On April 23rd, EmbraceRacers gathered online for our first-ever Talking Race & Kids Open Forum. Hosts and EmbraceRace co-founders, Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas, shared what they’re seeing and experiencing on the frontlines of race and raising kids and invited participants (you!) to do the same. Hear those stories, insights, triumphs, disappointments and more in this hour-long video. See an edited transcript below followed by resources.
Andrew Grant-Thomas: Welcome folks. Really glad you're here and I'm excited about this. We’ve been doing these webinars for over two years now, and this is the first time we're really talking with each other and with you to the extent that we hope to do it today. So, this is the way it'll go.
We are going to start out by talking a little bit about the road we've traveled so far. It's been three years – we started EmbraceRace in earnest in April of 2016. So, we thought this would be a good time to take stock, reflect a little bit, tell you where we've come from and maybe a little bit about where we are going.
We hope it'll spark some questions and thoughts for you. We’ll also invite you to let us know, what's going on in your lives around race and kids? We'll open it up to your stories and questions. We certainly can add to that discussion along the way. And with that said, let's get to it!
Melissa Giraud: Okay. So, happy three-year EmbraceRace anniversary, Andrew. How are you reflecting on this? Any "That was then. This is now" surprises? Any hopes going forward?
Andrew: You know, I think we may not even appreciate how much our thinking has moved and how much we have learned. There's a lot of stuff. One thing that comes immediately to mind is, you know, we started EmbraceRace thinking, "This is about support for parents, especially parents and other caregivers, who want to help raising kids.” So, we were really focused on parents as sort of the gateway to children. But one of the things that's loomed even larger, certainly than I anticipated it would, is just how much help parents need themselves – how much emotional and other support, how much self-care. they're not getting. That’s true for a lot of parents, right?
I think of a time we were in Boston meeting with some folks and I think a probably 30 something year old Black woman who had a role in her church community [was] talking about how she's spent so much time supporting other parent's children, you know young people, and we asked her, "How do you get support? That sounds like stressful work. You have your own dynamics in your family you're dealing with it. You're a mom." And she said, "You know, I have some girlfriends and we get together. But that's often the meeting on the calendar that gets pushed aside when someone else needs my time and attention and care." Many, many parents and caregivers need their own nurturing and support so that they can do it more effectively for their kids.
How about you?
Melissa: I'd love to hear about your self-care routine. Maybe a little later!
Yeah, I guess the surprise that also shouldn't have been a surprise is that when you do this work, you hear so many stories, right, that you would think it would make you feel just worse and worse and worse, as stories on the national level, because there what bleeds leads or what's really cruel leads. So you can just walk around feeling like that's the world and feeling really despondent for it. But when you do this work with lots of folks, we just meet a lot of people going through hard stuff but just a lot of resilience and a lot of people doing amazing things. You know, people of all colors really asking tough questions of themselves, of us. So that's been really great in this really hard time in our country to be raising kids. It's been great to have hold that positive energy so close.
Andrew: And I think the two things tie together nicely right. Because I think that's really been sustaining for us. So to meet those people, and even to share in knowing that a lot of people are going through a hard time. It's a different thing to go through a hard time knowing other people are sharing your concerns, sharing some of the issues that you're facing. And to be able to support each other simply in sharing that information. So I hear that.
Melissa: Yeah. And that is, when you think back three years ago or even four years ago, when we were in one of our daughter's preschool communities and we started a parenting and race group with other folks at the school and the diversity committee and that was really the origin of EmbraceRace because we really felt... We learned there that there aren't a lot of resources for parents. And we learned what we knew intellectually already, that we weren't alone and that a lot of people were having real issues and that we were all living in this racially toxic world or environment. But it's so reassuring to talk to other people who are, even if you don't have a big aha moment, you really realize oh gosh, I'm dealing with that with my kids too. We had to have a conversation about the white fairy dolls or about the dynamics of skin color. It's coming up every second, just by walking into Target.
So part of looking back three years is thinking about our effort to try to find those resources, create those resources, and also create spaces where people could feel that community and have that conversation, which has been really challenging because we're online. So we're experimenting with this tonight and always thinking about you know how do we support local groups. But really glad you guys are on this ride with us as we try to figure out how to make it work in the lives that we already have.
Andrew: One last thing about that- One thing that was so striking about that gathering you're talking about, and it was an amazing two hours or so, is that a lot of the people were- this was mostly people on the diversity committee that Melissa and I were on in the school that our girls went to in preschool at the time. So these were diversity committee members for the most part. And although we'd spent a lot of time and talked about a lot of relevant issues, we heard so much that day in those two hours that we hadn't heard before! So the point being I think that very often, you need to create the space for these stories, and these feelings, these concerns and these wishes that we have for our children, to allow them to come out as they did that day. So hopefully yes, we'll be trying to do that more and more going forward.
Melissa: So Andrew I wanted to, before we transition to other folks and their questions, to ask about your, as opposed to our, your personal motivations for starting EmbraceRace and you know how they might be different now three years later?
Andrew: You know, a lot of roads lead to a project like this. So lots of origins. Now very briefly, certainly having come to this country from Jamaica at an early age, as 7, having, come with my parents and the experiences that they went through as two West Indian people. We settled in New Haven, Connecticut and they experienced a lot and I saw a lot. Jamaica’s certainly not without its issues. You know a lot of colorism, a lot of class issues there. But it’s also a country where 90 percent of the people identify as Black. You certainly see Black people in any positions of power. So that was certainly one. Many things happened along the way. My own experiences in school and so on. Such I became, I mean I really devoted my entire career to race work and have very, very strong convictions about race and its continued significance. And yet when we became parents, that wasn't enough to guide us. Like we knew that it was a really important piece to incorporate in our parenting with our girls. And I know that we had only a foggy notion of how to do that well. We wanted a community. We wanted resources. You like to say EmbraceRace is a community that we want to help us do our work as parents.
What's your thinking?
Melissa: Yeah, I'm just reading a comment here about the importance of focusing on the development of children's critical thinking skills and that’s definitely what we're trying to do. And part of that was just realizing that race, or how people deploy race changes over time.
For those of you not familiar with EmbraceRace, Andrew and I, are a couple, as well as sort of partners in work [cofounders of EmbraceRace]. When we talk about parenting our girls, we have the same ones – we share two daughters.
And that was what was shocking - to answer your question, personally. I'm a mixed-race woman. My dad’s from the Caribbean. My mom, French Canadian. And so [they] are immigrants, they raised me and my sisters in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. So all that informs my experiences of presenting one way in one context, in a different way in another. Just having a lot of tough [racialized] experiences growing up and then realizing when we had kids, oh my gosh! They’re going to have some of the same experiences, because you see it! You know, you see how much things haven't changed and you see how much you pushed down all those feelings, you know, just to deal with it, to get by. You really don't want that for your kids.
So, it was that personal stuff and also professional. Just having thought a lot in my work in media and education about equity and immigrant stories and racialized stories and the whole thing. So, it was easy to come to this. Andrew's done a lot of writing on systemic racism, on implicit bias. Super important and informing for us. When you have kids, you realize [or remember] … people discount kids. When thinking about systemic change, many of us think or act as if kids are have little consequence in the world until they’re grown. But in fact, kids are being churned through the same biased systems that they can perpetuate or that they can resist and change. That is, kids can be agents of change themselves, now. People don't suddenly become agents of change. They have to develop that and can develop it at a young age. So, sort of looking at that at the systemic level and then having our own kids and realizing oh we're sending them out into this world where we don't know who those other kids are and what they're doing. We can't control that. So, what do we do to help change a bit more than we were doing before, or in a different way with our kids?
Andrew: And you know the agent of change piece I think is hugely important right. So, we have two girls again they're 8 and 11 [years old] right now. There’re slightly different shades of skin color.
Melissa: We each have a mini-me.
Andrew: So one of them, the younger one, I think tends to identify herself now as biracial. The older one, who's a little bit darker, I think calls herself Black. A lot of people would say she's a biracial Black girl. But the point is we, on one hand, yes, as Black girls or biracial Black girls, we are certainly concerned about how they will be acted on in the world and aware that they will also act in the world, right? We are aware of our privilege, relative to many other families of color.
In other words, we're not only aware of their vulnerability. We're also aware that they will affect and have opportunities to affect other people's lives and even systems that they move through. So how do we prepare them for that as well?
Melissa: Right. So here's a question that came in from Sarah who’s a grandparent:
"We are a mixed-race extended family. One of our adult sons and his family lives six houses away and we're very involved in the daily lives of our two grandchildren ages 13 and 7 [years old]. Both children are being impacted by the current political climate. They're distressed by the tweets and policies of the president. Increasingly they now express distrust of those white people. If a problem occurs at school, they will express disdain if a white person is in authority over them, i.e. their principal and teachers. This is a recent behavior change in them. They love their father, who is white, and have a stable and supportive home environment. I'd like to know if other families are experiencing this and how they handle it."
That's a great question. I mean we're certainly hearing that a lot. A lot. And if you think about how segregated the U.S. is and how, for a lot of kids growing up in very segregated neighborhoods, non-white neighborhoods, that they learn about white people by watching T.V. Trump looms pretty large. And he looms large even if you do know white people. Right.
And Andrew, in our situation, our older one was very frightened and concerned about Trump and, what does this mean? We're going to be divided by color and what will that mean for our family? Even before we thought Trump would be elected and you know we had to really talk about sort of counter types and talk about all the [white] people she knew that were not like Trump and who were working alongside her. And then all the ways in which she was more privileged than people with undocumented status that Trump was going after in that moment. So, what was she going to do as an American citizen and having that privilege? What was she going to do? So, we hear it a lot.
Andrew: I think you've touched on the main thing I would bring up. For many of us these are really dismaying times right. I certainly find it difficult, in a way I didn't before, to say oh that couldn't happen here. I mean a number of things have happened, you know, the Muslim ban, the persistent effort to do that. You know, the persistent effort to build a wall. The separation of children from their families. These are things, yeah, they certainly, they seem more possible now than they did before. So, I totally get people being dismayed and I think one of the crucial points you make, Melissa, is … there are more than 200 million white people in this country and they believe a whole range of things and act in a whole range of ways. So certainly, I would make that really clear to, in this case, to your grandchildren. That there's Black people, Latino people, and white people, you know Asian American people. You're talking about millions and millions of people and a huge variation again in what their concerns are and what their beliefs are and what they vote for and what they want to see happen in this country. Many white people are as upset as your grandchildren are about what's happening in their country.
Your inclination may be to try to protect kids when that’s an option, to try to assure them that they will be safe. And Sarah didn't give us a lot of information really about how vulnerable the family might be, the degree to which the kids are seeing themselves as potential victims. But the one line to straddle is giving the assurance that you can about how the adults in their lives will do all they can to protect them. How things like citizenship status, if they are U.S. citizens, may protect them from some things that threaten other people. Empathy and care, and if possible, support for those groups that are vulnerable about whom we can't give all the assurances that we'd like to be able to give. You know the only the last thing I would say, is you know to actually talk to your kids about those kids, and all kids, about what can we actually do to help. Maybe it's our friends at school who really are in a vulnerable position or others who we don't know. I think being able to act in some way, however modest, is really helpful.
Melissa: Yeah. And we've had people chiming in on that problem. Relatedly, we have a parent here saying that her 8-year-old son doesn’t like identifying as white because of what he heard white cops were doing around the country. He was so distressed about that. We've been hearing that as well. It does seem so many stories get hidden, in this case stories about all the white anti-racist activists that have been in existence forever and not just when Trump was elected. I think we have to resurrect those stories.
Another question we get a lot is, how do I create a healthy white identity? And I wonder if other people in the chat have answers to that, but I think there are a lot of people to look to realize that it's pretty freaking cool to be white and use whatever privilege you have in a just way. You know, there’ve always been people doing that.
Andrew: And I just want to underline that point you made Melissa about. So, on one hand I don't think we should shy away from, you know, there's substance to the term white supremacy. Right. And there's a reason that we talk about that. It is true that white people, white identified people, predominate in this country not just numerically but in terms of power, economic power, political power, etc. At the same time as you say, in every movement for social justice the country has seen, people of color, women, people with disabilities, people with a range of gender expressions have been at the forefront and so have some white people. So, telling those stories of resistance and resilience, even as we talk about both historical and contemporary struggle, I think it's very important.
Melissa: We have great comments here. I'm nodding a lot because of these comments about whiteness. How do you dismantle whiteness and sort of claim erased European identity? Yeah, I love that comment. And we have a teacher here talking about being very explicit with children about ways in which we're the same and different. Too often race becomes the most salient thing and it doesn't have to be that way. And we can teach kids, it's not simply, “He's a Black. You're a Latino kid.” There are ways to notice similarities, too, like you both love Rubik's Cube or you're both super annoying or whatever it is. We have to do that work of bridging the sameness, I think. Should I go to the next question?
Andrew: Yeah, I'm just gonna lift up Andrea's point from the chat: "As a white person raising white children at a very diverse school I've used his [Trump's] othering moments as a way of underlining how scary it is for people of color and that we need to continue supporting the ideals we support and helping him [her son] to maintain friendships with kids of color that he's always known and that don't ‘other’ him."
Melissa: There's the work right there. We've had a couple questions about skin color or comments of experiences people are having. There's one parent who says that her three-year-old is mixed Chinese and Northern European and has started recently saying , “ ‘Only white skin is pretty.’ How do I help her understand that all skin colors are pretty?” And then we've got another parent who says that says her daughter was bullied for her dark skin color more than a year ago when she was three and a half years old. “She is 5 years old and still remembers the names of those boys, of what they said to her. How can I help her heal from the past and deal with it in the future?” So, two parents with kids dealing with the valuing or not valuing of skin color - the white supremacist anti-Blackness situation that we're all stewing in and that kids are responding to.
Andrew: Yeah. You know the first thing is of course there is a reason, as you say. There's a reason that she she feels that way. Lots and lots of work has been done on this and we each have our own experiences and observations with the dominant, white beauty standard. And that plays out not only in “princess culture” and books and movies and so on. The beautiful princess being a white one typically. But even when, for example, they started to create some non-white Barbies, the Black Barbie or the Latinx Barbie for example, tended to look exactly like the white barbie doll with a different skin tone. So we understand where that's coming from.
The good news is there are things you can do. For example, there are quite a few books, many of them excellent, that deal with exactly this. So, books can definitely be your friends here. I think of the piece that you wrote about Melissa, that you blogged about, the princess books where you have princesses of color, sisters who are very different kinds of princesses, who do their own rescuing, who don't need to be rescued by the prince, those sorts of things. That's a really nice counter image. You also did some work around dolls and how to think and talk about them. That another way to approach it. I think about having images in your home. You know having images of not just of sort of attractive people of color broadly speaking, but of people who you admire. What children see is so hugely important.
Melissa: In the chat, Jaelyn talks about children's literature is a great way to boost your child's racial identity and confidence in their skin color. Yeah, we have children’s book resources, not only book suggestions but also we've had a lot of great people on to talk about how to spark important race conversations with kids using books. Next month Dr. Debbie Reese is going to be on who’s a great American Indian children's literature scholar who has done a lot of work and activism around books featuring American Indians. So that's another resource to come.
Changing topics, as a mixed race person, I've been really thrilled lately that there is a lot [relatively] of conversation about colorism in the press lately. I always say you have to talk about colorism, you can't just say - all skin colors are fine and there is this history that's unfair. You have to sort of talk about colorism and that hierarchy so that kids can learn to analyze it and see it and counter it. The Pew Research Center did some study on Latinos and race and racial identity. And that prompted a lot of stories in the media and I was just so psyched that people were talking about colorism because I think it really makes the whole thing hang together whether you're closer to one end or the other. I think sometimes the way that it gets portrayed in the media is that it's an in-group thing only [amongst people of color] and people don't think about how, actually, there's been a lot of research on how white people prefer lighter skin, too. White people will consider a lighter black political candidate more trustworthy than a darker one, and on and on.
And that does bring me to a recent race and kids experience. So. My daughters and I have been watching American Idol. I'm a not so closeted fan of singing competitions. We watched it last year and now we’re watching the latest season. The singers have been amazing both years. Very diverse last year and less so this year but still diverse. But here’s the thing.
How do you win American Idol? For many rounds of the competition, the three judges – all commercially successful singers – decide. The judges have narrowed it down from hundreds to just fourteen singers. After that viewers have the most say in who makes the cut. The judges are like Lionel Richie and various people who really look for and champion talent, more than I would have thought possible on a major network show. But when they turn the judging over to “America,” the people left standing get dramatically white and light.
This happened last year, watching it with my kids, and it happened again this year! This weekend, in fact. As soon as America voted it was like, here it is. What looked like a talented and diverse group of performers suddenly turns into a talented group of white performers. It was like, yes they’re talented but so were the people of color eliminated. When it happened the previous year we talked about it, just noticing, so they were prepared. Our 11 year old, before the competition even got to the “America votes” part, heard the judges tell various candidates, many of color, "Look I don't know if Americans are going to be into you. But you need to know this- that I've never seen talent like this." You know on and on and on. "You are my favorite." All of that. And my daughter remarked, "Look, they're preparing them for what's going to happen when America votes." [laughs]
You know, so there's a way in which talking about it can help kids and ourselves externalize that thing. It's not about you. It's not a judgment on you. It's sort of like this thing that's happening outside of you. It affects you but it doesn't, it doesn't decrease your worth you know to yourself to your family, to lots and lots of folks.
Andrew: Someone asked a question about colorism. She says she's about to google colorism so she can imagine what it is but haven't heard the term before. So, colorism refers to essentially the inclination to prefer for good things, better things to accrue to lighter skinned people within racial groups. So, you know for example, it is generally true that lighter skinned Latinx folks, lighter skinned Black people, even lighter skinned white skin because often the distinction is made between for example Northern European whites and Southern European whites, right. Folks from Denmark versus folks from Greece, let's say.
And in fact, we have a friend we know way back in my more academicy days who actually did some amazing research looking at the different shades of skin color within racial groups. So again within white, Asian American, Black, Latinx groups. And how lighter skinned people within each of those groups actually did better materially. Within every group they made more money. They had more education. All those sorts of outcomes. So that's what we mean when we say colorism. And it's often a thing, you know it's just another angle on how complex all this is, that simple racial distinctions will give you some purchase but there's much more to be said. And, of course, colorism is only one piece, right? There is oppression by class and gender and gender expression and all of these things. As hopefully you've heard us say before, while race is our point of departure, we're always trying to complicate things. We talk about race and. Race and all of these other dimensions of identity.
Melissa: I hope that answered your question, Rebecca.
I'm seeing also Pam's comment about, "I feel it is so important to expose our children who have no color." We all have color, Pam! "To all colors as early as they first experience books. Instead of buying Fisher-Price Little People who are Caucasian by the African-American, Asian, and Hispanic ones. The more exposure we all have to different colors of skin, the more accepting our children will be. We can help end that type of bullying." Amen! Amen!
I think a lot of people think kids should have dolls that look like them. And I think that's true if you don't see people who look like you represented in the wider culture, including in dolls. For kids of color, finding more representation is important. But if you're a white kid in the U.S. and you also see yourself represented in the broader culture (not all white kids do), is it so important that your dolls look like you? I don't think so. Pam’s point about giving kids of all colors dolls of color is a good one.
Andrew You know, this is a real, again hopefully another thing you've heard us say many times, but this is a real premise for EmbraceRace. Exactly this point Pam is making that you really need to start early.
At three months of age, we know that kids are babies, infants right, barely past newborn at that point, can distinguish on the basis of race. This is not to say that they have sort of big value judgements right. They are not "racist babies," but they're able to distinguish usually because you know they prefer the person who looks and feels like their primary caregiver, right. Which is usually mom. But you know, by two and a half, three certainly by age five or so, what started as a relatively innocuous preference for what they're familiar with becomes something a bit more laden. Right. Value judgments start being attached to their preference for you know race their racial preferences.
So they start to gravitate toward or prefer playmates that look in this country white across the world in places where this research is done that match the dominant group, whatever that group is. So yes, Pam is absolutely right. You need to start early. One thing we've found is that, you know certainly there are organizations that are helping teachers and educators in the classroom context, but almost always those resources, the resources they provide are aimed at middle school kids or high school kids. There's relatively little for elementary school and almost nothing for early childhood. And it's not that it's too late to engage kids of course. Kids attitudes around race are actually much more changeable, much more pliable than adults. It's definitely not too late. But why not start early so we don't have to undo the bad learning that so many of us have taken?
I mean, think about all the places that kids get images about race. I mean there's parents and teachers and their peers, and popular culture, meaning books and movies and all of these things. You know, images of race and racial inequality. And this gets to another thing that we're always underlining ...
Kids are noticing patterns around them and they're noticing the racial patterns. Whether they notice is not the issue. They will notice. We all notice. We're amazing at pattern recognition. What's crucial is what explanation do we bring to what we see? How do kids account for the racial patterns they see?
In many schools, the white kids are the ones in the Honors classes and the kids of color are the ones in the remedial classes. They'll notice that if that's what's going on. How do they explain it? That's what we need to attend to.
Melissa: I have a related story.
We were presenting recently and we met a mom. She’s a Latina woman, white husband, two biological kids and a couple foster kids. For the first time, one of their foster kids, the baby, is Black. And she said she had always spoken to her kids about how, well, I'm café colored, your daddy's white, you're café con leche or whatever. In a conversation with her 9-year-old, she mentioned that their new sister is Black and the nine-year-old boy started crying!
You know, and why would he cry?
Well because anti-blackness is a real thing. If this is his first exposure past the media or newspaper reports about police shootings of Black people or some other negative association, then of course he's going to be afraid. So one of the ways we deal with it is we absolutely have to talk about it and guide them.
When I was growing up, I grew up in a pretty poor neighborhood and I went to a school outside of the neighborhood and people from the more affluent school would say, "Oh you live in a bad neighborhood." And in fact, some of them were afraid to come to my house. I remember this one time, this girl came to my house and she was like [squeals with disgust] when she saw people at the bus stop. She was afraid, basically. And I remember also talking to my father about it years later, as a young adult, and saying, "Gosh, our neighborhood was red-lined and it's not fair." And he said, "But we do live in a bad neighborhood and we need to take responsibility to make it better"!
So, when you don’t have information about how we’re segregated and unequal by design, you might think the problem is with the people being discriminated against, even when you’re part of that community. You blame yourself. If we don’t understand why these patterns exist, we make sense of it some other way. We really have to start with young kids by naming and embracing differences. There was someone on this chat talking about how with younger kids, they talk about sameness’s and differences. Madeleine Rogin wrote a great article about that strategy with young kids.
Andrew: Along those lines, in this country, we place a lot of emphasis on individuals’ rights, individual agency. You think about a Horatio Alger right rags to riches story. This idea that this is a country where you could pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It doesn't matter where you started from, that you can make it. And the inference that lots of people have from that is you get what you deserve, right. If you are wealthy, that means you're awesome. If you're poor, that means you know you need to work harder. And I think that is a default message for a lot of kids.
So again, if the default is “what we see is a reflection of people's character,” then it's really important for those of us who know that it's a lot more complicated, certainly than just a function of individual effort, to get in there, roll up our sleeves, and have those conversations with our kids. And it's not one conversation. It's a conversation that happens again and again over time and becomes more sophisticated. Not only according to the kid's understanding but also according to ours. We need to do our work so we can learn more and more and have greater insight hopefully into why things are the way they are.
So you know, I wanted to, you know we've invited you to share some of your questions and some of your stories about what's going on in your own lives around race and kids. We’ve brought up some along the way but we have ours as well. One, Melissa I wanted to ask you about was about her older daughter. We were talking about it just this morning. Who had some interesting things to say about her reading list and what she'd like to read. Want to say a bit more about that?
Melissa: Yeah. Well she said something that we've certainly noticed a lot (and even have a book list trying to counter). She said, "I want to be reading books," she's 11, "I want to be reading more books that have people that look like me in them. But I just, why are they all about slavery? Why? I'm so tired of reading about slavery." I think that's fair - the kind of dread of even touching slavery because you've been exposed and exposed and exposed and maybe not in great ways sometimes. I mean what's that great way? There are better ways.
I feel for her and I said, "Well, here's a list." And there weren't that many books for her reading level on the list but this list that we crowdsource of EmbraceRace community folks like you guys of books that were about kids of color being themselves. You know riding a bike or having an issue with their mom or you know all of that. So that's a real problem.
Andrew: And you know it makes me think of analogs to that in other spaces right. So yeah. You know it really is true that very often if you watch CNN or MSNBC, whatever it is as you watch cable news, when they have an expert on, the expert, if the expert is a person of color, the person of color is often talking about race. Right. Obviously, we think talking about race is hugely important.
But it turns out that people of color, broadly speaking, have a wide range of expertise. Right. We not only need to see people of color and white people talking about race, we need to see people of color talking about all sorts of other things as well. Just as our children and all children need to see. Let's be clear, there's definitely a place for talking about bigotry and oppression and all of those things. And, as we said before, about resistance and resilience. But we also need books about, as Melissa said, kids of color are just being kids of color. You know, you probably know this but there are, the last time I saw this information anyway, there are more picture books starring animals than starring kids of color. Whereas there are far more picture books featuring white kids than featuring animals. So that that needs to change.
Melissa There's a comment about hair, something like, "Hair is another way people divide themselves." It goes on and on explaining, "You're beautiful. I love how my mom shares that she had a tug of war from my Black Cabbage Patch Kid in the 80s." Oh, I love that! Cabbage Path! I never had one. that's very sweet.
Yeah I think hair's a biggie. That's one that we definitely would love to hear more of your stories. Anyone out there interested in writing or telling a story for us about relationship to hair sort of through generations.
Andrew: I want to read this comment. You know, I think it's [the person who commented] from a Latina mom given her last name. And she says:
"Oh yes. I relate to children seeing themselves in books. So my son was reading his chapter books that was mostly Black and white when we saw the characters in color and realized the character in color and realized the lead character, I think, was brown. His face lit up with excitement."
There it is. There are so many of those stories including very prominent, for example actors of color now who talk about how devastating it was to never see anyone who looked like them in Hollywood, right. Asian American actors maybe most particularly. It’s a very big deal.
Melissa: So there's another question that came to us and I'm sure folks out there have answers for this or suggestions.
“When do I know if a student in K-5 is uncomfortable talking about race? How do I use natural learning opportunities to talk about race and what are some good sentence starters or pointers for me as the adult starting conversations about race?”
What do you think, Andrew? First, are kids uncomfortable talking about race? I mean, I think they learn to be. I think sometimes we worry too much about the starting, like how do I start? And we sort of wait and get the book that's about race explicitly and actually you can start with any book. You can take a Clifford book and say, "Those kids only have this kind of skin or how many different colors skins do you notice? Is that skin more like yours or more like mine?" Yeah those kinds of questions about skin color difference. And then race, you know, K-5 is a big age range. You know, so race is sort of hard to understand in the early part of that. Skin color's easier and then in the later part, kids start to understand more about race.
Andrew: I think of the webinar we did with Megan Dowd Lambert and her colleague, Sarah Hannah Gómez, about reading race in picture books. In that, Megan the talks about the Whole Book Approach (which she created in conjunction with the Eric Carle Museum for the Picture Books) and a big take away for me there was really thinking about the experience of reading with a child, co-created by you as the adult reader, let's say, the child and the book.
Put differently, can we put the child in a leadership role with respect to the experience of engaging this book? And I think if you do that, if you're as attentive as you can be to what the child is responding to and not responding to, where the child might be willing to enter, you’ll find a way to gently transition to the race conversation. And have it be a conversation.
I think that'll be really, really helpful.
Melissa: We got another question, this one about EmbraceRace. The question is, who is EmbraceRace for? Is there a particular sort of constituency that we have in mind in doing the work?
Andrew: We get that question from people who think EmbraceRace is for white parents AND from people who think it’s parents of color or for parents with children of color. The answer is: EmbraceRace is for parents and caregivers of all colors who want to be thoughtful about how they guide the racial learning of the kids in their lives.
One point I like to make to folks who ask that is, you know, very often we talk about race relations in this country, we really do talk about it in binary terms, meaning white people and people of color right. White people and non-white people. And the race relations challenge is for those two groups to get along with each other. But it's actually much more complicated than that. I think we really need to think about race relations as multilateral. So the question then becomes not simply for example, how do Latinx people get along with white people? But how did they get along with Black people? With Asian American people? People who identify as native, multiracial? All of that. And ditto for all these other groups because in many, many places, in many schools, certainly for our kids, you know in many places, white kids are not a majority and there are many racial groups represented among non-whites. I mean Texas is majority people of color. So is California. So is New Mexico. And that will continue to be true. So if we don't attend to the relationship among people of color, among kids of color, and then even "intra-racially," right. Cuban Americans in Florida and the growing Puerto Rican population in Florida, both Latinx. See what I'm saying? That's a thing we need to attend to. Those too are "race relations" and that's the work we're hoping to do.
So some of you will have seen this. In 2013 The American Values Survey, they asked people essentially who their closest friends were? And they had a particular way of doing that. Essentially, they were asked to match their close social networks. So their close friends, people they confide in and have meaningful conversations with. And the result that's often underlined in stories about this survey is that 75 percent of whites surveyed had only white people in their social network. You know I think two thirds of African Americans surveyed had only other Black people in their network right. And I think it was a little under half of Latinx people. They didn't survey enough Asian Americans to sort of draw a conclusion.
What was interesting to me in addition to that finding is if you said imagine that the average Black person in the survey had a hundred friends. Well not only were most of those friends Black, but none of them were Asians. The average Black person in this country has no Asian intimate friends, according to the survey finding. And only a few, I think it was two Hispanic or Latinx friends. And the same was true essentially for Latinx people with respect to Asian Americans and Black people. So it's not only white people, in other words, who really need to diversify their circles. I think we all need to do that.
Melissa: So yes there's a lot of exciting work coming up. As we close, one of the questions in the chat is, how can we get more adults involved who are guiding children in their racial learning? And that's a great question! It's going to be on all of us to do that. So if you have suggestions about how do deepen this work that EmbraceRace is doing, to work with us, to reach more people- We're all ears. And for topics as well.
Thank you for being part of our first open forum - for the insights, questions and recommendations. And for being a part of this community.
Andrew: Thank you everyone. It was nice talking to you directly. Thank you, Melissa.
Melissa: Nice talking to you, too, Andrew. Enjoy your time in NYC. Come back soon!
Related Resources & LInks
Same/Same/But Different: Creating an Inclusive Kindergarten
By Madeleine Rogin, EmbraceRace
Why are all the white dolls sitting together on the Target shelf?
By Melissa Giraud, EmbraceRace
A Black princess who saves herself and exposes princess culture? Kids and parents say "Yes!"
Interview of Jeremy Whitley by Melissa Giraud, EmbraceRace
Children's books resources
Reading picture books with children through a race-conscious lens
conversation featuring Megan Dowd Lambert and Sarah Hannah Gómez, EmbraceRace
Parenting in the Age of Trump
conversation featuring Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith
"Never too early to learn": Implementing a race-conscious, anti-bias approach in early childhood education
By Jennifer Hooven, Katherine Runkle, Laurie Strouse, Misty Woods, and Erica Frankenberg
Managing Racial Stress: Guidance for Caregivers
conversation with the leaders of the APA RESilience Project