I live in South Carolina and as much as I hate to say it, there is a strong prejudice against Middle Easterners here because of 9/11.
One time when I was teaching my Sunday school class of 4-10 year olds, I showed them this picture. It was in a slide show of pictures of children from around the world and I was making them (mostly the older ones) tell me where they thought the children lived.
When I asked them where they thought the children in this articular picture lived, they thought it was a trick question. They said America. When I said they didn’t live on this continent, they guess things like England and Australia. A child even guessed Russia.
Finally, I stopped all the wild guesses and asked them why they thought they came from these countries. I got answers like, “They have nice clothes,” or “That’s a nice building.” Someone even said, “Because they look so happy.”
I think all of them old enough to comprehend it, stopped breathing for a second when I told them these were the children of Iraq. They even tried to deny it. Children in Iraq are Muslim and “wear things on their heads,” they told me.
They were astounded when I pointed to the children in the picture and said things like, “These children are your age. They wear nice jackets, nice pants, nice shoes. They may be Muslim. They may not be. I can’t tell by looking at them; can you? I can’t tell if they are friendly or mean, but just like someone said, they look happy. They go to school just like you and me. And you know what?”
By this point, I have them all wide-eyed and hanging onto my every word.
“They want to grow up in a good country too. They want their families to be safe from the war. They don’t want to lose their dads or moms or brothers or anyone to fighting just like you don’t want to lose any of your family to the war. They’re from a country that happens to be at war with our country. That does not make them bad people. They just want to be happy and safe. Just like us.”
You know the funny thing about children?
It was that easy for them to accept it.
By the end of the class, every one of them understood that they were neither inferior nor superior to anyone.
I wish it were that easy for adults.