Now is the time to be teachers of tolerance

Regardless of the views of certain segments of our community around the large population in immigrant and multicultural communities, the reality is that our county and our city are becoming more diverse by the day.
 Nika Jackson

by Nika Jackson

Special to the Tri-State Defender

(Nika Jackson is Manager, Multicultural and Religious Affairs for the City of Memphis.)

The next generation is growing up in a world very different from the one we experienced during our youth. Instead of knowing an America with a race relations history that only included black and white, our children are now entering into a place where they are surrounded by the beauty of Latin, Asian as well as African descents. The U.S. Census Bureau even projects that by the year 2050, minorities, classified as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites, will make up over half of the U.S. population making them minorities no more. More specifically, minority children are projected to reach that milestone even sooner, in that by 2023 more than half of all children in the U.S. will be minorities.

 This is one in a series of monthly guest columns designed to focus public attention on issues that affect Memphis’ children. It is part of a Shelby County initiative to remind everyone, in every aspect of daily life, to “Ask first.. Is It Good for the Children?”  For more information, go to or call 901-385-4224.

Regardless of the views of certain segments of our community around the large population in immigrant and multicultural communities, the reality is that our county and our city are becoming more diverse by the day. In fact, the Hispanic population is growing far faster than either the black or white population and has surpassed the total African-American population in the country as a whole.

We have seen enrollment of Hispanic students more than triple over the last decade and mothers giving birth, who list Mexico as their birthplace, increased by over 500 percent in the Memphis area since the late 1990’s. Tennessee is even cited by the Pew Hispanic Center as a state with one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the country with an estimated increase of close to 300 percent here in the Memphis and Shelby County area alone.  

Now, having this information, how are we adjusting and EMBRACING these changes? And more importantly what attitudes towards our population’s transformation are we modeling to the children around us? Are we planting seeds of collaboration and acceptance or continuing “old business” by giving them the tools to see others who look differently from them as enemies and people to be feared? I am sure we all agree that there is definitely room for improvement.  

So where do we begin? Well, the first step, and probably the most difficult, is taking a long honest look in the mirror to realize how we truly look at those around us of different races, ethnicities and religions. Have we ever made a “harmless” comment such as “you know how they are” or “there are too many of them living there; we should move elsewhere”?  Watch for instances of prejudice in our own lives, both in words and actions, then talk to the children around us about how untrue these ideas really are.  

It is also important to increase your awareness of media influences in your child’s life. What messages are being related through the shows they watch and the music on their iPods?  If you watch television for only a few hours, I am willing to bet that you will see portrayals of some groups in a negative light. When you experience these instances in the presence of a child, bring attention to it. And as we, as adults, grow in the awareness of our own feelings and attitudes, it is important to point out those times when we have prejudged. Share how these statements and attitudes are not only inaccurate but they are also very hurtful. If you hear your child repeat similar comments, immediately use that as a powerful learning opportunity.   

As Manager of the Mayor’s Office of Multicultural and Religious Affairs for the City of Memphis, I am always amazed by the vast diversity and countless cultural events in our city.  Share this diversity with your child by attending local festivals and events that expose them to different races and cultures. Try different types of food when you go out as a family and maybe even prepare a few at home as well.  

Being an advocate for the just treatment of other ethnic groups is also a wonderful way to demonstrate tolerance to our youth. Just because the discrimination issue doesn’t affect you today, there is a great possibility that one day in the future it will.  So model the same support and encouragement for others that you would hope to receive if you were in that situation. Let children see evidence of courage in your actions but also, allow them to see patience as well as forgiveness.

I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.  And I think an important word in that statement is learn because this truly is a learning process, one that children and adults are participating in together. We have the responsibility to be teachers of tolerance to those around us and by doing this, we empower the children in our lives to not only see the beauty in others but also embrace and cherish their own beauty as well.  

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