Life Lessons for Children about Racism and Fighting Back

I watched the movie “42” recently. For those of you who missed it, it’s the story of Jackie Robinson – the first negro baseball player to play in an all-white major league baseball.

As in all movies portraying real-life events, I’m sure there are inaccuracies in the movie, but there was one part that really struck me – and it appears to be historically correct according to HistoryNet – it was the exchange between Branch Rickey (part owner, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Club) and Jackie Robinson.

Rickey: [I know you are] a fine ballplayer. But what I need is more than a great player. I need a man that will take abuse and insults for his race. And what I don’t know is whether you have the guts!
Robinson: Mr. Rickey, do you want a Negro who’s not afraid to fight back?
Rickey: No! I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.

What a powerful message.

The common misconception is that it takes guts to fight back, and that not fighting back is being cowardly. But sometimes it takes even more courage to turn the other cheek.

Sometimes it can be hard to explain to children how not fighting back can achieve more than fighting back. An example like Jackie Robinson’s can help them to understand. In the case of Jackie Robinson, fighting back would have a negative impact against the acceptance of negros into major league baseball. By not fighting back, Jackie Robinson was able to open the doors for more negro baseball players.

Parenting: Discussing Racial Issues with Children

Talking about life issues with children, especially younger children, can sometimes be challenging. Often it helps to have a story – whether it is a movie or a book or just a made up one – to show children scenarios that can be discussed as examples. The movie 42 does just that. The scenes of the open discrimination and inequality between the negros and the white Americans provide talking points for parents to discuss racial issues with children. To Kill a Mockingbird (for older children) is another great one where the racial discrimination is blatant and offer parents many points to discuss racism with their children. Stories can help children feel the injustice of such racial prejudices especially if they can identify with the individuals who are prejudiced against. 

It is important for parents to address race and differences in skin with their children because studies on the behaviours of young children revealed that children will naturally form their own biasses if their parents say nothing (Nurture Shock – Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don’t Talk about Race). If we want our children to grow up with tolerance towards other races, this is one subject that should not be avoided. 

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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