I felt inspired to create this Primary Activity Days idea after reading Nurtureshock by Po Bronson. It has a chapter that explains how we assume that it’s best for our kids if we don’t point out the races of other people, and if pressed to have a conversation about race, to make generic statements such as “everyone is equal” or “God loves us all the same.” But, multiple studies have found that if we don’t teach kids about racism in a more explicit way, they will fall back on natural racist tendencies. Yes, babies are racist! Think about it: we teach children at a very early age to distinguish between different colors, shapes, animals, foods, etc. And it’s part of our inborn survival instinct to embrace familiarity (such as a child being comfortable with people who share the same skin color as their parents) and be wary of strange things (my child was terrified of people in costumes until she was four!).
So, even though it makes us uncomfortable, we need to step up to the plate and start discussing racism more openly and candidly. Children need to be aware that their inborn, racist tendencies are normal, but that doesn’t mean they’re right (Mosiah 3:19). Once they are aware of this innate tendency, they can take steps to improve themselves and their treatment of others. A weekday activity is the perfect time to explore this important topic that may not be covered in a primary lesson.
Categories: Learning and Living the Gospel, Developing Talents
Duration: 1 session
- Paper in various skin colors (brown, tan, peach, etc.)
- Writing utensils
- Access to these artwork images of Jesus Christ: PDF or Power Point
- Print or arrange access to the images linked above.
1. Play “This or That?” Start by having the kids stand in the center of the room, and then you call out two options while pointing to one side of the room for each option. Then they move to the side of the room that indicates their choice. (For instance, point to the left wall and say “chicken,” and point to the right side and say “beef.” Whichever meat they prefer, they move to stand near that wall.) This game is even more fun if you also yell out a method of movement, such as skipping, crawling, rolling, crabwalking, etc. Here is the list I came up with:
- Chicken or Beef?
- Apples or Bananas?
- Purple or Green?
- Sandals or Sneakers?
- Jacket or Sweater?
- Batman or Superman?
- Bowling or Mini Golf?
- Rain or Snow?
- Zoo or Aquarium?
- Crayons or Markers?
- Football or basketball?
2. Now that they understand the game, have the kids each take a turn to call out some choices.
3. Calm down and take a seat. I left the opening prayer for this moment because I knew it would help them to quiet down after a rowdy game.
4. Talk about the game and how each choice was called “discrimination.” We choose which thing that feels right to us or makes us feel comfortable.
5. Ask, “When can discrimination be good? When can it be bad?”
6. Discuss how racism is a form of bad discrimination. Racism (and other discrimination) is an inborn trait – we seek out people who look like us because our brain assumes that those people are the most like us! When we are babies, most of us interact the most with parents who look like us, and we grow to understand that people who look like us can be trusted to keep us safe. We don’t have much experience with people of other races until we are much older, so we don’t gain as much trust for those people. (Please adjust this dialogue if you have a multi-ethnic family in your group.) Ask, “Do you think that people that look more like you are really more trustworthy than other people? Why or why not?”
7. Read Mosiah 3:19. Discuss how racism can be a part of our “natural man,” just like other things like selfishness, vanity, etc. They are natural tendencies, but that doesn’t make them okay. We need to try hard to fight against this natural man and become better people.
8. Now, ask the kids to each share how they feel when they look at paintings of Jesus. Explain that looking at paintings of our Savior can help him to feel more real, and help us to understand his life and his Atonement.
9. Show the pictures of Jesus EXCEPT the last slide and ask them to think silently about them when the pictures are shown. Give enough time for them to see and think about each slide.
10. Ask, “What do you notice about the pictures? What are your thoughts about them?”
11. Show them the last slide and explain that historically these are probably closer to what Jesus actually looked like.
12. Talk about what Jesus actually looked like, and why we might still portray him as a white person even though he didn’t actually look like that. (At least in the United States, church membership is primarily Caucasian, so Jesus might be portrayed as white because those white members would feel naturally more trusting towards a version of Jesus that looks like them.) Ask how this might make members of a different skin color feel, that the pictures of Jesus used at church all depict him as white. Ask if you think it would be okay for those members to choose pictures of Jesus that portray him with their own skin color.
13. Reiterate that the important thing about paintings of Jesus is that they help us to feel the Spirit and help us to feel closer to Jesus Christ. Ask, “When we sing “Trying to Be Like Jesus,” does that mean we are trying to look like him?” Of course the answer is no. Jesus Christ and his Atonement transcend race, and we should strive to do the same.
14. Get out the craft supplies and have each girl make a Peace Wreath (we did not do the bow, just the hands). When they are finished putting it together, have them write on each hand, something they can do to fight against the “natural man” of racism and discrimination. Some examples might be to get to know someone at school with a different skin color, notice when they have a bad thought that might be racist, or learn to appreciate a different culture.
- This lesson idea gives some examples of discrimination that might be happening at their school.
- This activity helps the kids to experience first hand what discrimination feels like.
- Dr. Suess’s The Sneetches is a popular book for explaining discrimination. Here are some discussion questions to go with that book if you choose to use it.