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.
EmbraceRace wanted to know the difference that racial difference makes within families. We reached out to people with one or more siblings whose racial identity(ies) was different than their own or from each other’s. We also reached out to people with kids whose racial identities differed from each other.
We asked them not to write only about racialized differences in treatment, but also to share insights about how those differences in treatment have shaped how they think about race, family, privilege, personal identity, and more.
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.
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!
Thoughts on culturally relevant parenting and teaching.
Cultures vary in the ways they interact with children. This informs how students interact with each other, with adults at school (i.e., are they raised to see adults as peers, caretakers, authority figures, or a combination of several roles), and with the processes used to acquire and analyze new information.
How, then, do we culturally socialize children to be their very best selves? I’d like to begin with a scenario followed by a question or prompt. If you’ve had or have a young child in your life, whether as a parent, teacher, or caretaker of any kind, I’m guessing the scenario will be pretty familiar!
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.
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:
I'm looking for something else.
People of mixed races float between cultures. There’s usually one side of our heritage we identify more with, and then there’s the other side. It’s like a custody visit when I experience the food, art, people and spaces associated with my other half. It’s a relationship. It’s fluid. There are negotiated terms and there’s an agenda for each interaction.
Consider my dismay when I was recently handed a fork while saddling up to a sushi bar. Not a big deal if you’re a non-Asian person who’s actually capable of using chopsticks — you just ask for chopsticks. For me, however, the mere presentation of a fork, specifically to me after seeing my face, is a disappointment. The gesture communicates that I’m not capable of handling this simple Asian thing, regardless of my ethnicity.