The morning after James Earl Ray murdered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I celebrated his killing with another fourth-grade classmate at our elementary school in a suburb of Eastern Massachusetts. It was the first thing we did that morning before we went to homeroom.
Word of Dr. King’s murder had struck during the evening news the night before. Walter Cronkite announced it to the country as it was happening. My uncle and grandmother had come to visit from where they lived together nearby. We were saying our good-byes in the driveway when my older brother came running from the house. “Someone just shot Martin Luther King.”
“Oh great,” my father said. “This is gonna be trouble….” He and my uncle exchanged knowing looks.
Why my friend (let’s call him Timmy) and I were in the hallway rather than homeroom when school started the next morning, I can’t recall. But there we were, two 10-year-old white kids, in an all-white school, in an all-white town, arm in arm, skipping along as we chanted, “Martin Lootin’ Rootin’ Tootin’s Dead! Right! Martin Lootin’ Rootn’ Tootin’s Dead! Yeah!”
What if We Othered Your Child and You?
What if we surrounded you in a sea of blackness
And in an attempt to get to know you,
Peppered you with a barrage of questions and statements
That only served to undercut your value
In our eyes, if you fail our surprise
battery of quizzes and challenges to test your knowledge, your worth,
on issues deemed insignificant by you.
What if we told you you're the first white-skinned Caucasian we knew
and asked to run our hands through your straight hair of red hue?
Without regard for how our actions feel like an assault to you?
On your mind, your body, and Lord, help me, your spirit, too?
Our words leave your young ones off-balance, feeling out of place
Even in what used to feel like the safest space.
How do we nurture children who remain resilient in the face of injustice, whether to themselves or others, children willing and able to mount meaningful responses to injustice even when that’s scary and hard to do so?
In this hour-long episode of Talking Race & Kids, Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud of EmbraceRace discuss resilience and joy with child psychologist and EmbraceRace friend, Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith. Most of the conversation was spent responding to your questions, concerns, and suggestions. Watch the video. The edited transcript follows starting with the framing conversation and then to community Q&A further down the page.
EmbraceRace: We're here with Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith. We asked her to come on because we adore her and value her strength-based approach to her work with children and families. She's taught us to see a lot of strength in our own responses to parenting around race and has helped us think about adding to our toolkit. Building on strengths and nurturing resilience in children is a central goal of EmbraceRace.
First, let me just tell you a little bit about Allison who is joining us from San Francisco with her 5-month old baby in her lap – so that’s the cooing you’re hearing!
When you think of what an “American” looks like, what do you see?
The diversity I see as America is still not what most of the world sees. If you ask most people around the world, they would say an American is blond and blue-eyed.
How do I know?
I chose a job as an international teacher and am a White woman married to an African-American US Diplomat. For the past 8 years, we have been traveling around the world with our biracial daughter. We watched the shocked faces as we introduced ourselves upon arrival at each new post.
Fighting my husband’s deportation: Reflections on being a white mother in a mixed-race, mixed-status family
I stumble down the driveway with our five-week-old infant in my arms, in the hushed quiet of dawn. My eyes are gritty from interrupted nights and early mornings. My baby’s eyes widen to take in the contrast of dark trees and sky. Already, the sky is sullen with forest fire smoke and the anticipated heat of another 100 degree day.
Soon, my husband will wake, and sit at our kitchen table to wrap his hands around his coffee cup and these few moments of silence before his day fills with both the brute sounds of roofing and those of our four and six-year-old sons.
He has pushed right through this heat wave. If he and his crew stop and rest at midday, it is only because the shingles will melt and distort from their weight, and not for the sake of their bodies.
Teachers all over the country are preparing to talk about Dr. King with their students. How many of us are asking ourselves if we are about to fall into the trap of telling a "single story"?
In her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie describes what often happens when Westerners talk about Africa — we tell the story of poverty and extreme suffering. In doing so, we miss critical understandings of the place and people, and we step into the minefield of continuing stereotypes and age-old misconceptions. Adichie recommends that we, in the words of another Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, commit to telling a “balance of stories.” She proposes that it is only through this balanced telling that we will begin to truly appreciate the complexity, humanity, and depth of the lived experience on the continent.
An Embrace race community conversation
In this hour-long conversation, featured guests Sarah Hannah Gómez and Megan Dowd Lambert share expertise and experience on 1) how to guide children to and through picture books with positive racial representations; and 2) how to support children in resisting or reading against problematic, racist content. They also take questions and comments. Access the video, resources and slides above. An edited transcript to the whole conversation follows. The Q & A starts towards the end of the transcript, HERE. And at the very end find a resource filled addendum to the Q & A, our guests' short responses to questions we ran out of time to answer live. Enjoy!
EmbraceRace: Welcome to this month's community conversation. We're thrilled to introduce you two our two guests. After a brief intro they will present for about 20 minutes and then we'll take questions.
This tip sheet came out of the EmbraceRace Community Conversation: Reading Picture Books with Children Through a Race-Conscious Lens. Download and share! For a deeper dive on this topic, watch the video of that presentation followed by community Q & A or read the transcript and resources. Big thanks to Megan Dowd Lambert for creating this tip sheet and to Megan and Sarah Hannah Gómez for sharing their expertise and experience for this conversation and for all the resources they curated.
I grew up the daughter of a White, American mom and an indigenous Mexican dad. They divorced when I was young, and my mom raised my brother and me in rural Wisconsin. For much of our childhood he and I were the diversity in our community. In those days, and even today, “Mexican” meant illegal or criminal. This had a significant impact on me, but it wasn’t one I was able to understand until I was much older.
My White mom couldn’t help me learn how to deal with my identity or even talk about it; she didn’t face the same issues. My dad was very relaxed talking about his racial identity and history and many of our talks focused on identity. Still, I had a hard time finding the right words to talk about my experience and the resources I found didn't feel right to me.
On a recent holiday weekend, I binge-watched Stranger Things and relished every throwback to the 1980s that the series pays homage to such as when we used to ride our bikes to friends’ homes, played Dungeons and Dragons for hours, listened to the Clash on our Sony Walkman, or rode our skateboards. For a Pakistani woman growing up in the 80s in a small New England college town, Stranger Things is more than just a walk down memory lane to a simpler time when there was a conspicuous absence of technology and today’s pervasive cultural anxiety. There was also a refreshing absence of turban-clad, villainous bearded men dressed in black, sporting machine guns, and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The bad guy, thankfully, was not a Muslim terrorist in the series, but a scary other worldly monster.