“What should I say to my students after the election, if Trump wins?” a principal asked me recently. Good question. What should we tell our children?
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.
A Conversation about Who We Are and Cultural Appropriation with My 7-Year Old.
My son and I live two blocks from the end of one of the subway lines in Dorchester, Boston. Our neighborhood is full of people of many races and cultures. The hairstyles we can see in one day are amazing in their diversity and detail. So when my son asked if he could cut his hair into a mohawk about a year ago, I wasn’t surprised.
We see a lot of different versions of the mohawk: young African American women who’ve combed up the sides and combed out the top of their hair; first generation Irish American boys with the shaved sides and the tops gelled up; Black men with locks or braids intricately twisted up along the top of their heads; West African young men with detailed designs shaved on the sides and short locks on top; Vietnamese American young men with cut and styled hair.
When I teach my Kindergarten students about diversity, I begin by giving them language they can use to understand differences and communicate with one another with respect.
Too often, adults avoid talking about skin color and race with young children, particularly white parents and white educators like me. The well-meaning ones who avoid the conversation tell themselves (despite considerable evidence to the contrary) that by not talking about skin color and race, children will simply not notice those differences and be naturally inclusive with one another, communicating “human” to “human.”
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?
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.
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
Taking a deep breath, I respond to my daughter with a wish of my own.
I've begun to see that it’s not about having the “right” answers when kids ask about race. Don’t get me wrong: I think there are better and worse answers to offer. There’s also a lot to be said for having a calm, thoughtful answer in the first place, sending the important signal that it’s fine to talk about race openly.
At the end of the school day this past fall, I drove to pick up my 5 year-old daughter, Estella, from kindergarten. As we walked down the steps outside, Estella said she felt like walking instead of driving. It was a beautiful day, and so I happily agreed to take a walk around the block and then drive home.
We were at the tipping point of the New England autumn. Some of the leaves were beginning to turn yellow, and a few were already burning red. We were admiring the colors as Estella skipped along, her little hand in mine, when she said, “Daddy, I wish that we lived in a world where people couldn’t change their skin color.
On life, self-worth, Rodney King and getting along
Growing up the son of Filipino immigrants — a city kid, not black or white or Latino, maybe Asian — I pondered my worth in this society. I don’t remember the specific moment when I realized that there were a lot of people to whom my life didn’t matter much. I just know that at some point in my childhood I surrendered to a lifetime of suggestion that my role in this so-called great American society would be peripheral.
Ironically, today I find myself front and center in reconstructing the telling of our national story, a re-telling that highlights the contributions of people of color to the development of America.
.On the day my family and I met with several other families to celebrate EmbraceRace, I posted photos from the day on my Facebook page. The pictures were of multiracial children and families, enjoying one another’s company.
Kids blurred by the speed of their running. Kids posing, their chests puffed with confidence. Kids being kids and parents capturing the beauty of their play. The Facebook post was “liked” dozens of times. The comment section was filled with ALL CAPS and exclamation points. And why not? Those kids are beautiful in every way.