An EmbraceRace Community Conversation
Professor Amber Williams
The challenges we face as a country and as communities around racial equity and racial inequality won’t be solved simply by increasing the number of cross-racial friendships among children (and adults, for that matter), but it certainly would help! Our guest for this Community Conversation was Professor Amber Williams who researches the why and how of cross-race friendships among kids.
In this hour long conversation, first, Professor Williams presented what she’s learned and discussed the implications for raising kids. Next, EmbraceRace Co-founders, Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud, facilitated the Q & A with the community. WATCH THE VIDEO, check out Professor Amber Williams's slides. Resources are included in the edited transcript that follows.
In the darkness of the very early morning of November 9, 2016, my husband and I lay awake in our bed. By 3 a.m., we realized that neither of us would sleep again that morning, and we turned to each other and began talking. During those fraught early morning hours, we cycled through grief, anger, numbness, disgust, and then back through them again as many of our worst fears about our country became much more real.
My white husband cried at the now all-too-real prospect of nuclear conflict and of our now ten-year-old son and his peers going to war. Stunned, I replied, “You’re worried about THAT?” While nuclear war seemed much less far-fetched than it had the previous day, it was nowhere near the top of my list of immediate concerns. Rather, as a woman of color, I feared that overt acts of racism and hate crimes would be perpetrated close to home in our progressive, left-leaning Boston neighborhood.
When I explained this to my husband, he replied, “You’re worried about THAT? That won’t be an issue here. I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
My neighborhood, like so many across the country, has a racial profiling problem on our online community forums. I live in a predominately White, affluent community in Atlanta, Georgia comprised of nearly 8,000 residents. Despite our reputation as a liberal enclave, on Nextdoor, a social media site that purports to connect neighbors, people of color are criminalized on a nearly daily basis while White people doing the same things are extended compassion and understanding.
Neighbors share “be on the look out” posts when Black transients are seen in our neighborhood, while a White transient is fiercely protected — a beloved fixture in our community, actually.
Race, humanity, and what I learned in high school.
About three years ago I saw an old friend in Boston. We had dated for about a year in graduate school, when we were in our mid-twenties, and on my visit she showed me photos of ourselves from two decades earlier.
“My god,” she said. “We were so young.” Her voice was full of awe, verging on incredulity. As if, over time, she had dismissed the possibility that we — she — could ever have been as young as the couple in the photos.
My response was a little different, more Shock than Awe. The younger me looked handsome. Attractive. Not just in a young-people-are-adorable kindaway, either. I’m talking total hottie.
Who knew? Not me when I actually was that guy, tell you what. A weird discovery to make so long after the fact. And here’s the other thing I realized in the moment: While I don’t see photos of my young-adult self often, I’m similarly surprised every time I do.
What’s up with that?
Pride in Not Seeing Race = White Privilege
A Facebook post by mom Lydia Rosebush from Louisville, Kentucky went viral. In it, she brags about how her 5 year-old White son befriended a Black boy and does not see race. Here’s what she and those posting it as a sign of hope are missing: This is the epitome of White privilege and color-blind racism.
“….He said that he wanted his head shaved really short so he could look like his friend Reddy. He said he couldn’t wait to go to school on Monday with his hair like Reddy’s so that his teacher wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. He thought it would be so hilarious to confuse his teacher with the same haircut.
Here’s a picture of Jax and Reddy from their Christmas program. I’m sure you all see the resemblance.
If this isn’t proof that hate and prejudice is something that is taught I don’t know what is. The only difference Jax sees in the two of them is their hair.”Kids do see race by the time they get to be 5 years of age. Research shows theyalready have racial bias and favor Whites.
This is the beginning of an intricate text conversation I had a few mornings ago with my cousin, who is a wife, mom of two, and an award-winning educator.
I'm pretty used to getting messages from readers who are offended by my work. Usually, they are fellow Asians upset that my work isn’t authentic to their experience (I get a fair amount of flack for portraying light-skinned Asians or Asians in the stereotypical haircut of heavy bangs) and I actually really do understand it. I don’t like it, but I understand it and I’ve learned to accept that once a reader has the book, it’s no longer mine. Tonight, I received a message from a reader upset that I made a point that Minli (in “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”) was not brown like the rest of the mud-covered village and how I had made a negative association with brown. All I could say was that I sorry and I’d try to be more aware in the future.
EmbraceRace talks with an expert about multicultural children’s books, diversity, and developing critical reading skills in kids.
Jennifer Manak is Associate Professor of Elementary Education and Coordinator of the Graduate Reading Program at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. She teaches pre-service and in-service teachers how to teach literacy (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). Multicultural children’s literature and a concern for how to support all students are threads throughout her work.
If you have a young child in your life, be sure to check out Jenn’s K-5 Reading About Diversity curriculum.
Prejudice finds my brown-skinned 5 year-old girl.
About three years ago, I signed up for a weekly evening class called “Watching the Nighttime Sky” at a local college with my first-born, Lola. Lola was 5, a crazy-voracious reader, way into learning about the solar system and the universe. Little girl could name Jupiter’s four visible moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto), modeled the solar system in our living room — I sing thee, planet model! — and could tell you why Pluto is no longer a planet (“Daddy, I feel bad for Pluto!”).
The class was taught by a retired professor, an elderly white guy. On clear nights we peered at the sky through a telescope; on cloudy nights, we heard a lecture on the history and science of astronomy.
Fun subject, daddy-daughter bonding, what could be better?
A 4 year-old Asian American girl — let’s call her Amy — lives down the street from me. She’s a truly lovely little girl — friendly, curious, fearless.
The first time we met face-to-face was in a restaurant. She and her mom were picking up some carryout as Melissa, our girls, and I were finishing up a meal. Amy looked at me, walked over, and stroked my cheek. She reached up to touch my hair, then held my hand, talking all the while. It was awesome.
The next time I saw her was at a neighborhood block party. She saw me, came over, and plopped down in my lap. Then, as before, she talked nonstop, asking questions, making observations, showing me the ropes.
Please don’t freak when your kid notices race