This past summer I had the good luck to be part of an unusual collaboration: two elementary school teachers, a handful of school administrators, and nine parents coming together to assess and revise an in-depth, 14-week curriculum on American slavery and abolition.
For the past twenty years, Linda Donnelly has taught this curriculum to her 5th- and 6th-grade students at The Common School, a small, progressive, private school in Amherst, Massachusetts. And every-other-summer, Linda and her co-teacher, Chad Odwazny, devote several weeks to reassessing the content and the goals of the curriculum.
Experts answer your questions.
Listen to the full conversation or read an edited transcript below. EmbraceRace co-founders, Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud, brought questions submitted by you all — the EmbraceRace community — to child psychologist Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith and educator Dr. Sandra “Chap” Chapman. The resources recommended throughout this conversation are listed in full at the bottom of the transcript.
I worry that “subtle” messages will have huge impacts on my son
I am the mother of two boys. They are two years apart in age and, like many siblings, they have an extraordinary bond. They truly are each other’s best friends. They share everything… except the shade of their skin.
My first son is bi-racial. His biological father is African-Jamaican. He is my birth son, but my husband adopted him after we married. The official adoption took place when I was expecting his brother. The contrast between my experiences with my sons was apparent from the beginning of my first pregnancy.
I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 34. I was ecstatic! My close friends — and some family members — had similar reactions to my pregnancies. But carrying a bi-racial child opened up a new world for me.
Racial socialization involves the implicit and explicit ways that families convey their own views about race and racism to their children. At times, these messages are purposely delivered to bring affirming language and pride to one’s racial group and to protect against the child’s inevitable encounters with racism. At other times, these messages are unintentionally delivered after a racialized moment.
Racial socialization among African American parents has been found to be a primary way parents assist children in coping with racial bias, instilling racial pride, and contributing to their children’s self-esteem. Can too much preparation be harmful?
Lists, Reviews and Your Recommendations
Here’s the thing about “diverse” children’s books: some of them… not so great. You know, the books about Native Americans that lump them together, idealize them, put everybody in teepees, get the history wrong, and more. Books about Asian Americans in which everyone’s an alike-looking, broken-English-speaking foreigner. And the huge disproportion of books about black and Latino families in which everyone’s poor and life’s a never-ending struggle! Many are good, quite good. But the near single-storying of black and brown people also feeds harmful stereotypes and denies the diversity of our experiences and the fullness of our humanity.
And then there’s this: many parents confirm and kids report that too many “multicultural” offerings are straight-up boring.
All to say: yep, We Need Diverse Books AND we might need help distinguishing the wheat from the chaff in what we already have. Let’s do this!
In which an alien inspires reflections on transracial adoption
As I noted in my previous Embrace Race post about Mike Jung’s middle grade science fiction novel, Unidentified Suburban Object, I hope many child readers will discover its major plot twist on their own. But even if they find out that protagonist Chloe Cho is an extraterrestrial alien (and not Korean American as her parents raised her to believe) before reading the book for themselves, there’s much more to be savored and appreciated about Jung’s book beyond its stunning reveal. During our shared reading, my ten- and eleven-year-old kids, Caroline and Stevie, and I ended up talking about children’s rights to their own stories and histories and the work we need to do as a society to promote and protect those rights. These conversations were informed by my children’s experiences as transracial adoptees.
Inspired by an article by Rumaan Alum’s article We Don’t Only Need Diverse Books. We Need Diverse Books Like A Snowy Day, many of you in the EmbraceRace community posted or messaged us your favorite books featuring kids of color NOT fighting bigotry, discrimination or enslavement. We’ll continue to add your suggestions to this completely crowdsourced list, so continue adding to the thread on Facebook.
Racial profiling - and white privilege?! - in my all-american multiracial family.
We meet my parents every Sunday, either for brunch at their retirement community or dinner at our house. We usually focus on Krishna and his latest antics. From the positives, like beginning to learn soccer and swimming, to the not-so-positive, like making himself burp — loudly, and often. We are political animals, and we often discuss current events, especially in an election season.
We talk freely about race and racism, which they experience acutely in their overwhelmingly white community in some of the same ways as when they first immigrated to this country from India over 50 years ago. Maybe it’s true about any generationally specific space, it seems kind of trapped in time.
With my heart breaking throughout the day, learning more and more about #KorrynGaines, the latest Black women, the 9th this year, murdered by the police, I began preparing for my kids’ bed time routines.
I sat in our rocking chair, feeding August, who is about to turn 1, and I kept running through the details: A SWAT team sent in to serve a warrant on someone with outstanding traffic violations. A confident, empowered Black woman who repeatedly documented her unjust racist encounters with law enforcement, as well as her spoken word poetry denouncing anti-Black racism. The police, fearing a repeat of a Facebook live stream of their actions, gets Facebook to deactivate her account, where she was posting videos about what was happening. Her recording, still up on Instagram, of her conversation with her 5 year old son, asking him why he thought the police were there, and his response, “to kill us”. And then they killed her, shooting and injuring her son as well.
In which we talk about confronting “weird questions” (or racial microagressions) with a little help from … an alien
When I started hearing buzz about Mike Jung’s middle-grade novel, Unidentified Suburban Object, I moved it to the top of my list of books to read with my eleven- and ten-year-old children, Stevie and Caroline. It ended up giving us one of the most meaningful shared readings I’ve ever had as a mom. A favorite moment occurred at the big reveal (spoiler alert) when middle-school-aged protagonist Chloe Cho discovers that her parents did not emigrate to the United States from Korea as they’d always told her; they escaped from a doomed planet and are … aliens. When I read the scene with Chloe’s revelation about her extraterrestrial heritage with my kids, Stevie shook his head back and forth as if rattling his brain around in his skull and said: