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Racism and diversity – a question of educating the children?

Students in a class room
© Goethe-Institut Finnland

Student Juho Salorinne reviews the workshop held by illustrator Trilce García at the Helsinki German School as part of the DRIN school visits co-organised with Lukukeskus (Finnish Reading Center) in autumn 2022.

By Juho Salorinne

When a person thinks about modern problems in society, one thinks about racism, sexism and stereotypes and their “response movements” such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and LGBTQ+ activism. Summarized: Diversity and equality of diverse people! Through and through the human is a creature of societal norms and changing perspectives in different cultures.

Now how a child reacts to these differences varies strongly from child to child through their parents’ attitude and ideology, because at such a young age, a child obviously hasn’t yet had the chance to have their own experiences with all kinds of people. A young child’s opinions are often shaped after the same patterns their families follow. This means, that the parents’ potential bad tendencies most likely will be inherited to their child. Why is this so?

This question might sound mighty obvious, but nevertheless, I would argue that it is remarkable that we all as human individuals still hold on to the wish to categorize each and every one to know if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Humans always have strived to achieve higher goals and evolve to be a better and/or more optimal person. That’s exactly why schools and institutions exist and are so omniprevalent in our lives and why we still, arguably more than ever before, are inventing new technology and developing our societies.

Now we have established, that we humans are smart and ever-improving creatures, but still hate and kill each other, not being able to live together in a society without creating immense tensions between us. This is precisely, why the Goethe-Institute invited our 10th grade class of the DSH (German School Helsinki) to a workshop about the subject at hand.

As a bilingual German-Finnish person, I took this opportunity gladly and was prepared to enjoy an interesting two hours. The topic of diversity and equality covers a huge number of sub-categories that are comparable in importance, and we weren’t told beforehand what the actual focus of the workshop was going to be. This leads us to the actual beginning of the seminar, where we arrived slightly early, so we got to examine some zines, similar to the ones the lecturing Artist, Trilce García, was going to tell us about. Zines themselves are, as she explained, short, similar-to-comics art booklets, that express their creators’ inner thoughts or their own perspective on a subject of interest. This was going to be a big exercise we were going to perform: making a zine about us ourselves and then discussing, how we, a seemingly homogenous group of about 30 students are very different from each other, when we’d look at how we see one another and, in the end, also notice how we all already manage to coexist in a peaceful way.

Albert Einstein once stated: “Peace cannot come by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”. As he stated, through understanding and letting people live like they want is the key to avoiding conflict in society.

However, this matter is not as easy as merely teaching future generations how they can and must view humans and life in general. The problem is quite simple: cultural relations often differ to an extent that would not allow a relationship of living and letting live. The values of different cultures and religions clash on many levels. As an example, in one country it is seen as inacceptable to burp at the dinner table and in the other it is seen as a sign of gratitude and as polite. This obviously isn’t an issue that would cause a war, but yet these different ways of thinking can lead to larger conflicts between ethnic groups – and in the end – wars.

It would be possible to erase all cultural differences between religions and ethnic-group-specific-behaviors to fit into a new “standard” ethics moral codex, but that would also mean having to destroy traditions and assimilating the beauty of diversity of us humans into a gray mess. This is the reason we try to protect endangered languages like in the case of the Uralic and Finno-Uralic language family Nenets or Mari. So, in the end, is a friendly coexistence of humans in all their seemingly weird ways of existence impossible? Not entirely.

In politics, in everyday banter, and in any kind of relationship in fact, it is of utmost importance that the people involved can make compromises, for there is no such perfect solution for everyone. Perchance via the art of compromises, humans could live together in harmony, while retaining their cultures and identities?

Because of the human nature, some individuals insist on trying find a “perfect” set of morals. This though isn’t possible as we all perceive problems and conflict in different ways. Steering for a middle course isn’t that easy after all, and when considering the sheer number of differing opinions on culture and on what is right and what is wrong, it is challenging to bring these compromises to life.
Nevertheless, just like in a class like ours, we manage to exist, even with all the polarizing and differing opinions about politics, we manage to be friends or at least acquaintances.

As a conclusion, it is possible to state that we cannot compare living together in a small group to living in a society and being part of an international multicultural and multifaceted human race, because of the incomparable scale of conflict possibilities. This leads us to the question: Why would we discuss only this “small group” dynamic in the workshop? What do we learn about humans living together, when projected on a small scale? Is it even possible?

Like any good teacher, I believe the workshop facilitator Trilce García was trying to simplify the matter for us. As we are only 16-year-olds and she had limited time to convey a message about this ever-so-important topic, the best option was to lower the scale and project an issue concerning the entire world on a single classroom. Now that we put more in-depth thought in the procedures that brought forth the workshop, we can in hindsight come to a verdict: the method of projecting a large problem like racism and sexism on a small group of individuals to show how they all are different, too, is not the most accurate depiction of how we as the human race can solve this problem to live in a conflict-free world.

To come back to the idea of children trying to assimilate to their surrounding culture at the end:

A 100% conflict-free human society is an honourable goal to strive toward, and by all means, we should. The children of the future deserve to live without living in fear of wars and being killed in senseless conflicts. Sadly, it won’t be an easy job to fully erase our tendency to put people in the shackles of stereotypes and the vision of only having ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Teaching this to us children or teens alone won’t help much either, it is a question of making the existence of us in peace a necessity. This could be achieved by ‘uniting’ humanity under a common goal and then making small conflicts with each other obsolete – because everyone has the capability to shape our world in their own way to be a better place with their uniqueness. To achieve such a high goal though, it would be necessary to overcome other major problems we are facing, such as the threat of climate change and mass extinction. Contrary to popular opinions, I’m hopeful, that we shall manage to deal with these problems, even if it will take years of development and common work between all nations. Even if there seems to be no way to fix our problems, the future is still a blank sheet of paper waiting for a story to be written on it. A story of hope. A story of a united, peaceful humanity. A story describing the human innovation and intelligence we all should believe in one way or another. Thank you.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
-Martin Luther King