A friend recently asked me for children's book recommendations that address race, and sadly, I realized that I didn't have a single book title to offer her. This motivated me to take a closer look at the message I have been giving my kids - at how deliberate I have really been, and to search for new ways to tend to this essential message. It is so important to me to integrate the foundation of equality into the lives of my children. While I am always looking for new and organic ways to introduce conversations about race with my kids, these are some pretty major ways that I already engage. Let's begin with the idea of proximity.
This will always be my go-to solution for the whole issue of the "other." When you're directly involved with people who are different than yourself, you welcome an environment to not only expand your worldview, but your ability to empathize as well. You can overlook the differences by realizing how very much the same all of us humans are. Providing my children innumerable collisions with great BIPOC themselves and introducing them to great black thinkers, writers, preachers, humanitarian and civil rights leaders, educators, and our very own kin, can only reinforce that people are people no matter what color they are. It creates a healthy normal where whiteness is not the standard. Not setting white as the standard inadvertently avoids making POC the deviation. In my opinion, this is the beginning of how to protect the image of those that are BIPOC.
In that same vein of thought, it is our responsibility to call out the cultural stereotypes that present themselves strongly and ceaselessly. Entertainment and advertising are completely tainted with innuendoes that set a social map in our children's impressionable and forming minds. I recently watched a show that my kids enjoy and found (in only one episode) that the Indian kid is genius, the Hispanic kid is overweight, lazy, and hygiene-deficient, the Chinese girl is overworked, over schooled and neurotic, while the lead white girl is rich, dumb, and of great moral standing. These seemingly benign messages cannot be tolerated and must be dissected with our children. If you are one to argue that these works of fiction couldn't possibly lay any real foundation for our children's perceptions, I introduce to you, the Doll Test.
In the 1940's there was a psychological experiment designed to test the degree of marginalization felt by African American children caused by prejudice, discrimination and racial segregation. This was the Doll Test. While the evidence of this study helped shut down the dangerous "separate but equal" ideology for African American kids in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education, it has been reintroduced in recent years to measure children's attitudes about what color has to do with "pretty" or "good"/"ugly" and "bad." The test used identically diapered dolls that only differentiated by color. When these dolls were showed to children of different races between the ages of 3 and 7, the majority attributed the positive characteristics to the white doll, assuring us that racism is internalized, and very early on at that. Black children couldn't explain why the white dolls were better, they just knew that the world reinforced this belief, and so it became their own. We have to talk about what our kids are being propagated to believe.
While there is a deficit in children's literature (that I've found anyway) that specifically addresses racism and slavery, there is a ton of great literature that shows racial and cultural diversity, and this is equally as important as addressing the history of colonialism itself. Around the holidays, I borrow library books that highlight different cultural celebrations so that my children can peak into the windows of other families who exist with their own unique traditions, as my own family does. While reading books together, I identify and talk about those differences, I praise those differences in all of their equal and beautiful ways. Driving the beauty of diversity into their growing minds will help them to see that different isn't bad or dangerous or inferior, it's just different.
While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed "white bias" in black children since the 1940's, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. Children notice race early in their lives, and so we, as parents, have to help shape healthy views. It is so vital to take every available opportunity to lay the groundwork for your children. Talk about the differences you see, don't attempt to stifle the issue just because you don't know how to answer questions, or address such issues in a way that you fear might offend. Do the work, educate yourself, start conversations to even see where your children are at with their beliefs, and keep the momentum going by showing your children how to cohabit this world in a meaningful and safe way for all.
Sadly, no matter how deep I go with my children, I realize that their experience is whitewashed and that there will always be a certain amount of effort that will need to be put forth to understand logically (never experientially) the burden that BIPOC carry. While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed white bias in black children, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. This is why it's insufficient to assume that if our children aren't explicitly taught racism in their home, that they can't grow in discriminatory ideologies. Our children will be shown what to believe about race at every turn, and it's our duty to not only avoid racist rhetoric, but to actually take it a step farther and to be proactively anti-racist.
While I am certain I have messed this thing up from time-to-time, or passed up valuable learning opportunities, I am striving to do what I can to learn, to keep my children in recognition of their privileges they have simply from being white, their responsibility in dismantling the corrupt social structures, to raise compassionate, thinking, loving human beings who will never overlook someone for their skin color, but will embrace them more deeply because of it.