Magazine article Poverty & Race

EmbraceRace: An Emerging Community of Support for Raising Kids in the Context of Race

Magazine article Poverty & Race

EmbraceRace: An Emerging Community of Support for Raising Kids in the Context of Race

Article excerpt

A couple years ago, my daughter, Lola, and I signed up for a weekly evening course called "Watching the Nighttime Sky" at a local college. Lola was 5, a voracious reader, and waaaay into learning about the solar system and the universe. The little girl could name Jupiter's four visible moons!

The class was taught by a retired professor, a white man. On clear nights we peered at the sky through a telescope; on cloudy nights, we got a lecture on the history and science of astronomy. Fun subject, daddy-daughter bonding, what could be better?

It didn't take long to observe that while the instructor referred consistently to the only other kid in the class, a 7 year-old Asian-American boy, as a "scientist," he completely ignored my brown-skinned girl. During lectures he'd call the little boy up to the front of the room to participate in demonstrations ("How did the Greeks define an ellipse?"). Lola? Nothing.

I told the man- on three separate occasions-about Lola's budding astronomy expertise, and, more to the point, about the need to engage 5-yearolds in the course of 90-minute talks to the degree possible. (I put it a bit more diplomatically.)

The instructor never pushed back or appeared defensive, but nor did his behavior change. I became increasingly frustrated. One evening, my bored, squirmy girl responded to the man once again calling on the boy "scientist" by whispering in my ear, "But, Daddy, I'M a scientist too!" We left.

Part of my unhappiness was simply that of a father who saw his daughter denied an experience that could have been much more rewarding for her. Part had to do with how the incident troubled that well of fear in my mind that many parents of African-American kids and girls know well, the fear that scenarios like that one will play themselves out unrelentingly in the years to come, sometimes with a great deal at stake.

And then there was this: At 5, Lola didn't have a robust set of tools with which to read the dynamics at work in that class. (She is markedly more sophisticated about race and gender now than she was just two years ago.) She was bored, not hurt; she felt a bit puzzled, not diminished. I worry that as Lola and her younger sister become more alert to the identity and contextual dynamics that will pervade their engagements with peers, teachers, employers and others, the social harms the biases of others may cause them might be compounded by harm to their psyches.

How can my partner and I help our girls become racially literate, and alert as well to the challenges posed by class, gender, disability and so on, while also building their capacity for resilience in the face of the hard-edged realities their growing discernment reveals? It truly does take a village to provide good answers to such a question.

EmbraceRace

Figuring out how best to support the development of healthy racial sensibilities in children is difficult, uncertain work. While teachers can find substantial support at Teaching Tolerance, Teaching for Change, Facing History and Ourselves, Border Crossers, and elsewhere, the online resources to help parents and other caregivers do that work are neither plentiful nor readily available. Moreover, as far as we know, no one has organized the available materials in one place. All this is especially true of materials aimed at parents of young children, though we know that even toddlers have begun to make sense of race, whether or not we choose to engage them explicitly on the subject.

EmbraceRace is a multiracial, online community of parents, teachers, mentors, childcare providers, and other adults, young people, and experts who present and discuss our questions, experiences, beliefs, concerns and resources.

Our Facebook page is up (www. facebook.com/weembracerace); we launch the site and other platforms in December. EmbraceRace will feature lots of blogging by community members, webinars and discussion groups, a podcast, and a resources section. …

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