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.”
The need to thrive in toxic times
On June 19th, I was looking for local activities or celebrations that could introduce my daughters to Juneteenth, the occasion on which Texans learned of the Emancipation Proclamation two years after it was decreed. While browsing my Facebook feed, I instead came across the news story about Charleena Lyles, a black woman who was shot by police inside her own home in front of her children after calling the police because she believed her house was being broken into.
One of the many plusses of teaching 3rd grade is that you get the opportunity to observe children figuring out who they are.
In a classroom full of black students, racial stereotypes definitely came into play. Some students readily assumed familiar roles and interests: D’Jenique, an outspoken girl who rejected any semblance of disrespect. She was quick to check anyone who mispronounced her name. Quintrell, a confident boy who adopted a tough persona and would not be caught at recess without a football.
It felt the familiar buzz of my phone in the pocket of my jeans as I walked with a friend back to my dormitory. A Snapchat? A GroupMe message? Maybe even a Facebook message? I fumbled for the slab of connectivity and glanced at the screen. Nothing. An email, I thought to myself, as I opened the phone with my thumbprint.
I have a friend who works at an elite private school here in SF. We talk a lot about race and children and talking to kids about race. As a White person, she is doing her best to make sure the children she educates are aware of the impact of race in their lives, especially as most of the children she teaches are White children.
She told us about a recent episode that happened at school. As part of an after school activity with a group of 3rd graders, kids were asked to describe their skin color. She told me the list of colors went something like this:
Peach, Peach, Tan, Chicken(!), Peach, Tan
Dispatch from a "progressive" college town.
I am an immigrant — a brown-skinned, Muslim, South Asian woman, a minority, a U.S. citizen. But I am an outsider. I have spent a large part of my life feeling this way. I was born in Pakistan to Bangladeshi parents.
When I was four, my father was transferred to Delhi for work. I grew up in India, and my family relocated to Bangladesh when my father retired. I was 18 and angry with my parents — I didn’t want to leave the country I called home. Now, I proudly say I’m Bangladeshi but have never felt I belonged in my country; I visit because my mother lives in Dhaka. And though I’ve been in the U.S. for 25 years, I don’t feel American.
I am accustomed to feeling like an outsider, but in the current political climate, I am more afraid here than I’ve ever been.
When I was three years old, my mother took me to visit the attic hiding place of Anne Frank in the Netherlands. My family was in Europe not for a trip, but because my father, a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant to the United States, was stationed in Germany while serving in the US Army. I have no memories of the trip, but for my mother visiting Anne’s last home was very intentional. She wanted to bring her daughter to the home of a young Jewish girl who, generations ago, hid with her family in a cramped attic hoping for a peaceful world amidst one of the most brutally violent and xenophobic periods in modern human history.
A response to my brother, who did not vote and is not afraid
November 8, 2016
On election day, I was driving to my mother’s house to offer and to receive moral support on an anxiety-ridden day. My youngest daughter asked me to turn on a Quran CD. My eldest daughter groaned as I turned it on.
As we pulled up to a traffic light, we were approaching some construction where two police officers were directing traffic. My older daughter went into a panic. She insisted that I turn off the Quran because the police were right there and might hear it.
“So what?” I asked.
“Are you crazy? They’re going to think we’re — Mommy! They could tase us! They could beat us! They could shoot us! Turn it off!”
How to teach kids they do not belong… and how to teach them they do
The class erupted into a familiar but tired applause while my classmate blushed, looking down at her feet as she returned to her seat. As the energy of the room dissipated, our teacher, with one hand fixed on her reading glasses and her eyes focused on finding the next name on her list, calmly rose her voice above the sounds of the middle school classroom and declared, “Andrew, you’re up!”
I nervously shuffled the necessary papers into my hand as I stood up, hyper aware of the few eyes watching me make my way up to the front of the room. As a fairly shy student, I could feel my face turning red as I stood in front of what seemed like a vast sea of classmates, my heart racing as I searched for the start of a presentation I could call my own.