Building Solidarity among Black & Latinx Kids & Families
In the United States, we tend to think of race relations as something that happens between “White people” and “people of color.” But racialized dynamics happen among and between Black and Indigenous people, and People of Color as well - and the templates for those relationships often are established when our children are young.
Watch this EmbraceRace conversation with Drs. Ronda Bullock and Fabiola Salas Villalobos from we are, based in Durham NC, about their multifaceted efforts to build solidarity among Black and Latinx children and families. Ronda and Fabiola will offer insights about how, in the course of delivering its antiracist educational programming, we are is striving to move beyond a thin kind of “inclusivity” to build strong relationships and genuine solidarity among its Black and Brown children and families.
Read the transcript below. Find the related resources - including children's book recs - below that.
EmbraceRace, Melissa: We thought this was an important conversation and that the people we invited on are exactly the people to have it with because so often, Andrew and I talk about this a lot, how race in this country is construed as being often times, White or non-White, as though everyone on the non-White side is marching in solidarity and are positioned the same and have common interests, which isn't true. We at EmbraceRace are really concerned with building relationships and solidarity between Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Asian Americans, Indigenous folks and multiracial people. That's part of the conversation we're having tonight. We'll be speaking to the folks from we are (Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education), which is an organization based in Durham, North Carolina and they deliver anti-racist educational programming.
There was a video going around for a while, which is maybe the first time I saw Ronda, about their anti-racist summer camp. They're really working with kids and trying to bring in a community, bring in kids to their program, that really represent the community that they live in, in Durham. They're going to talk to us about their challenges with that and the opportunities they see with that, and what they're doing. A lot of organizations, including ours, are always trying to do more and be better, striving and they're going to tell us about their journey.
EmbraceRace, Andrew: One of the things I want to underline about what Melissa said, in addition to the importance of this quest, how do you build solidarity within or among Black, Indigenous and other people of color, is this issue of the journey that they're on. It's very often when you see experts, like the ones we have on today, often we present it as if it's a done deal, as if we already have all the answers. One of the things that's wonderful about the conversation we’ve already had with our two guests today is, they acknowledge it's very much a process. They're working things out. They’ve worked out some things. They haven’t worked out others. And they're willing to share that with us today. That feels so much more useful than obscuring everything that might be hard, or not yet worked out. Let me introduce our two guests, we're really excited to have them.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock is the Co-Founder and Lead Curator of we are, (Ronda, what's up?) Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education. We Are works to equip children, families and educators with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the complexity of racism. We certainly consider, we are a fellow traveler with EmbraceRace. Ronda taught English for almost 10 years in high school, in Durham, prior to getting her doctorate in Education. And, continues to live in Durham with her husband Dr. Daniel Kelvin Bullock and her kids Zion and Zaire. Really good to have you, Ronda. She's joined by her colleague ....
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos is a geographer, educator, an author, a program coordinator and a program evaluator. She also serves as a board member at we are, in Durham with Ronda. And, Fabiola has worked 20 years teaching K-16 and is an active member of the Triangle Latinx community since 2002. She is a first-generation Brown Latinx immigrant, living in North Carolina. Welcome, great to have you both.
We're going to start where we often like to start. We know that for our guests, this work attracts people for whom there's a really personal investment and I think we already got some sense of that from your short biographies. But, can you say a little more, Ronda I'll start with you.
Why do you invest in anti-racist education for kids and families?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: Thank you all so much, Andrew and Melissa for having us on here. This is truly an honor and a pleasure. We are definitely fans of you all. I thank you for this opportunity. This work is near and dear to my heart, as I'm sure it is for you all and many folks who are out there listening. I was a former high school English teacher and connected to education. Once I went on to get my PHD, this was in Fall 2014, a lot was happening in our country. At that point, George Zimmerman had been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, a police officer murdered Mark Brown. We were just in a racial unrest in our country, much like we are now. The Black Lives Matter movement was starting up. I was having my own personal experiences, being reengaged into a historically White university and I was also a mom. All of these things are happening at that same time. I'm loving on my Black babies. I'm a mom.
My first experience with racism was at five years old and I haven't forgotten it, when I was in kindergarten. So, all of these things were coming into play at the same time and I just felt honestly called and led to do anti-racism work on a much more systematic level. I was thinking about first, children because I had my kids and I didn't want my kids to have the exact same experiences as I went through as a kid, even though that's an unrealistic expectation. I was like, "What could we do with children, where we're helping them to develop healthy racial identities and helping them to better understand racism, anti-racism and activism?" It was a combination of those life experiences that went into, by Spring 2015, I'm thinking, okay if I was going to do something in a much more systematic way, what would it look like? And, that's when I started drafting out the ideas of We Are and reaching out, for one, to my co-founder, my husband Dr. Daniel Kelvin Bullock and then to folks like Fabiola.
EmbraceRace: That's great, thanks Ronda. Turning to you Fabiola, we know from previous conversations and from your bio, that your investment in We Are extends beyond We Are. It's manifested in a number of ways.
Fabiola, can you tell us a little bit about how you got here?
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Yes. I migrated to North Carolina in 2002 and I didn't speak English by then. I started as a Teacher Assistant for two amazing Black women, Teketa Edwards and Crystal Jefferson. I had this amazing Black Principal at the same school, Deshera Mack, who taught me a lot of lessons about how to be a woman of color in North Carolina. Then I became a mother and interacting with school personnel at my son's schools was very difficult. Not just because of the language barrier. Because of a human barrier. I didn't know that being a Brown Latina was going to influence so much how people treated me. From being completely ignored to receiving exaggerated attention about my name, my clothes. It was like I was a different being and people didn't feel comfortable around me, and they didn't act like themselves around me.
12 years later, in graduate school, I learned that all of those uncomfortable moments, transactions were called microaggressions. And, I started having access to all this knowledge about race dynamics in the United States such as racialization of immigrant groups, et cetera.
I decided to learn and be sure like Ronda, when my children would be in those same experiences about human barriers like I did, that I was going to be able to guide them and help them and support them. Or realistically, to prevent them from suffering like what I went through. Then, I met Ronda and I was focusing on figuring out how to make others see how I saw race affected everything in here, every day, all the systems. Ronda recommended me to take a course, and in the course, there was racial equity training and it had a Black Professor, Dr. Deborah Stroman. Then, my advisor told me to take a course on critical race theory and there was another Black Professor, Dr. Eileen Parson. I found a space to have these conversations about race. I knew I needed another space to be actively engaged and working on de-mantling the system.
Magically, Ronda invited me to be a part of We Are and here we are five years later having this conversation tonight. Of course, this is a simplified version of my story. There are many pieces that fell in place for me to have access and opportunities to get where I am right now. But to make emphasis on my story, I mentioned six Black Women. They were crucial in my life, in these 18 years in North Carolina, for me to be an anti-racist educator and this is how Black and Brown solidarity looks like in one personal story.
EmbraceRace: That's beautiful. We want to hear more about your program.
What are the particular demographics of the area that you're serving with We Are? What implications that has for your program and the work you're trying to do?
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Okay, I'll continue. I'm a geographer so, I'll start with my special units as a more general one, context of the US, where the Latinx group is the biggest racial minority in the country right now. And it goes to North Carolina, which is a Latinx diaspora state. It's the first two areas in the United States that the Latinx communities are new settlers. That's why we call them new Latinx Diasporas. Then, it goes to Durham, which is a county in North Carolina. The same phenomenon of growing Latinx population in the United States, in North Carolina and Durham, is happening in the same levels. For example, from 1990 to 2000, the highest group of immigrants in North Carolina were Latinx, in Durham County. Within those 10 years, the population grew from 5,000 to 17,000. Some of these Latinx folks came from Latin America, but some of them came from other states.
Another of our counties in North Carolina, Wayne County, the Latinx population grew from 5,000 to 33,000 within those 10 years. The Durham Public School’s demographics are 33% Latinx, 41% Black and 19% White. That's why when we talk about Black and Brown solidarity for us, because our organization is in Durham, we talk about Latinx groups. But we acknowledge that, the Brown also includes Brown folks from all the groups. It's for our context, that's our demographics. Those are the two groups that we're trying to bond together.
EmbraceRace: In doing your work what did you realize about who was coming to your program?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: For one, I'm a Critical Race Scholar and I do Critical Whiteness Studies specifically, and I study White children's racial identity construction. A part of wanting to start We Are Camp, yes I wanted it for Black and Brown kids, but also times when we talk about racial identity, White children are left out. And White children and White families need to be at the table doing racial identity work. So, as an organization we had an intentional effort of trying to recruit White families into our anti-racism summer camp because we knew Black families know that's a place for us and we knew Black families were going to come. Plus, with my connection to the Black community in Durham, we knew would get folks to come. So, we made an intentional effort to recruit White families because we wanted them at the table and also because Black and Brown children are often times the victims of White children's racism. And a lot of people don't own, or recognize, or believe that these types of experiences are happening as early as Pre-K, right?
With that intentional effort, Black children were the majority in our summer camps. Our second largest group was White, and then it was Latinx. The first year we only 15 kids. It was pretty racially diverse. But then after the second year, it was still a majority of Black children, but we were like, "Where are the Latina children? Where are the Latinx children?" We were like, "Okay, we need to change our recruitment efforts." White families understand. They're coming. By the fourth year of the camp, they were the majority in our first and second grade camp so, we had to rethink. We're missing the mark here. I think it was the third year we were like, "Okay, we need to translate our flyers. Of course, Latinx families see our flyers and our communications aren't even in Spanish." So, we needed to do that. We did that and that year, we went up a percent or two of Latinx families.
In our family orientation, we didn't have interpretation. So these things that seem so obvious now, weren't that obvious at the time. And then, we had the interpretation, we had the translated flyers and the emails, but we still didn't have Latinx families. So yes, those pieces matter, but then in conversation with Fabiola, we realized we needed a community connection. That's when it became, okay these other pieces are important and needed, but we need to make sure that this space, not a welcoming space, but this is your space. This is your space too. Fabiola, I don't know if you want to add on there.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Yes, and we reached out to some of the Latinx families about their experiences and I was in contact with them when they had questions. They were very hesitant to join an anti-racist led by Black women. And then there’s nobody who looked like them, except me. I was a board member, but I was not actively in the orientations and recruitment. So, they never saw a Brown face at orientation meetings and they didn’t heard Spanish. I think that they were, like Ronda said, they were trying to go from one space to another space. If they were in White spaces, now they are going to be part of a Black space. It was hard for them to feel completely welcome into our space and that was hard to hear. That was very hard to hear.
EmbraceRace: We definitely want to get into both how you saw the challenge, how you thought about that community building effort. I want to go back just a moment. You both have deep roots in education in Durham. Fabiola you mentioned the huge increase in the number of Latinx kids in the schools, entering a place that was largely defined by Black and White before that. All the people that are coming to you are coming in with lots of things with them. Part of that is going to be the school experience and maybe the experience of living in a rapidly diversifying school system and people responding to that.
Can you give us some insight to what you were experiencing, what you were seeing, what you were hearing, from people in the schools from which you are joined, a lot of the people who are coming into your camp? How were people responding to the rapidly diversifying school system?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: On the one hand, what I was experiencing when I was teaching, which I taught for almost 10 years at the high school level, is that there wasn't a lot of community building among the Black and Brown students. It was very much, segregated within the building. And, I taught at a school that was 99% Black and Brown, plus or minus a few percentage points. It was like, “This is for Black kids. This is for Brown kids.” It was separation. There were some friendships across the lines, but recognizing that we're in this same community. There's somewhat of the language barrier there and then there was Black-Brown tension really because school systems set up Black and Brown kids to compete for meager resources. And it's felt among the student body. I'm thinking about this from the older level but even in the young level as well, I'm seeing in the elementary level, this lack of intentional effort of building this mix-race, mix-space community, even though we have such a significant proportion of Black and Brown kids in our school system.
[What I saw was] there was Black-Brown tension really because school systems set up Black and Brown kids to compete for meager resources. And it's felt among the student body... I'm seeing in the elementary level, this lack of intentional effort of building this mix-race, mix-space community.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: It has to do with the context that I mentioned about North Carolina being a Latinx Diaspora state. There's not many spaces in the community for the Brown people to gather. We're still trying to be integrated into the spaces in this state, in Durham. It seems very clear that there are spaces for Black people and there are spaces for White people, but it's not clear where do all the Brown people hang out? Why aren't there spaces? They're so limited. That's one of the barriers. The community hides and creates their own groups in their own neighborhoods, but is not out there still, integrating with the larger community. That's not happening here in North Carolina. That's not happening here in Durham.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: We also have to mention that we're coming off very oppressive anti-immigration policies and laws where that fear is stoked. It is literally hard for Brown people to be in public. Students were being picked up on their way to school and taken to ICE detention centers. It's not even just this isolated piece, it’s like there is legitimate fear in being out and being in public spaces. We're having to bring in all this context and we can't just zoom into why aren't Brown kids here, you have to zoom out and consider the whole context with which we're working in.
EmbraceRace: And even how dangerous solidarity and the implication of using our voices to create a more just society, when you're being targeted. I'm sure that's scary for lots of folks.
In your community, do y’all have a significant Afro-Latino population as well? If so, how they play into this Black-Brown solidarity, or are they just sort of erased?
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Right now, they're erased, they're blended and there's also a large population of immigrants from Africa. I noticed how, and this is all in the Black-Brown solidarity book that is from resources. I was volunteering at a literary center in Durham for ESL classes. I was observing there and there was the groups. There were the African immigrants, and then the Latinx immigrants and then the Afro-Latinos. You can see how the African immigrants and the Afro-Latinos were more connected, than the Afro-Latinos with the Latinos. And it was a very interesting dynamic. This is something that Dr. Marquez, in his Black and Brown solidarity book, he mentions how he was a dark Latino who passed for Black and how he was more mixed with them, than the other ones. I think that those boundaries between Black and Latinos and Afro-Latinos, it doesn't work like we think it works. It doesn’t work like, “You're Latino. You're going in this box.” No. But, if you're Black and Latino, you might also go into this box. So, you might also be welcomed and feel more comfortable with them.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: And on top of this, there's also anti-Blackness in Latinx communities as well. Anti-immigration influence sometimes in Black communities. It's layered. That's the simple answer and Andrew, as you mentioned earlier, we're in the process. We're in this journey. We're trying to un-peel those layers, unpack as thoughtfully and as carefully as we can so that we can do no harm in trying to build this solidarity.
EmbraceRace: This is one of our own touch downs. Do no harm, hopefully do better than that, but do no harm is not a trivial standard. Again, really appreciate your being willing to talk about this journey in process.
What is the purpose of the anti-racist summer camp, and what has the general work been? What does the curriculum look like? Who are the teachers and the instructors? Can you give us a sense of what the camp is all about?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: We have one camp for kids in rising first and second grade, and one camp for kids in rising third to fifth grade. It's a week-long camp. There is research that shows, in as little as week, you can disrupt some of those stereotypes and biases that often times form in young kids minds. We use a literacy-based approach to help kids think about race, racism and skin color and activism, in very concrete ways. Whatever we book we teach from, we give a copy of it to the kids and it's theirs to have. By the end of the week, they have a home library of books that help them further this learning.
The main goal of our camp is to help children to develop healthy racial identities. And healthy looks different if you identify as a person of color then if you identify as someone who's White. We intentionally chose the word “healthy” over “positive,” because telling White children to have a positive identity just felt icky for us. But we thought healthy was one, a word that young kids understand and two, that's what we’re working towards.
We want to foster healthy racial identities, build a historical understanding of race and racism and then we also want to equip families with tools and resources which expand anti-racist practices into their homes, into their communities. So, camp is structured like a school day. We have fun and we have a break, snack and recess, but we tell families that it's not a kumbaya camp. You don't send your kids to We Are anti-racism camp to have fun. They will but we let them know they may experience some deep emotions. They might cry. We're not trying to make kids cry, but we hope that when kids show that emotion, that means their humanity is still intact. We all should be upset once we learn about people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin.
EmbraceRace: How old are these kids Ronda?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: First grade, starting with about six-year old’s. We have six to nine year old’s and then, nine to twelve. That's the age range, so about six to twelve years old total. But they are also very impressive and amazing and astute because racism doesn't make sense to them. They don't explain it the way adults do. Most kids don't. I will say, not all kids, all kids are not innocent and they're all not ready for that type of learning, but most kids are. They're like, "Who would do such a thing? You mean, I can't go to school with my friend who's White, or my friend who's Black, or my friend who's Brown?" We're like, "Yeah, those were laws that our country passed." That's how we also link in helping them understand structural racism.
We walk them through. Day one is identity and names, and learning the importance of names. Day two for the younger kids is learning about skin color. We use the book All the Skin Colors We Are, which is a ??? text, making them race conscious. By day three we're introducing the word racism in a book that explicitly has that as an example. By day four, we're talking about structural racism. We're talking about Black Lives Matter, we're talking about laws and policies, some that contribute to a healthy community and some that contribute to an unhealthy community. Days four and five, we also throw in activism because we got to show them the hope. We have to show them, you are an activist right now and there are young kids just like you who are standing up because they know this is wrong and they're using their voices. We try to end with, "You all are the future. You can do this work and there are kids just like you as role models and first graders and fourth graders who are doing this work." So that, helps a lot.
EmbraceRace: That's an amazing week.
How is it different foraging Black/Latinx solidarity among kids rather than adults, who are the ones that allow their kids to go to camp?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: You talked about curriculum Andrew. We are very intentional that all of our books center Black and Brown characters and Black and Brown authors, and those are called culturally authentic texts, when the race and ethnicity of the author aligns with the race and ethnicity of the characters. That's our priority. We do have some texts that are White authors writing about Black or Brown experiences. Those are minimal. We're working towards 100% culturally authentic, but we're very intentional about the books that we choose and we're very intentional about the imagery in the books that we choose. Because we know that imagery is communicating value, identity and self-esteem. There are some books that will be so powerful to engage in having these race-based conversations but the imagery doesn't work.
So, we are very intentional about finding Brown authors and some books that are dual lingo text, and some that center Brown experiences. For example, in the more recent books, I wish I had brought it out, that we have is, Undocumented. It's this accordion type book and it talks about Latinx workers being taken advantage of. It's written as a comic book almost, being taken advantage of with wage theft and being afraid to stand up because they're undocumented. It's told in a way that young kids can understand. It's relevant. Kids see themselves in it and for the kids who don't see themselves, they're learning and humanizing this immigrant experience of their camp mates and their classmates.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: I think that it is doable to work with the adults and children, bringing this Brown-Black solidarity. But I want to make emphasis that, one of the ideas is, to we stay away from that Black-Brown wars ideas that are in movies and social media and they exaggerate it. Even published scholars mention trying to divide our groups. And only having these discussions about Black-Latinos, and Latinos and Blacks against each other, that takes away the attention from challenging the systems that put these groups at a disadvantage from the White groups. We need to refocus on putting these groups together and seeing what's the problem? What is putting you at a disadvantage? All the systems, the schools, the judiciaries, health systems, and bringing them together. When we have done work with teachers, you can see the Latinx educators and the Whites and the Browns. Before there was a lot of the Black/White binary, but recently in the institute, there was a presentation about linguists and language and that's pertinent to Latinx people.
They were thinking about having groups that talk about colonization. And coloniality for those teachers to have their history break apart into the colonized minds. But, it's a different process than with kids because Latinx people have been consuming anti-Blackness propaganda for years and it's very ingrained in what the colonizers left for us, the caste system, with the integration of popular culture, all those racist jokes and images reproduced in our culture. From the Mexican telenovelas, when the Indigenous Brown people are the servants, from Hollywood movies where Black and Brown people like violence.
So, it takes a lot of time to make that mind shift and for kids, it's different because they haven't been exposed to all the anti-Blackness propaganda for many years. It's doable for both groups, but you can make all this knowledge accessible to them, but it requires a lot of work to adapt it for each group, for each context. We need to invest resources, time, energy and self-care to continue doing this. But this is how We Are is doing it now. We're focusing more on the needs of each group to help them to come to have these healthy racial identities. Children and adults.
EmbraceRace: I know We Are has institutes for teachers, you're training teachers and I think there's another one happening in November. You said it's harder with adults because they have these ingrained concepts.
Are you dealing with mostly White teachers, or are there the same issues of trying to bring in Latinx teachers into the anti-racist conversation?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: It's primarily White educators. One of the things that makes the outreach to the children different than outreach to adult educators is that there aren't that many Latinx teachers in Durham. I can't just say in Durham, I think there's a Latinx teacher shortage and I wish I knew the number but there's one Latinx teacher for maybe 120 Latinx students. These numbers do not fool me. There's something crazy with that. For every nine children, there's one White teacher. There's this huge discrepancy. It is primarily White, female educators, I will say, who attend. We do have a significant number of our Black educators who are attending our workshops, and we do have some Latinx teachers as well. There will always be like two or three, there's some out there, we want to bring more. If you are out there, we want to bring them.
EmbraceRace: I'm thinking about a few things. One is, pre-COVID you had a physical community, a literal community where people could gather and knot and I know that you've been attentive to the way people gather and how you can help build community in a physical place. Now, you have COVID. We know you're in transition and it's a process, you're working on it.
Let's say a year or two or whatever timeline is reasonable, what do you hope will happen that hasn't happened yet? Or, will happen more that hasn't happened enough?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: I'm hoping that we connect with additional Latinx led organizations and that we start working alongside each other. This is some work that Fabiola has already begun in the community. In that rather than trying to make and create this space, meet Latinx families where they are and then start building, co-programming together and go in deeper in our relationships, hosting specific events that intentionally want to build that solidarity.
There's a local organization in Durham called, Village of Wisdom that really centers on Black Genius and Black families. And then there's another organization called Mariposas, which is in a neighboring city, Chapel Hill and Fabiola can add on about that. But in these spaces where those particular communities are highlighted, how can we serve as a bridge in between them? That's something that we want to become a part of our work going forward, in addition to hiring Latinx people to work in our office. I will say, we are a small organization and we just hired our first full-time employee two months ago. So, we're young, right? But we have hopes and high expectations of our ourselves and Fabiola, if you wanted to add on.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: It's what we were talking about. We need to create safe spaces for these communities to work together, instead of creating something and inviting. If they're already existent and they feel confident within their own groups, invite the whole group to work with our group and see what comes out of that in a more organic way. Instead of creating a program and invite them and recruit them, but like, "Oh, they have a program. They're all Latinx, run by Latinx people. Let's invite them to our program. They're mostly Black, and run by mostly Black people and see how they can work together and create something.” Give them that space. Provide that space.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: They're in these already identity affirming spaces and now, we want to come bring in this anti-racism approach and lens there and serve as this space so that their identities are still affirmed and now we're trying learn how a lot of our goals are similar. We're all challenging this White supremacist system, and how can we do that together?
EmbraceRace: We look forward to keeping apprised of all of it, as you guys grow and meet these expectations of what you're aspiring to. I want to go to questions now, because we have so many great questions.
Yvette asks, “I would love to hear your thoughts on how racism among immigrant families of different races can be separated from the immigrant concept of assimilation? I find that assimilation into White dominant culture is so prevalent and so important that it exacerbates racism unconsciously. How can one safely avoid this?” There's the difference between assimilation into White supremacy I suppose, or trying to and bringing, if you've immigrated, ideas about who Black people are, who people of different Latinx nationalities are.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: We talked about this with Ronda, and I said, "Listen, we're already code switching to White all the time, and you're asking these Latinx people to go switch to Black now," to be in a different space, and it's tiring. It's like losing their identity and the assimilation piece is huge. I was talking to one of Mexican friends, and he goes to Mexico quite often and he said, "I just feel I'm in a theater all the time. I'm an actor here, acting all the time. And I need to go and take a break because the assimilation force is so strong. They want you to be somebody that you're not in order to feed and function in all the spaces." It's very difficult. It takes time to understand and to stay authentic is very important. It's fighting the system.
I can share about my own experience, when I was taking my first language class and I was a supporter of ideas of standard Spanish is the best Spanish for everybody to speak. We should use standard Spanish, and I wasn't paying attention to how the US uses Spanish as a weapon against Spanish people. Now after learning, I embrace translanguaging, using both languages, English and Spanish. I don't think that my English is affecting my Spanish, and my Spanish is affecting my English anymore. But that assimilation of, you need to speak only English and perfect English. If you're going to speak Spanish, you need to speak standard Spanish and that's more accepted because it's the one that’s taught at schools. All the assimilation ideas are very hard to fight. Again, it's also part of our cultures in our countries too. The Whiter you are, the better you speak. The more you try to be White in America, the more successful you'll be. In all that propaganda, it sells to us too.
Listen, we're already code switching to White all the time, and you're asking these Latinx people to go switch to Black now, to be in a different space, and it's tiring... All the assimilation ideas are very hard to fight.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos
You’ve both spoken to the diversity within these populations. Obviously, there's
not one Latinx community. There's not one Black community. Fabiola you
mentioned immigrants from Africa for example and from various countries in
Africa and of course this is true of Latinx folks.
Someone asks, “I'd love to explore a conversation about solidarity across a multitude of racial identities within the Latinx community.” So, this person is Mestiza Salvadoran who is White presenting, raising two White presenting children. She often hesitates to participate in spaces designed for “people of color,” a term we don't use back home in El Salvador. “And much of my own work and that with my young children is around understanding the intersection of our unearned light skin privilege and layering context of our Latinx culture.” Colorism is in these communities.
Can you say a little something about managing all the diversity within your communities?
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: It's bananas. It's very difficult. I have a presentation that I did for my school, for Latinx Hispanic moms one time presenting my family. I have people who have red hair, blue eyes who are my cousins. And I have some people who are Black and people who are Asian and we're all Costa Ricans. We are all Latinx. And, I have a kid who is Brown and I have a kid who looks White. This is very difficult, but still, I go back to what I've been learning with Ronda. You need to keep in mind the book endings of this mess. Ronda, do you want to talk about the book endings?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: We talk about the Black/White binary. It is a binary, and these are some of the books ends of the structures of racism, the laws and the policies, were very much Black and White. How do we get those book ends in place, to understand? This is language that we pull from the Racial Equity Institute, which is an organization in North Carolina, to help set the framework so that we can better understand all the dynamics that are happening between those book ends.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: I usually tell my Afro-Latino friends, or my White-Latino friends, how do you benefit from this? What is the benefit? And it's what Ronda said, it's to create healthy communities. We've had anti-Blackness, and we need to get to the bottom of this book ending which is, anti-Blackness within our own Latinx communities. Then everybody else in the middle, everybody else in between, all the colors and mixes, everybody benefits.
Again, the end goal is to dismantle this White supremacy system. That should be our goal, not deciding who has more benefit in between. Dismantle the White supremacy system, fight anti-Blackness and everybody will benefit.
EmbraceRace: We have a question about how to build this solidarity and what language to use with children? Do you specifically address the tensions between Latinx and Black folks that people have likely heard in their homes in talking to kids or through with books? If through books, are there specific books?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: We don't have one [book] specifically yet, and I think going back to Andrew's, what are your plans in the future? I think that will be there. For one, we have to partner with, again, these Brown led organizations, so that we can be in community with them. Once we create this space, that's where we can start to address, with more Brown kids present and with our Black student population, to have those spaces. Even within our camp, we do caucusing with young kids. Caucusing is ??? and it's necessary. We have explicit conversations to make sure that kids understand why we're doing this. We really have to do it with adults too and make sure they understand the difference between segregation and congregation. We very explicitly explain that.
We even have some young kids who can articulate, "I'm mixed race but I'm White passing" because some adults have already equipped them with that language to understand, and they understand how their presence in the children of color caucus, might not be healthy in that moment. That's such a mature thing. Of course, when you're able to articulate. Because a seven-year-old can do it, we should expect adults to do it, understand and process those conversations as well. We don't have a text that speaks to that and if there are authors out there who write children's books right now, that's something that we would want to do. We've even talked about, if we don't get the book out there, how can we create the video, the power point, the short, so we can still have some type of center piece text to engage kids in that work.
And I'll leave with, the work we're going to be building, where we hope we will be with Village of Wisdom and Mariposas to figure out, this is a space where we can start to grow that work. And, those stories might come out of the children and that's another thing. We are very responsive to the stories children bring up. We go back to the caucusing, we have a children of color caucus and a caucus for kids who identify as White. With mix raced children, we have a conversation with them away from the audience and explain what's happening and ask them, what would they like to do? Also, because mixed race children are the third largest demographic and many of them are struggling right now in trying to figure out how they identify. So, we're very thoughtful about allowing children to name how they see themselves and we don't get to name that for a child. They have to come into their own understanding, so we're very thoughtful about that.
But, in this people of color caucus, the kids start sharing their stories because they recognize when they've been harmed and now there's someone else who looks like them. Or, maybe a Brown person, or someone who's transracially adopted, or a mixed race person, and they've had similar experience. And now they say, "I'm not alone. It's not me. It's not that there's something wrong with me. We're a part of something that's larger that is happening here and it's not a deficit of me, my brothers, my mother, my family, or the language we speak, or the food that we eat because of our background." We know that caucusing for kids of color has been a healing and affirming space. We're trying to figure out, again, replicating that and creating that space, so we can hear the kid’s stories. Day three's the first time we bring in the caucus because that's the day we exclusively bring in race, for both camps.
The stories that the kids of color share, that they experience on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the classroom, we turn those into scenarios. By day four and five, when we caucus again, in the White children's caucus, where we have White coach facilitators in there, they use those scenarios with White children to talk about, how to be a by-stander. We're using the kids in that camps own stories, we turn them into scenarios and now have White children think about, when you see this happening, what could you say? How can you use these anti-racism concepts that we talked about this week, to be a by-stander and say something when they witness that happening. They're realistic because they're things that they may have, unfortunately perpetuated. We don't ask the kids to name them. We don’t say, "Do you see yourself in this scenario?" We haven't made them put themselves out there like that.
That might be something we do with the older kids though. And, to equip them with language, "Okay, what could you say if you witnessed this? Have you witnessed it before,” not have you done, but, “Have you witnessed it and what could we do differently if we see it again?"
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: This is where the camps do a beautiful job. It provides language. It gives the kids language and moments to practice, "What can I say and do if I'm in this situation?" That's why I'm looking forward to my son joining the camp because he has been in a situation where, "You're White, how can you speak Spanish?" And he's like, "I don't have an answer, because my mom talks to me in Spanish." All of these kids are questioning him. "Why does he speak Spanish? His dad is White." All of these conflicts. I can't be after him, preparing him for every situation, but this camp gave them a lot of language in the scenarios for them to be ready to defend themselves. Or, to say something, or to join, not be a by-stander and stand up. So that’s something very important.
EmbraceRace: Ronda, you mentioned early that, kids typically don't have the same kind of resistance. They see what they see. They are willing to talk about it, to be forthright about it. To name things that are wrong, to talk about what we can do differently, relative to adults. One of the things we've observed and been super interested in, especially after George Floyd was murdered and then there were protests and there were very multi-racial protests. You had a lot of college kids or young adults going home to their parents’ homes, for the first time maybe since high school and having conversations that were super interesting and sometimes difficult. Both sides surprising each other at times.
After the camp, do you hear from children who might be saying or anticipating going home saying, "How do I keep this going? What if my own parents are actually part of the problem? Or, have their own attitudes and biases that I now have language to identify why it’s problematic, why it's difficult. How do I advocate within my own family, maybe with my siblings?" What comes next for these kids?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: One of the things that we're developing into our programming is, having follow-up with the families afterwards. Twice in the fall and then once in the spring. This is something that we just got our feet wet with last year. We had a parent training in February, and we were ready to do something else in the Spring and then COVID hit and slowed that progress. Because we are a small organization and we'll be hiring someone to be our Children and Families Program Coordinator so that we are following up with them throughout the year. And, re-engaging that learning and then asking, "What have you done, how have you practiced or what have you noticed, since being in the camp?" It's not that they don't lose it, but we want them to continuously be going back to this intentional space with this intentional anti-racism, racial equity, social justice type of lens. That's what we're hoping for.
We haven't heard stories about needing to challenge family members from kids, but we have had a story about, one rising third grader, mixed race child, who's White passing, had to challenge a substitute teacher, whom she noticed was mistreating a Black boy in her class. We get a lot of follow-up emails, the parents who share. We invite them, we want them to share their stories with us. That was one of the stories, they already had been doing things in their home so, we're not going to say, "You send your kid to We Are camp, and they're going to come out an activist." I’m not making that promise. The family had already been doing some things, but the mom said, "I think the camp inspired her to speak up. I think it gave her the confidence to recognize that this substitute teacher, who identified as White, was mistreating this little Black boy." And so, the kid said something to the principal, a rising third grader.
EmbraceRace: That's lovely. Was it Diverse Book Finder that, they were looking for Krista Aronson was trying to do a study on books that had kids interacting, who were racially different and who were friends. Cross racial friendships. And, there were so few that they had to make up books, in order to do the study? And, that was 2015.
Yeah, it takes a while to publish books. I think Ronda, what you were saying about using scenarios because all of these kids have stories, is what we found to be so effective with our kids, with other kids. I wonder if tools like that, like being observant as a teacher and you know there's this dynamic going on and there's lots of evidence of it, so you can surface that and have the conversation.
How do we foster Black-Brown solidarity or Black/Latinx solidarity in the classroom? What would you tell teachers who want to build this solidarity?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: This is one unfortunate thing. A lot of teachers aren't paying attention, aren't noticing. When I'm thinking about teachers, I'm thinking about the majority of public-school educators in our country are overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly White and female. And by and large, White people don't think about race. In their minds, they've convinced themselves they're just teaching kids. And so, one of the things that I would tell educators is, we need to be paying attention to the racial dynamics in our classrooms because they are happening, whether we are seeing them or not, they are happening. Educators need to be trained to develop that racial equity lens so that they can see what they've been conditioned and taught to not see. To make visible what's invisible.
For educators, for one, I would say attend racial equity training so that now, you come in your classroom and you're paying attention to subtleties that you didn't even know were happening before. And then, figure out how you can intentionally have conversations, buying books that you can find and if not, use storytelling, use the kids’ experiences. “This is something that happened in our classroom, I want us to talk about it.” I think being brave to have those conversations, kids actually want them. We have to stop using our adult centric lens, and all those fears and anxieties. Kids actually really want to have these conversations. Be willing and open to create that space, so the kids can have it.
EmbraceRace: Yeah, I find that to be so true. We're almost at time, I wanted to close out by asking a paired question.
What are the big takeaways for people drawn to this topic? What do you want to underline for folks who maybe want to do similar work, analogous work in their own context, that you're learning, that you've learned along the way?
Is there anything that we haven't touched on that you think really needs to be said before we close out?
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Yes, like you said for kids books, I will warn you there are also a lot of Brown/Black solidarity books published that talks about Black and Brown solidarity. But they have this negative narrative about the groups fighting. I will warn people who are going to start buying books on Amazon about Black and Brown solidarity to be careful about the author, who wrote it and about the discourse of the failures of the Black-Brown solidarity. Instead of that, find the successes and the good stories. Stay away from that divisive discourse of Black and Brown. There is also so much published out there for adults. Something that I would recommend is to choose a definition of racism that unites groups and not divides these groups because there are definitions of racism that says one group can be racist against the other one. The one we use for We Are is perfect for maintaining that unity between the groups, who are not White. Ronda can talk more about the definition of racism that We Are uses.
Finally, engage in building solidarity and stay away from those divisive discourses because that will again, change your focus and what we're really trying to do here which is to dismantle the White systems instead of trying to fight among the groups.
Engage in building solidarity and stay away from those divisive discourses [of Black-Brown] because that will again, change your focus and what we're really trying to do here which is to dismantle the White systems instead of trying to fight among the groups.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos
EmbraceRace: Thank you, Fabiola. Ronda, what's your thinking?
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: Just some key takeaways, to echo what Fabiola said. This solidarity is important. We are fighting this common system and this common system of White supremacy. Often times, it pits us against each other from meager resources and that is not healthy. What we need to do to create a healthy community that often are co-existing is dismantle those structures that lift up Whiteness and then oppress everything else. Black and Brown and marginalized and LGBTQ, and all of the other 'isms that are oppressed and we have to keep our eyes focused. We're more likely to accomplish more when we're doing this alongside each other and not allowing things to be divisive.
Another key takeaway with children is that children are making sense of race and racism at very early ages. They are not color blind. They are not either. If we don't start thinking about being intentional about developing healthy racial identities with our children, there are going to be other forces that are communicating these negative harmful messages about themselves and about others. And, they're not going to be prepared to keep their humanity and their dignity in check. So, we have to take ownership as educators, as parents, as community members, of doing the hard work on their behalf and on behalf of the communities that we want to live in.
EmbraceRace: Absolutely. Ronda if you could, because Fabiola mentioned it, the definition of racism that's uniting and not dividing.
Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock: One of the ways that we do and explain it to young children when the false words and actions are used to treat people unfairly based on skin color. Now, that is what we use for kids. Our definition for adults is much more complex than that one, but we like to use the language of treating people unfairly, based on skin color. We also incorporate race, religion, and language too in that definition because kids understand healthy and unhealthy, and they understand fair and unfair. So, we try to make it very accessible for them.
EmbraceRace: Thank you so much, both of you. You are definitely doing the hard work. Thank you. We look forward to keeping in touch with all of it. You're doing great work. Thanks for joining us tonight and we'll share all that they've shared in the recording tomorrow as well. Thank you so much to our interpreters and to the other folks. There is far more going on to make this work than the two of us, or the four of us.
Dr. Fabiola Salas Villalobos: Muchas gracias.
EmbraceRace: Take care all, bye.
- Children's Books We Use to Teach Young Kids to be Anti-Racist (PK-5th) by Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock, we are
- Anti-racists books to use with 6th to 12th graders by Dr. Ronda Taylor Bullock, we are
- Black-Brown Solidarity: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South by John D. Marquez