, resistance builds up.
  • For the sake of peace, we’ll just say that we give in. But become resentful. Don’t finger wag! Say want to hear from them. Emotional defenses come down- so they feel that you will hear from them and will make them open to hearing up for you.
  • Privilege: Blessings and divisions. Start with questions. Not that judge but open up kid. If kids are getting the message “You have privilege and this other person doesn’t.” Do you think this other person doesn’t get this stuff? Both blessed. Don’t assume. But what about when someone says you have privilege and the other person doesn’t? Don’t assume. What about if based on color? Still need to talk about different privileges that people have. Maybe we all have privileges? Thankful for them. Get to know everyone better. Starting with questions then continuing with questions. When asking questions, you are not telling them how to think- you are giving them ways to find their voice.
  • Brave spaces, according to the moral courage definition, allow people to talk about what they think and feel without being judged. Encouraged, equipped. Honest. Have the courage of your confusions and courage of their convictions. Within this space, not judged. “Have the courage of your confusions as well as the courage of your convictions.”
  • “The reason reducing people down to labels is so detrimental to diversity conversations is” people are not things. Things stay static, people are sentient beings, ever evolving, ever dynamic.
  • Top tip: Need to ask questions, not just statements. Want young people to understand how they converse is at least as important as what they say.
  • We want young people to understand how they converse is at least as important as what they say. And in fact, it’s often more important because the way they make someone feel will determine how the content of what they say actually lands. Leave the other person feel respected—not necessarily agreed with- will allow you also to be heard.
  • Moral courage method- what you have to say will have a fair shot of being heard and the best way to ensure that happens is to lead in the listening department.

Notable Quotables:

  • “For all of my labels, I am so much more than the baggage that goes along with those labels.”
  • “We are all so much more than the assumptions that are made about us by the labels that are put on us or that we take for ourselves.”
  • “If we reduce people to the groups that we presume that they belong to then we are overlooking the really unique and interesting things about them.”
  • “Don’t assume you know someone based on labels. Ask questions from a place of curiosity not judgment.”
  • “Give people the ‘why’ before you ask the ‘what.’”
  • “It is very easy for young people to assume that the only truth that is worth hearing is their truth.”
  • “We need to view labels as starting points not finish-lines.”
  • “If we are feeling shame from the person who is trying to teach us, we don’t succumb to what that person is trying to teach us, instead, resistance builds up.”
  • “By asking questions, you are not telling your kids how to think- you are giving them ways to find their voice.”
  • Brace spaces, everyone has permission to talk about how they really feel and how they really think without being immediately judged for doing so- where they are encouraged and equipped to talk about things in a way that is honest for them- where they have the courage of their confusions not just the courage of their convictions- where they know, whatever comes out of their mouth, within this space, they will not be judged. They can become candid and courageous at the same time.
  • “The reason reducing people down to labels is so detrimental to the diversity conversation is people are not things. Things stay static, people are sentient beings, ever evolving, ever dynamic.”
  • “We want young people to understand how they converse is at least as important as what they say. And in fact, it’s often more important because the way they make someone feel will determine how the content of what they say actually lands.”
  • “The Moral Courage Method of communicating across divides is about ensuring that what you have to say has a fair shot of being heard and the best way to be heard is to ensure that you lead in the listening department.”

Resources:

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