Guest Post: "Your Dad Looks Like a Hobo!" Addressing Stereotypes & Prejudice with Children

Kerri Twigg, IHE M.Ed. student, parent, humane educator, drama teacher, and blogger, kindly gave us permission to share one of her recent posts here. Kerri is the instructor for online course about humane parenting, Raising a Humane Child (next session runs Sept. 12-Oct. 21).

The Situation

My daughter told me that a girl at school said her dad looks like a hobo. She feels a lot of things at once about this and starts to cry. I hug her.

We talked a bit about the word “hobo” and how it isn’t a word we use anymore. I prefer to use the term “people less fortunate than us at this time.” I got this from Mary Cowhey. Although it is admittedly a longish term to use, it acknowledges that we are fortunate and that anyone’s situation can change.

We talked about the type of clothes people who work in offices wear. We talked about how people who have no homes dress, and how some people dress casually at work. I said, if people are used to a type of people looking a certain way, they associate all people with it. They shouldn’t, but it happens.

My daughter didn’t seem to understand, so I turned to art.

Using Art to Explore Prejudice

I brought out some paper and pens and asked her to draw what the girl’s parents dressed like.

We drew what people who are less fortunate at this time look like.

We drew what her dad dresses and looks like.

Then we compared them to each other. Her dad has long hair and on most days dresses very casually. He is also aboriginal. I asked who does he look more like? And, he looked more like a person who was less fortunate than us at this time and not like a business person.

I said, you love and know him so you are used to his appearance. Sometimes he has to wear a suit, but mostly he dresses casually. We talked about how I’m not comfortable with people who wear suits — and some assumptions I have made that don’t come from a fair or loving place. We laughed about what kids would think if I showed up to teach a creative drama class in a business suit. We also discussed schools with uniforms and schools without. We talked about how someone who was less fortunate than us can wear a suit and surprise people when they find he/she has no home. Some people with very important jobs wear jeans — like the doctor we saw in emergency. Clothing doesn’t give us all we need to know about a person.

By looking at the images we drew, we were able to see where this other child may have gotten the idea. Not that it was excusable or a kind thing for her to say. Sometimes understanding why someone thinks something enables us to help them.

By the end she was able to see that this girl’s statement actually said more about the girl than about my daughter or her dad, and I was relieved that she was less upset about it.

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