Recently, I came across this children’s book first published in 1929. I recognized the illustrator’s work from books I had as a child and started looking through it.

The author’s note inside tells the purpose.

There are pieces on children from almost every culture and the author talks about the physical differences in the way the children look as well as what they eat and wear, and shows the cultural customs of each country. It’s pretty straight forward and well done.

This reminded me of another book that I have and used when I used as a supplement to lead discussions from the programs in the “Different and the Same” curriculum for 2nd and 3rd graders developed by Fred Roger’s company. I was doing this when I worked for the American Red Cross, which must serve all people regardless of any differences. This book was developed by UNICEF in the 1990s:

The forward is by Harry Belafonte, the late, great entertainer and Goodwill Ambassador.

This book looks at over 30 countries and shows the children’s homes, food they eat, clothes they wear, along with photos of their families. I remember when I first saw the book thinking that we all just want to take care of our families no matter how we achieve it in our individual societies.

When I was a child, I loved the song “Jesus loves the Little Children” and it became a central part of who I am. Nothing I ever learned in all the decades sense has wiped that fact from my mind. Jesus loves the little children.

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in his sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world

So, how did so many people who are afraid of anyone who looks different from them, or was raised in a different way, come to populate much of our society, spreading hatred and fear everywhere? When you watch little children play, they don’t see the differences such as color of skin unless someone points it out to them. The Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” from the musical “South Pacific” sums it up easily:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear.

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year.

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made

And people whose skin is a different shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

After thinking about this, I realized that all of these things I have mentioned were geared for white people. That’s not to say that people of all colors don’t have prejudices, but, except for the UNICEF book, these were mostly for white people, like me. I was thinking about how my own prejudices developed because I don’t remember my parents or grandparents saying anything about other races. One of my first dolls was a little baby doll that was a black baby and I didn’t think anything about it, even back in 1948-50.

There were no people of any color but white in my school or neighborhood. The only black people I knew worked for us and we loved them. I don’t think we felt superior to them other than we knew they worked for us and didn’t have as much as we had. But neither did my grandmother, so that didn’t mean much either.

I didn’t really meet any people of other races or nationalities until I went to college and, even then, there weren’t too many. We had a big TIME/LIFE book of all the religions at home and I had studied it through the years so I wasn’t against other religions. My first Jewish friends were in junior high and many of them are still good friends 65 years later. I didn’t have gay friends until I was an adult because they couldn’t admit to the world who they were. Where did I get my prejudices – because I have to admit I absorbed some of the stereotypes through the years.

At 77, I have met people from all over the world and have friends from many cultures and races and sexual orientations. I’m not being sanctimonious because I still look at strangers warily. As a woman, I’ve been taught to be aware of my surroundings and regard any person with suspicion. Our 24/7 media alerts and ever present internet outlets, along with groups who promote hate and fear of anyone different, are bound to make people more afraid. I will say that for the past couple of decades I have been more afraid of white supremacists than any other group, but I live in Oklahoma and saw the first hand results of hate and evil in the Oklahoma City bombing.

So how do we get to the place where we all love the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white? How do we work towards this ideal as people? Here are a few suggestions…

Go out of your way to meet people who aren’t like you. One of the best ways is to travel, but that isn’t possible for many people. If you see someone different, smile. Start a conversation. Find things you have in common. Anything.

Learn about other people’s countries, religions and customs. We live in an age where you can find so many resources in the library, on the internet, documentaries on television, movies. Be curious and unafraid to learn about how we are different – and how we are the same. And learn to mind your own business about other things in other people’s lives that have no bearing on you.

I don’t have all the answers, but we really must look at each other in different ways. We need to open our hearts. We need to be kinder to each other. Those precious children are our future and our hope. Those precious children are us.