Monday, January 18, 2010

Embracing Diversity

My daughter loves to get books on CD from the library that come with the actual book so she can follow along with the pictures and turn the pages as she listens. This weekend, I saw a book called The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and was intrigued by it. It is a story about a white girl and an African American girl who live on opposite sides of a fence in a segregated community. Their mothers forbid them to go over the fence because "that's the way it's always been" but they become friends anyway.

Ordinarily, I would refrain from getting a book for my 4 year old with this type of content. However, some of the research I've been doing regarding parenting and how to combat racism has me thinking twice about sheltering her from discussions of prejudice, and I've also been reading about comprehension strategy for literacy instruction, and wanted to try out some of the techniques I've been learning. So we got the book and listened to it once straight through, and then on the second listening I paused the recording a few times to ask my daughter about the story. The prejudice angle went right over her head, and she thought the mothers didn't want the girls to be friends simply because it wasn't safe for them to climb over the fence. I am not sure if her naivite about issues of racism are due to her age and innocence, or a failure on my part to adequately discuss these difficult topics with her. Either way, I am grateful in a way that she lives a life free of prejudice (or at least free of an awareness of it), and in another way I am sorry we live in such a diversity-free community and worry that she may continue to be unaware of the realities of the world.

The diversity education organization New Demographic offers the following tips on Being an Anti-Racist Parent:

1. Step outside your comfort zone. If something is making you uncomfortable, look closely at it and figure out where your own biases are.

2. Being anti-racist is a journey, not a destination. The topic of racism is not a one-time conversation. Racism is a difficult subject that must be looked at closely and talked about in relationship to real life.

3. Seek out professionals of color. If possible, find a physician, attorney, dentist, artist, etc. of color and do business with them so that your child does not assume that people of color only do certain types of job (often low-paying, low-prestige ones).

4. Never stop dismantling your own racist beliefs. We all have them, and we need to look at them carefully and frequently.

5. Speak truthfully and proudly. Answer questions in a straightforward way without making excuses or acting as if the subject of race is taboo.

6. Make conversations about racism relaxed and frequent. You want your children to be comfortable coming to you with questions, concerns and stories.

7. Lead by example. I don’t think this one requires any additional explanation.

8. Don’t let others decide your child’s ethnicity for them. If your child is of a minority ethnic group, don’t be afraid to describe her ethnicity in any way you choose.

9. Have an answer prepared. This is always better than being caught off guard.

10. Your children will face racism, so prepare them for it. It does you, and your children, no good to pretend that racism does not exist, so it is best to prepare them ahead of time rather than allowing them to get caught unprepared in a difficult situation.


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