We believe that all people were created in the image of God, b’tzelem elokim. This applies to people who need a wheelchair to get around and people who can’t hear and people who struggle with math as well as people who are super fast runners and people who see the world through music instead of words and people who are really good friends to those around them. This applies to everyone regardless or how much money they have or where they live or what they wear everyday. And this certainly applies to people of all colors of skin. All people were created in the image of God. All people are beautiful and special and holy. All people (with no qualifiers).
It seems so simple, and, yet, obviously it’s not...at least not for everyone. Because we treat people differently because they dress differently or speak differently or practice a different religion or just seem different. And we certainly treat people differently when they look different.
Kids live a beautiful world where they don’t see these differences in the same way, though, and it’s only through the modeling of adults that they begin to think about “us” versus “them” and what is “better.” Absolutely they notice differences. They absolutely pick up on people acting in a way that is different from them or speaking a language that is different from them or looking different, but they pick up on it from an objective curiosity-based way, free from all forms of judgement.
They ask questions because they want to know. They want to learn. They want to connect. As a human, they want to better understand the human that is before them, as one person to another person. They choose playmates based on who is there and who doesn’t throw sand and who also likes blocks. They make friends with kids who live in different neighborhoods or celebrate different holidays or whose words sound different than theirs. And they don’t think twice about it. They find these differences to be interesting and special and unique. Because they are. Because people are all different, and we are all interesting and special and unique. But no one is better, and kids are born with this understanding. It is then our job to foster this and strengthen this and empower kids to use this understanding to make the world around them just a little bit better.
There are so many really great resources out there right now about how to talk to your children about race, including the following:
These all offer really great tips that help to guide parents and educators through difficult conversations and can help make students aware of the role race plays in society. For some kids, these might be challenging conversations, though, not because of the challenges that they have with race, bias, and diversity, but because they don’t have these challenges and they can’t possibly imagine why anyone would. Kids who deeply believe in the special uniqueness of the individual and see that as a positive rather than a negative will struggle with understanding why anyone would possibly treat people differently just because they are different. “People are people,” they might explain.
For us the conversation has to start there, with the belief that all people were created in the image of God, and all people are people. It really is that simple, and we have to work to ensure it stays that simple for our kids.
The kids of today are the foundation for tomorrow. They will be the leaders and the policy-makers and the protestors and the upstanders in the years to come, and it is our obligation as the parents and the teachers and the role-models of today to help students understand the complexities around these issues, to create a space where kids’ inherent blindness to difference continues enough for them to treat everyone with empathy, kindness, and understanding, but also to make sure they are aware of their role to advocate and repair damage that has been done by those who do not share that belief.
So today we start with b’tzelem elokim. We do whatever we can to hold onto that beautiful simple belief that all kids hold when they are too little to have been influenced by anything around them. We celebrate the simplicity of believing that all people are special and were created just as they were meant to be created, in the image of God. And we let kids be kids because they are so full of love, and that’s what the world needs more than anything right now. And that’s what it means to be created in the image of God.