As a child of Indian immigrants growing up in white suburban Connecticut, I was the only brown kid in school for most of my early childhood. Constant race-based microaggressions and straight-up bullying in elementary school taught me that my Indian identity brought ridicule and shame at the hands of my white peers. No one could pronounce my name, and both kids and teachers found humor in butchering it. We had statues of Hindu deities in our home, I knew no Bible stories, and I had never been skiing. Our kitchen at home “smelled weird”. Some of my friends’ mothers remarked that they had never had an Indian kid at their house.
My mother had this funny habit of always pointing out every other Indian-appearing child in any public place - “Look! There’s another Indian girl! Go and say hello to her; maybe you’ll make friends?” When I was a young child, I found it perplexing and didn’t understand why I would have anything in common with a random girl across the room. I would reply to my mother, “Just because she’s Indian doesn’t mean that we actually have anything in common!”
Last year for Black History Month, Georgia art teacher Kymm Daniels celebrated by creating a crafty homage to black hair on the doors to her classroom. When her students walked in, she recounts, they asked her: "'Miss Daniels, who are they?' I was like, ‘They are you, or you, they could be anybody.’ It’s something that relates to them, and they just love it.”
Her students weren't the only ones to love it. Daniels posted pictures and a video of her creations on social media and they quickly went super viral. On Facebook, her video had over 3 million views and her overall post has 75K shares and counting.
So often, when we at EmbraceRace introduce our work to someone new, the response includes something along the lines of, "Wonderful! I'd love help knowing how to talk to my kids about race!" However, the truth is that what adult caregivers say explicitly to children about race, when we say anything at all, forms only a small part of what children learn about race.
In this Talking Race & Kids video, we take a close look at the childhood landscape of racial learning. Beyond what we say to them explicitly, what other factors shape what our children learn about race? How do differences in racial and class identities shape the ways children learn and are taught about race? Maggie and Erin share their research then Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace take questions and comments from the EmbraceRace community (you!). The transcript of this conversation follows. Further down you'll find the Community Q&A, then related resources and lastly guest bios.
“Ammi, How many suitcases will we need to pack our home?”
I looked quizzically at my son thinking this was another of his oddball questions or that he had inadvertently let slip his plan to run away from home. “Don’t we have to leave now that Trump is President?” His question seared right through the protective barrier that I thought I had encased around my innocent seven-year-old. I was stunned and it took me a while to formulate a response and reassure him that the U.S. is our home and we are not going anywhere. When I spoke about this incident with other parents, a hush fell on the group and then slowly their own stories tumbled out. Each of them recounted words thrown like barbs either at themselves or their children - terrorist, ISIS, "towel-head," do you have a bomb in your backpack?
‘It’s Not in Our Head’… and yet Pain is in Our Brain: Why Racialized Exclusion Hurts and How We Can Remain Resilient
Going into your home while Black, waiting in a coffee shop, playing with your child, styling your hair, swimming, cooking, flying as a doctor while Black…living while Black. And as such, being subjected to undo questioning, demeaning and sometimes life-threatening reactions - you name it, we have seen it. And we feel it…which means our children do as well. A starkly sobering example in recent weeks with the news of a 9 year old Black girl who committed suicide, no longer able to cope with the racist taunts she faced from peers at school.
Each of these widely known and growing incidences of exclusion, harassment and race-based violence impose criminalization of everyday behaviors onto people of color and others in marginalized groups. These attacks have and continue to have a cumulative impact that injures psychological and physiological well-being. Evidence regularly grows about the impact of racial trauma and race-related stress on our emotional and physical health. What may not be as widely known is how racialized exclusion and violence show up in the brain.
We generally assume that people see us, racially speaking, in the way we see ourselves, that if I see myself as "black," say, or "Asian American," that others do too. But what about people for whom that identity alignment isn't in place? The mixed-race man who is often identified as White? The phenotypically Asian American woman who is "culturally black"? How does that experience of misalignment - or "racial incongruence" - shape a person's experiences and relationships? And how can parents, teachers, and other caregivers support a young person in these circumstances?
Special note: Usually EmbraceRace's Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud co-facilitate Talking Race & Kids conversations and the guests differ each month. But for this discussion, we changed it up and had Melissa join as a guest.
Watch the video conversation to hear discussion and insights from folks who, in one way or another, have lived this reality, and a certain someone who's also done some research in this area. The lightly edited transcript follows. We start with a panelist conversation, followed by community questions and comments. Jump ahead to related resources here or simply find them (and suggest others) at the end of the transcript.
My 6 and 4-year-old climbed into our car and buckled themselves into their seats. By all accounts, this was a typical pick-up from school and they eagerly ripped into the gummy fruit snacks I brought them, cheeks flushed from the end-of-day running with their friends.
Instead of turning on The Best of The Talking Heads, our current musical obsession, I took a deep breath and said, “Hey kiddos, I have something really important to tell you both. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the adults around you talking about it, but I wanted you to hear it from me directly. I was arrested at a protest where we were asking our leaders to count every vote and make sure the election was fair."
Lee and Low Books is the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the United States. For over 25 years their mission has been to publish contemporary diverse stories that all children can enjoy. For this Talking Race & Kids online conversation, we spoke with Lee & Low Books' Literacy Specialist, Katie Potter, who shared ideas and resources for finding and sharing such books with children. Watch the video of the session, read her tip sheet on how to use "read-alouds" to spark conversations with kids, and check out the four (4!!) children's booklists she made to help you nurture kids who embrace race. And if you're looking to put more quality multicultural children's books in the world, follow Lee & Low, ask your libraries to carry their books and/or buy their books for the kids in your life. And until December 11th, get 20% off most Lee and Low books (Bebop Books and full collections excluded) online by using the code EMBRACERACE at checkout. Lastly, thanks to all of you in the EmbraceRace community who joined us for this conversation. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Want to nurture kids to "embrace race" and value difference? Check out these fantastic read-aloud books for raising a brave generation
Lee and Low Books is the largest independent, multicultural children's book publisher in the United States. For 25 years, they've focused on multicultural kid lit and have played a big part in building the field. We asked the indie publisher's Literary Specialist, Katie Potter, to come up with read-aloud children's books that are fantastic stories and but which also support EmbraceRace's vision of "raising a brave generation." Katie came up with 4 lists (!!), each corresponding to one of the four, broad goals of EmbraceRace. Those lists follow. And until December 11th, get 20% off most Lee and Low books (Bebop Books and full collections excluded) by using the code EMBRACERACE at checkout. Onto the lists!
We asked the folks at Lee and Low Books, the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the U.S., to recommend books that are great read-aloud stories AND tools for helping raise kids who are brave, thoughtful and informed about race. In other words, kids who embrace race! In response, Lee and Low's Literary Specialist, Katie Potter, created four lists of fantastic stories for kids, one for each of the four, broad goals for the work of the EmbraceRace community. Here are those lists (thanks, Katie!):
Books that inspire resilience in kids of color
Books that encourage kids of all colors to be inclusive and empathetic
Books that support kids to think critically about racial inequity (find below)
Books that animate kids (and their adults!) to be racial justice advocates for all kids