Unpacking Our Own Racial Socialization
As adults in the lives of children, we play vital roles in shaping how and what they learn about race. Whether we identify as White or BIPOC people, an important starting point is to look honestly at how we, ourselves, were socialized around race as children.
What did we learn about being "White," "Asian American," "Latino," "Mixed-race," and other identities - whether as personal identity or other-identity? At home or school, how did we learn to account for racial segregation and racial inequality? What did we learn about race that we then had to try to unlearn? What remains to be unlearned?
These are weighty issues. We're be joined by three people, with different racial identities and socialization histories, who will reflect on the race work they've done and what they've learned. And, as always, we take your questions and comments.
EmbraceRace: Hello everyone. Tonight's session is called Looking Back To Move Forward: Unpacking Our Own Racial Socialization. And when we first started EmbraceRace, it was really because, in interacting with our own kids and other adults and their kids (the kids of the world), we really started to think anew about our own racial socialization and how it's different from that that our kids are experiencing because they're different people, they're growing up in different places than we did, their family is different, all of it. Their temperaments are different, they racially identify differently than either of us do in this case.
And so it's really important to separate those things to be able to parent the children in your life, instead of parenting yourself. You can parent yourself too, but separate that from parenting the children in your life. So that's what we're talking about tonight, about really looking at our own racial socializations. As Beverly Daniel Tatum says, there's a lot of toxicity in our communities and culture around race, and we're definitely taking it in. And how are we protecting ourselves? How are we unpacking it? How are we preventing it from changing our behavior or treating people differently or behaving in ways that support racism and aren't anti-racist? And we can't do that work without unpacking it.
We're excited to have three guests tonight who have had different experiences, of course, are also coming at this from three different racial identities and have thought a lot about unpacking their identities in their work as teachers, as parents, and how to do that.
EmbraceRace: Our first guest is Keeley Bibins, is a passionate advocate for children. She is currently an Educational Facilitator for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute where she provides on-site support, professional development and coaching, to elementary school leaders and teachers, Pre-K through third grade. Keeley is the proud mother of three young Black men aged 20 and seven, the seven year old's are biracial twins. Welcome Keeley, good to see you again.
Darcy Heath (she/her) is a white, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual woman. Darcy is passionate about equity, early childhood education, and early literacy. She currently designs and facilitates professional learning and provides consultation to various early childhood organizations within her home state, Arizona, and across the nation. Darcy considers her greatest achievement to be her role as a mother and grandmother.
And Elaine Mollindo, she/her, is a cisgender female with an Indigenous mixed identity of Chemehuevi and Chicanx. Elaine is passionate about equity, wellness, and early childhood education. She currently designs and facilitates professional learning experiences for various early childhood organizations on the land now known as Arizona. She is the proud mother of a 28-year-old, intelligent, empowered, equity advocate. Congratulations on that, Elaine, and welcome to all of you. Great to have you all here.
And I'm going to start with the first question, which is actually a little bit of a variant on what we usually ask.
For each of you, if you could tell us about an early memory where you recognized yourself as a racialized or ethnicized person, whatever that identity is for you. What happened?
What did that mean for you? Again, it doesn't need to be the first memory, but just an early memory. Elaine, we're going to start with you.
Elaine Mollindo: Thank you. Let me just preface this by saying I'm a very emotional person so if I get teary, please forgive. I also just put on eyelashes, so if one falls down with my tears, just ignore it. So just one of my earliest memories in general would probably be around kindergarten. And I learned very early on about blood quantum. And for those of you that don't know about blood quantum or what it is, it's your fraction. It's the measurement by which the federal government established how much Indian blood that one had. As you mentioned, I identify as a mixed race person. I am Chicanx or Chicana, and Chemehuevi Indian. And so with this fraction, it can decide whether or not you become a citizen of your tribe.
And so my blood quantum is such that I am recognized by my tribe as a descendant, but I'm not registered as a citizen, but that still leaves me with access to all of my medical resources. And so when I was little and I would get sick, I would go to what we call Fort Yuma. It's our Indian hospital, is what we called it. And so what I learned from my parents was that I was a mixed person and that I was Indian and I was Mexican, but that I did not need to be Indian unless I was sick. And it was better to identify as Mexican, but not be too Mexican. And I'll come back to that.
And so when I was sick, I would go to Fort Yuma and it was a clinical type hospital, very old, very, very old. And I remember the smell of it, it smelling old. I remember that the people that were waiting in the lobby were very sick. Some of them had amputations due to diabetes and chronic illness, and they all looked very unhappy. It was a scary situation for me. And so I learned that I did not want to be Indian. I didn't want that part of me because it was a scary part of me. And to be Mexican, like I mentioned, was okay, but not to be too Mexican. We were from Yuma, which is on the border of Mexico and the United States.
And so my parents taught me, I think implicitly, I don't remember them coming out and saying it, that it was okay to be proud of my culture, but that I needed to act more American to do better in life. So not to speak with an accent, not to dress in a way that was too culturally obvious, and not to listen to Mexican music, listen to American music. And so that was really confusing for me. So I kind of, I knew that I should just be American, and they implicitly made it known what that was. And it was just to basically, for lack of a better thing, to act White. And so that was at about five years old.
EmbraceRace: Elaine, just one quick follow up there. You said that you were not to be Native American except in the context of being sick and going to this hospital. Do you remember if that was a passively conveyed message?
Your Indigenous identity, your tribal identity wasn't brought up except in the context of being sick and going to the hospital? Or was it also said in a more affirmative way that somehow that was not a good identity to assume, except in that one context?
Elaine Mollindo: Thank you for the question. It was not obvious, it was implicit. It was through my family's behavior. I think that the only two ways that I saw Native American people was the televised media, the Natives with feathers and on the war path and things on TV. And so I didn't really know where these other Natives that I would be exposed to when I was sick were coming from. Because from what I thought, were just really kind of an extinct people, because we didn't talk about them very much. I didn't know other Native children because we have reservations around the town I grew up in, and so they went to school on their reservation and I went to a Catholic private school. And so I was not exposed to other children like me.
EmbraceRace: Thank you, Elaine. Keeley, let's come to you.
Keeley Bibins: Thank you. I'm glad to be here, once again. Thinking back, one of the first things I remember is... I love sometimes how children are so literal, and I remember believing... I had two aunts, Mom, Barb, and Mary, who were White. And I was a child who just thought my grandmother could just give birth to an array of color of children and did not understand until I heard them to be referred as White. And so my asking, like, "Why are you calling them White?" I didn't understand what that meant. And so then it was brought to my understanding that my aunts were not my grandmother's birth children, that they were actually married to my uncles.
And so whenever I would see my aunt and uncles, they would all just come over to my grandmother's house, right? And we would just sit down and eat. It wasn't until I overheard this conversation and then able to go into my aunt and uncle's home to really understand that, oh, no, they're a married couple and that she was brought into the family and that's why my cousins had lighter skin than I. So in my mind it was kind of like this divide, right? So I started asking more questions because my cousins were light-skinned. So I'm thinking, "Well, are you White?" Asking those kinds of questions. But I want to say I was about five. Five or six years old when that came about.
EmbraceRace: Thank you, Keely. And Darcy, how about you?
Darcy Heath: Hi. I'm so glad to be here with you both, Andrew and Melissa, as always. So I am going to practice a little vulnerability here and tell the truth, which is I don't have an early memory of my race, of acknowledging my race or understanding my race. It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I really first thought about what it meant to be White and how that had impacted my experiences in the world, how that impacted my lens. What I do remember, my earliest memory of race in and of itself, is that it was something that others had and that it wasn't necessarily a positive thing.
I grew up in a small town in Idaho that is not diverse at all. It is very, very White. I was in elementary school when my stepsister started dating a Black man. My first realization that there were people with different skin colors, with different races, came from the not positive, very negative reaction of my father. So I listened to Elaine and Keeley's story and how early they recognized their own race. And yeah, my realization of my race and how that showed up and how it impacted my world didn't come until I was in my late thirties and with intentionality of thinking about it.
EmbraceRace: Let me ask just one quick up. So Elaine, clearly you have these two parts of your racial ethnic identity, and both of them, in different ways and to different degrees, it was clear that you weren't to embrace those. To Darcy, you just said that you weren't aware of having a racial identity until well into your adulthood, but that other people were raced and that wasn't a good thing.
Keeley, can you say a little bit more about your own orientation toward your racial identity once you understood that you had one?
Keeley Bibins: I love that when the people in the chat said it was magical. Right? And I love the way that we kids have that magical thinking. Unfortunately, I can't say that it stayed magical very long after that. So even though I started to notice, I didn't feel like I could go ask questions, right? I didn't know who to ask questions because these were my aunts who told me that I was beautiful and I was strong and those types of things. But shortly after that, I started to learn about groups and hear on the news about grou`ps like the Hells Angels and the Ku Klux Klan who didn't like me because of my skin color and for no other reason but that.
Actually, before I even understood how to ask questions and know what's happening, I had an element of fear and I was afraid to be my color. I was afraid to even be around my aunts that I love so much, because wondering, without someone processing me through, I'm wondering, do you hate me too? Because the people who don't like me because of my skin look like you. It caused a big element of confusion in me as a kid, and then some other things kind of snowballed to kind of make that happen. Even having conversations in my home. From last week, we talked about racial socialization. My way of growing up was this element of mistrust. Right?
We used to hear things in my home saying, "Don't tell what goes on in this house. If you go and say certain things, they'll come get you from the house," and raised in fear of White people and those who didn't like me just because of my skin color. I was afraid. I was fearful. And then when I had to start school... So now that I'm thinking about that memory of my grandparents, it had to be much earlier because when I started school, I started school afraid because my teacher was White. Right. And scared of, do you hate me because of what I look like? Do you want to hurt me? But at the same time, I got to be very careful what to say, how to say it. Are you going to take me away from my family? So identifying that I think caused a lot of confusion and stress for me as a kid.
And I didn't feel like I could go to my mom and be like, "Why?" Or, "What?" It was, "You just be careful." And I remember being like, "You have to be able to tell me exactly what happened at school. How did that teacher say that? What does she mean by that?" Being a little kid, having to be a reporter when I came home. Yeah, that was kind of how I got introduced to who I was and race and how I fit, and was I bad? Why do they not like me? What did I do? And of course you hear those things like, "Black is bad." Those kinds of patterns that you hear. Yeah. I just remember being very, very confused growing up.
EmbraceRace: And it's just so fascinating how even when parents are talking about it, it depends on how they're talking about it, right? Whether or not kids will feel comfortable asking questions and telling how they feel or what their observations about race are. Right? Kids learn to shut up. They really talk about almost everything else, but when it comes to race, [kids want to] lessen the discomfort and stress that it probably caused your mom when she's asking those questions. It was pretty clear to you.
Keeley Bibins: Yeah. And one of the elements too growing up was a child was to be seen and not heard. Right? So even though I had all this in my head, and then they would have conversations. The child is not to be in a grown person's conversation. Right? Those type of things that were traditionally passed down to my family. I didn't have anyone to ask.
EmbraceRace: Yeah. I know that feeling as well. I want us to go back to start with Darcy. You talked about not learning until quite later, not thinking until quite late about your own White identity. Maybe thinking about other people having race.
Darcy, what did you have to ultimately unlearn? When did the unlearning start and what did you had to wrestle with to unlearn that stuff?
Darcy Heath: There's so many. I could sit here for the next three hours and talk about all of the things that I am still in the process of unlearning. But a lot of the things boil down to one general theme and that is there is no one right way. There isn't a binary of right and wrong, good and bad. So I had to learn that my experiences, my perspective, the way the world interacted with me, the way I interacted with the world, was one perspective and one experience. And other people's experiences are different and just as valid as mine. So just because it didn't happen to me or that's not how I experienced things doesn't mean it's not true.
The other really big piece of that with the binary is the idea that you're either racist or you're a good person. And if you're a good person, you can't possibly be racist. But the reality is we swim in waters of bias and stereotypes and generalizations. They come at us from the media, from books. It's all over. So of course, I have internalized implicit biases, which means I sometimes do things that are racist. I have behaviors and things I'm working on. I'm a work in progress, but I have had to learn to separate myself from the behaviors. I can make mistakes and I can still be a good person. My job is to continue to make less mistakes and do less harm, but having those biases doesn't make me a bad person. Separating that has been one of my biggest lessons.
EmbraceRace: Absolutely. We're all struggling with it. We're all swimming in it. Right? So we have to actually do the work to pick ourselves back up and keep doing it. Those are really powerful stories about those early lessons about race.
Keely, I'm wondering, here you are now, and there's a lifetime of learning and unlearning. What did you have to unlearn?
Keeley Bibins: You're asking me how I moved from being that child that had that confusion to unlearning and getting where I am now. There was a lot of unlearning, but I will say that there are two, three, actually pivotal experiences that helped me turn, I will say. The first was when I first had those aunts and find out, and I was confused, there was a separation because I really wasn't engaging with those aunts, but there was a time that we were able to connect, but I didn't get close to those aunts. I got close to the children, the biracial children.
And we were in teenage years. Well, about 12. And I started to hear their story too. Like, how does it feel to be in the middle? Right? And not feel like they're accepted on fully White or fully Black and being in the middle and hearing them say how they will go to their grandparent's house and not allowed to go inside. Right? And those types of experiences where it's like I can relate to them, but even though I'm different and I look different from them, we had similar confusions and things like that. And really leaning and asking them kind of brought me back to my aunts a little bit, but it also gave me the bonus to ask questions. Like, I need to understand what's going on.
I will say that another situation that happened, I had a teacher who basically had a classroom where everybody felt a part of this classroom, no matter what you brought to the table. And no matter how you showed up, he made you belong in this classroom. The other thing was a young boy, when I became a teacher, and I'll never forget this young man's name, I am blessed to be able to still see him, but because I was becoming a teacher, I was a teacher and I thought it was very important for me to be a teacher in the neighborhood in which I was living in. Because I wanted kids that look like me to say, "No matter what you've been through, you can make it, you can get a college degree." And I thought it was really important.
But the thing was, I taught in an area where I was very, very familiar. It was a majority of Black and Brown students, really majority of Black students. So the things that I did in the classroom, I was comfortable with because I understood the culture. But there was one young man who was a Hispanic little boy who came into my classroom. He was newly from two to three. And I had my classroom set up in a way that my kids were functioning. My kids were able to be independent. And this young man, we did family style meals. We were sitting at the table and he just sat there. He would not eat. So I'm like, "Come on." I'm clapping him up. "I'm going to help you. You're going to feed yourself. You're going to do this." And he gave me this look like he was afraid of me and that I was the meanest person in the world.
But I'm like, "That's just right now." The next day, "Class come over, we're going to clap him up. He's going to do it. He's going to do it." And he still... The look was just like, why are you doing this to me? He never spoke. He's just, why are you doing this to me? The third day, I was kind of like, "Okay, look, now we're going to get this done." And finally a coworker, and I'm glad that I was open enough to let this person speak to me, she said, "Keeley, you understand that in his culture, he's never done this before." Right? "In his culture, his family still feeds him. So you're probably asking him to do something he's never done." And then it kind of resonated with me like, that's why he's looking at me like that. He's looking at me like I'm a monster that's making him do something.
At that point, because I wanted to be very similar to that teacher who gave me that experience where everybody belongs in this classroom regardless of race or however you show up, I felt it was important for me to learn how to make him feel like he was a part of this classroom. So then I was aware, like what Darcy was saying, that implicit bias, I have some. Even though I tried really, really hard to learn. And I think it really stemmed because I did have those aunts that when I first started and being a kid that I kind of saw that we all bring something to the table. So I kind of looked at that as, I have to learn how to let him show up in this classroom and other children that are like him to show up in this classroom and not feel uncomfortable. So I had to open myself to really realize I had an implicit bias, one. I had to change the way I was teaching, because who's to say that the way I was teaching was the right way. There's so many ways.
And even his culture said, "We feed our kids up until this point." Who's to say that they're not right? Right? It's obviously working for them. We have very successful people from all cultures. So I had to unlearn and identify that there are some things that I was perpetuating and making people feel like I did when I was a kid just being in the classroom, not allowing them to show up, making me feel like I'm a monster and I'm going to change you and make you to be out what I want you to be. So that was where it was a real big catalyst for me to say, "I have to change."
I actually opened myself up to learn and really wanted to be around different people. So like Elaine, when you were telling me the other day about your story, I was just like, "Tell me more. Tell me more about this experience." There's things that I've never been able to walk through. I've been walking through the steps of a Black woman, a Black child, a Black girl. I've never been anything but that. So I understand those experiences, but to know Darcy's story, I don't know, I've never been a White woman. I've never been a White woman who's never talked about race. So whatever I learned from that or women like her, all I can do is put it based on my understanding. And it takes someone else to say, "Oh no, Keeley, you got that wrong." Then I'm going to switch it, which is what implicit bias is. So still learning, still addressing those things.
EmbraceRace: Elaine, what you were taught as a young girl does not seem to be certainly what you feel now. How were you were to reorient yourself towards your Chemehuevi identity?
Elaine Mollindo: Okay. This might be one of those points where the eyelashes come down with the tears. I guess that question is much like what Keeley and Darcy spoke about in unpacking their own stuff. That phrase really sticks with me because I think, wow, unpacking. Well, who packaged me? When did I get put into this box? And I think that I didn't start to unpack it until after college. I very much wanted to be White. I joined a sorority in college where I was only one of two people of color. I hoped people wouldn't notice that I was Brown as long as I acted the right way. I would meet boys and tell them I was Hawaiian just because I thought it sounded more exotic and that I didn't have to explain who I was.
And so often through my life, people ask me, "What are you?" They will interrupt conversations to just stop and ask. That's just so curious to me because I wonder, "Why are you asking me this?" I spoke with my friends quite a bit, with Darcy and people close to me, about what that is. And I don't know if it's, one, because they want to know what biases should I pull out of my toolbox to use when I'm having this conversation with you? Or, is it okay, now that I know what you are, now I can know to refrain from something that might be offensive to you?
In my adult life, I've been working through all that. And I realized that the box that I'm unpacking was created by the system, by colonial systems and dominant culture. Blood quantum, the point of it was to basically just wipe us out. It was the design to hopefully, we would one day breed ourselves out of the rights to our lands, to our tribal identities. Once I understood that, I knew that it was really important for me to identify with the side of me so that I could keep Indigenous people alive. Excuse me, eyelashes. I think that that's the thing is that I've struggled with the "What are you?" And then I'm explaining to people, "Well, I'm Chicana, but I'm also Chemehuevi, but I'm not enough Chemehuevi to really be..." And why am I explaining that to people? Why do I need to explain it?
Because it's the government's design that says what my Indian blood is. In ancient cultures, in my own tribe, we didn't operate that way. In fact, the Chemehuevi people believe that to really make us a sturdy people that we should marry at least six generations outside of our community, because then that would prevent incest. They would meet neighboring tribes and they would hope that you would marry with a neighboring person. We mixed back then, and we got along in harmony. In fact, I learned Chemehuevi means mixes with all. It basically means gets along with everyone. So the only time that we ever went to war was when the government came and put us at odds with the Mojave tribe.
So I think that that is recognizing that this isn't my stuff. This is White supremacy that is hoping that this will happen because then it will just go away and it won't be a problem anymore, and I'm not willing to do that. So I have worked really hard to learn about my tribe and I've chosen to identify more... I love my Mexican heritage too, but I have chosen to learn how to bead, to learn about Chemehuevi prayer, to learn about our plant medicine because I know that is the side of me that's in jeopardy of being completely wiped out and I'm not willing to take that.
Keeley and Darcy spoke about "unpacking their own stuff." That phrase really sticks with me because I think, wow, unpacking. Well, who packaged me? When did I get put into this box?... I realized that the box that I'm unpacking was created by the system, by colonial systems and dominant culture.
EmbraceRace: This is not easy to talk about, deeply personal, personally challenging for you, no doubt. Thank you. Really appreciate your willingness to share all this.
I just want to note that very often people think of race relations with being between White people and people who identify otherwise, people of color. And of course, it's multilateral, not bilateral. It's about people who identify as Black, as White, as Asian-American, as Latinx, Multi-racial, et cetera. And all of those categories are obviously themselves really diverse. As people of color, certainly who identify as such, we learn about other people of color. Both members of our own group and other groups, and that's a whole other thing that if we had more time, I'd push on.
The premise of this whole conversation is, as adults, we need to do our own work on our own racial identity on what we learned, what we need to unlearn and what to replace it with. Right? What's the affirmative belief and feeling that we want to replace what is often difficult, harmful beliefs that we came up with? We think we need to do that in part, certainly in an EmbraceRace context, because as adults in the lives of children, that's important for us to do good work, healthy racial socialization with our children. Sometimes though we don't explain why.
What's the connection between doing your own work on race and doing work with the children in our lives on race? Keeley, I'll start with you.
Keeley Bibins: Yeah, thanks. I do want to iterate that, but I kind of think of it even going in as a teacher. What made me think of that is I know how it felt being that kid and having that confusion. I think that was the most important thing for me is that confusion that I had and not having anyone to ask, not even knowing how to talk to, not knowing how to show up, not knowing those types of things. When I try to create an environment for kids to learn, it was try to, one, show up who you are. So I always wanted to start with "All about me. Who are you? How do you show up into this classroom? What makes you unique?" And not to even rule out the color of your skin. The color of your skin makes you who you are. So intentionally creating opportunities.
But I understand that from where I was, I had to think of kids... And this is a visual someone gave me that I was moved by when I think about being an educator, is kids are like wet cement. Kids that are learning from you, and you have to decide what mark you're going to leave. Whether you're going to stump in them, or if you're going to leave a heart in them. So in order for me to know who I am and the confusion that I had and who I was, and how to be proud of who I was, in order to leave that heart, I had to make sure that I was not putting my own thoughts and agenda on people, on their families, because then I'm no different than those who made me feel that way.
Even when I thought about that young man who was scared of me. I don't want anyone to be afraid of me the way I was afraid as a kid. Kids are to be seen and not heard. I had to unlearn that. Not to lean into kids' curiosity. I had to unlearn that. And even when the questions are hard. Even when the questions are like, "Ooh, you want to talk about that right now, huh?" Right? Because that's how they're going to keep from being confused and know how to show up. And if they know how to show up and we can create them to be brave, to stand up and advocate for themselves, if we can teach them how to know that it's okay the way I show up, I show up as unique. "I'm needed for this puzzle, I'm needed for your culture, for the culture of this classroom. What I have to say is important."
Then we build that confidence for them to stand up for somebody else, which I think is the goal of what we're trying to do here. So I think that the goal is bigger than my process, right? So I have to make that goal of creating color brave children that can stand up for themselves and stand up for others bigger than the process. Because change is hard. Growing is uncomfortable. I don't know about you guys, but for me it's really uncomfortable. So I will be willing to go through that process of hard and uncomfortable and being challenged in order to make this goal happen. I think that's one of the biggest things. Because it is hard.
There are times even in a meeting today where I had to say, "You know what, I need a minute." And I had to turn off because I was feeling some kind of way, but I knew it was important for me to process whatever I'm feeling and come back to the conversation because that's exactly what I am going to have the model for our kids to do and my children to do, and my children's children and my children's friends.
Kids are like wet cement. Kids that are learning from you, and you have to decide what mark you're going to leave. Whether you're going to stump in them, or if you're going to leave a heart in them... So in order for me to leave that heart, I had to make sure that I was not putting my own thoughts and agenda on people, on their families, because then I'm no different than those who made me feel that way.
EmbraceRace: Darcy, do you want to say something brief about the connection between unpacking our own stuff and being affirming to kids?
Darcy Heath: Absolutely. I think that it has to start with us. If we haven't unpacked our own racial identity, if we are not aware of our own implicit biases, if we haven't paid attention to what we have been socialized to believe in our hearts. Even though in our minds, we don't believe it, "Our hearts and bodies are what's our default," Vernā Myers says. And if we have not done that work for ourselves, we can't show up for the young children in our lives. We cannot support them to develop strong, positive sense of their own self identity if we don't have a positive sense of our own self identity. We can't help them show up and build relationships across racial lines if we continue to hold on to a colorblind ideology and say we don't see color. We have to see color because it's a huge part of people's identities. So all of that work, that learning and unlearning that we have to do ourselves, we have to do it before we can show up for our kids.
We cannot support kids to develop strong, positive sense of their own self identity if we don't have a positive sense of our own self identity. We can't help them show up and build relationships across racial lines if we continue to hold on to a colorblind ideology... That learning and unlearning that we have to do ourselves, we have to do it before we can show up for our kids.
EmbraceRace: I'm really struck by just thinking of, Elaine, your story about wanting to sort of deny the Native in you and then coming back around to really celebrating and even emphasizing in order to make sure you stay around and to make sure that what the system wanted isn't happening, that your tribe is not being extinguished. You're here. We're here, right? I mean, just the connection to kids is pretty... to being able to value that kid in your classroom who has a similar story seems like your work probably led you there. You can let us know if it did, but I also want to know before we open up to questions.
Elaine, in terms of doing this self work, what specific guidance would you give people who are on this journey or need to be convinced that it's an important journey to start on?
Elaine Mollindo: Yeah, for sure. A couple of things that I guess I can just share what I've been doing and maybe it will resonate with others. I got onto ancestry.com. I started with my free trial and then I couldn't resist the membership because it's just so amazing. You see photos of your ancestors and have conversations with the family members and the elders that are still around. You want to have those stories and do your research. I was fortunate enough to find a book called The Chemehuevi Song, that basically I'm able to start to really understand my tribe better than the narrative that I had, which was very skewed because it was coming from little pieces of the internet and things that my family had kind of gathered. Now that I'm able to look at actual literature, which is providing me more resources, I'm on this magical journey.
Find something that really aligns with who it is that you want to be, and just do it. I really was worried about beading because I didn't for a while think that I was Native enough to be able to create art like that. In fact, the Indian Arts Act prevents you from even saying that your art is from a Native American unless you have a tribal ID number. And again, it's the system. So then I was finally like, "You know what? I'm not going to answer to the government or the system anymore. I'm going to create my art. I'm going to call it Indigenous beadwork from an Indigenous artist. And I'm just going to be okay with it."
I think that that's it. Just figure out who you are and try to let go of what society has told you that you need to be, and unpack it as soon as you can. I mean, a really short tie back into that question, when we're working with kiddos. We're trying to teach them to be more palatable or to pick a race and then be that so that I don't have to work as hard as an adult, that is not what we're here for.
EmbraceRace: Thank you, Elaine. That's beautiful. Yeah. If we could spare our kids some of this unlearning, that would be a win.
Young children in particular tend to think of us, their parents, or their teachers, as finished products. We have the answers, we've been there, done that, we're good. And in light of some of what you've said already, it seems to me that actually one of the reasons it's so important to show our children that we are also human beings in process, is that that modeling is one of the most powerful things we can do. It's like, "Oh, look, I'm not done. I'm in my 30s, 40s, 50s, older, I'm not done. I'm still trying to do this work. It's that important."
How do we help children understand that the adults in their lives, including their parents, are not finished products? We have someone who says, "I'm struggling with my eight year old thinking that I have the answers to all his questions. How do we help our kids understand that adults can still be in process in their learning and growing around race issues?"
Keely, do you want to answer? I'm thinking maybe especially about your seven year old twins.
Keeley Bibins: Right. That's why I said this question kind of hits home because the last time we had a conversation, that I have my 20 year old and my two 7 year old's, who were racially socialized two different ways. And so one thing about with my children is I had to let them not only just about race, but start letting them start seeing me, let them see me have emotion. Let me see me process through a problem. Let them see me know that I'm frustrated about something and what to do with that and start processing that.
And sometimes I started to even ask, even though kids come to us and expect us to like, "Mom, my balloon popped. Can you fix it?" I wish I could. They have that love for us, but they need to understand that I don't know all the answers. And what I'll do is I say, "You know what? Let's look it up. Let's Google it and let us walk through that process." Or even ask questions like, "I'm not sure. This is where I'm thinking, what about what you're thinking?" And inviting them into that conversation just to let them know I don't know everything.
And then, and so ever since I've had that last conversation, I had a conversation with my older son about the different ways that we've talked about it. And we've been able to sit down and discuss, "I don't know. I know this makes me feel some kind of way." And then I've even learned, "We were going to put a pin in this and come back to it because I see that our emotions are high or we're just not getting anywhere. Just put a pin in it and come back to it and make sure we make a point to come back to the conversation." But they've got to be a part of the process. Not only about just race conversations, but every day, how to process through problems, how to process through emotions, how to process through all of those things, and race just happens to definitely be a topic.
EmbraceRace: Keeley, you spoke about, and Elaine, you did too, about feeling uncomfortable or less than in institutional settings. Were there any teachers that did something to make you, or the whole class, feel truly a part of the classroom? Were there moments when that wasn't true? Or what do you wish they had done?
Keeley Bibins: I can say I've had both. I've had both. I told you about Mr. K, who was my sixth grade teacher. And what he did is he intentionally learned about each one of his students and made phone calls home, and asked ... Well, I found out later. I didn't find out this from the beginning, but he found out about our stories. And so what he knew is I was in a foster home, but he didn't make it apparent in the classroom for everybody to know. What he had was this table and he had a pillow underneath it. And he had Jeff the bird. And what I noticed is when I noticed every day that around the same time is if you get caught in the act of being "good," you get Jeff the bird and you can go into this bird's nest.
And so everyday at the same time I had the bird. And I noticed it. And then my friend Robert had it the same time every day too. But everybody else was random. And so there was a time where, long story short, I was going to be removed from the school. And he came and pulled me to the side. He says, "You are not your situation. I just want to let you know, your life is based on the decisions of other adults. But pretty soon it's going to be your turn." And what he told me, he said, "I know that you don't sleep at night because your situation, so that's why you get it [Jeff] every morning. So what he did is he created an environment where everybody could be successful, but still said, "You're a part of this community."
The other situation is I was in college and I was in an English class and we were talking about the Harlem Renaissance. And this teacher asked me, she said, "Well, Black people have changed what they wanted to be called and go by. There was a time when it was "colored" and "Negro" and she went through this whole sequential lineup. And so she turns to me and she says, "Keeley, what do you people want to be called now?" I was like, "What? Did that just happen? That didn't just happen. Did that just happen?"
And I was younger and I wasn't as poised as I am today. So my answer, I don't think I should repeat online. But it was to the gist of, "It depends on the conversation. I can't speak for a whole race of people. I'm just one person. But me personally, it depends on how the conversation is moving." But I didn't say it so nice and eloquently as I just said it now.
EmbraceRace: That was very nice.
Keeley Bibins: Yes. It wasn't so sweet. I have grown, I have grown.
EmbraceRace: Elaine, did you have something to add to that?
Elaine Mollindo: Unfortunately, I don't have a good account of a positive experience with a teacher. I went to Catholic private school. So we were all sinners. I guess that kind of leveled the playing field. But it was an environment based on fear, fear of going to hell, things like that. I remember just being a very fearful child, like Keeley mentioned, but more for supernatural reasons. One thing that I did learn from them though, is that because we were on the border, we were able to ... Children from Mexico that could afford to attend our school would get bused. They would get picked up from the border and they would cross over and they would go to school and they would go back. So what I learned was I was better than those children. The teachers really, again, implicitly, or just without saying it, made that known, was that because I was American. So there, I felt like that reinforced my ideas. So I guess I could just share what not to do.
EmbraceRace: We just talked about how modeling for your children could be so powerful. And it seems to me that one of the most powerful ways of modeling is to actually do the work with your child. Presumably that looks a little bit different for each of you, especially if they're a young child. But I'm thinking, Darcy, of your young adult children and very young grandchildren. Elaine, you also have a young son.
Do you have any specific examples of how you may have worked through you modeled this work with your children? Are there specific ways that you could suggest? "This is how I've actually worked with, not simply teaching my sons or grandchildren, but actually do my own work alongside them?
Darcy Heath: Thank you for that. Actually, that's been one of the things that I am most proud of, and that is as I was learning ... First of all, my sons, my three adult sons are all much farther along on their journeys than I am. But as I was learning and as I was doing my work, that was our dinnertime conversation. We would sit around the dinner table and we would talk about microaggressions, and we would talk about red lining, and we would talk about the Race Massacre in Tulsa. We would talk about it very openly. We would unpack our own stereotypes and biases that we had.
We just got back from vacation in Colorado with my whole family, for the first time since COVID started, and our conversations were all about equity, not only racial equity, but gender equity and talking about making it a normal topic of conversation. Growing up, you didn't talk about race. You didn't talk about ability differences. If somebody was LGBTQ, you didn't talk about that. We never talked about anything that was different. So my advice is make it commonplace. Make it a part of ongoing conversations with your children. Bring it up with them.
EmbraceRace: Darcy, I just want to thank you so much. Not only for that general advice, but I especially love where you started, with the reference to Tulsa, to red lining, because in this conversation, we are emphasizing why what we think, how we feel about race and differently raced people, including ourselves, that's obviously a hugely leap forward. And it's shaped in part by structures. It's about history. All of this is part of the mix and educating oneself really is part of the work, not only about how you think and how you learned to think that way.
Elaine, do you have thoughts on working with your son or with other young people?
Elaine Mollindo: My daughter. So I was a teenage mother. So I was still doing the internal work when she was young. So now we're unpacking it together over dinners. Her father is the son of immigrants. And so she has her own mixed identity that she wants to talk about. And so we just have really open conversations. We're both doing equity work in our careers. And so we bring to the table what we know, and we just, we have honest conversations.
EmbraceRace: Keeley, I know you have a drop of wisdom that you wanted to leave us with. We'll have to be quick though, I'm afraid.
Keeley Bibins: I know. Super quick. I love what both of those young ladies said. With my children, I still have younger children. So one thing that I have learned on this journey that's very, very important, coming from a person from my background, is to build the confidence in who the kids are before and start early, because I learned about race before I even knew who I was. I learned that people didn't like me before I even knew if I liked me. And so to have those conversations really early, to build who you are, how you show up, and so that they can withstand, if something comes.
Because they know it's coming, but you can withstand it because of your faith within yourself and who's your support system that's behind you. I think that that's really, really important, especially with my children as they're growing up. And then when we start talking about George Floyd and have those types of conversations. They have some type of backing and support and know who they can turn to when they do have feelings or confusion.
EmbraceRace: That's beautiful. It's also important for kids to have those affirming stories about kids unlike them, because you don't want a non-Black kid to have their first experience or understanding to be that someone was murdered for the color of their skin, which happens too often, that you only hear those stories.
This conversation was way too short. We have lots of comments about your openness, your honesty, your vulnerability from our listeners. Thank you so much. Take good care. Good night.