diversity

Prejudices, racism, inequities are learned. Children come out knowing nothing about the world around them. Early childhood is where roots take hold.

How can we be a good example of being anti-racist with young children in our families or in the classroom?

There is never a better time to talk about this topic than now. However, I realize it is not enough, but it is a start. I think of this topic like a garden. If you never pick the weeds, the garden will be overgrown and the fruit you bear will not be seen if the garden had been tended to from the beginning. It would be so much easier when the seeds were beginning to grow.

My story is my own and it has been a humbling journey. What I have come to realize is that prejudices, racism, inequities are learned. Children come out knowing nothing about the world around them. Early childhood is where roots take hold. As parents and educators, we have such power to influence future generations.

The mental model that holds all our stories influences how we teach our children. Years ago, when my youngest daughter was three, we were at a track meet out of town. I was sitting on the grass next to a lovely black woman.

My children were playing around happily when suddenly my daughter threw her body on this woman’s lap, took her little chubby fingers and touched the woman’s nose as if she was wiping something off her face and stated, “Why you got makeup on your face?” (I wish I could type with the accent she used but Microsoft hasn’t come up with virtual inflection). I was mortified. I looked at the woman and inside I was frozen. She quickly and lovingly responded to my daughter, “Sweetie, that is the way God made me.”

I am certain my eyes and body language reflected my inability to respond with anything but total embarrassment. My daughter stated, “Wow, you are lucky!!’ (She didn’t have the L sound down yet so it might have sounded a bit off, but I knew her dialect) My daughter, to this day thinks God loves black women more because they come with beautiful make up on. After this, I was more intentional on my reactions and responses to my children.

My world opened more and more through listening to people who had suffered. I took time to acknowledge the generational trauma around racism. I put faces of people on issues. I began to see a human side to everything.

Empathy grew. I adopted two children of color. My lens grew in this area, but I hit speed bumps when I encountered things I never envisioned, like telling my son about slavery or telling my daughter about immigrants and their fight to be in a country where they can flourish. Pain ensued in a deep way when I saw them experience racism. I needed to take this on like it was my mission in life.

So, I placed myself around people who can teach me.

Children are not colorblind. They see differences in the world around them. Dr. Lucretia Berry, and education specialist and founder of the advocacy organization Brownicity.com, shares that, “Children are already able to reflect what they see in society, which is our hierarchy of racial categories.” In the 1940’s there was a study conducted by husband and wife team, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark.

This study measured the psychological effects of segregation on black children. This test impacted litigation for years to come. However, that was not the point of the study but to highlight the impact of segregation on black children and the impact on white children. The magnitude of their work would impact educators for years to come.

The Supreme Court cited Clark’s 1950 paper in its Brown Vs. The Board of Education decision and acknowledged it : “To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” Dr. Kenneth Clark was disappointed that the court failed to highlight other conclusions he had reached that were equally as important. First, racism was an inherently an American institution.

Secondly, that school segregation inhibited the development of white children, too.

As a parent, an educator, or community member we all play a part in highlighting the diversity of our world and celebrating the beauty of it. It isn’t enough to just exist. If we do, then weeds grow. Practical ways we can build a diverse child is to lead by example. The following link is a wonderful place to start: ubne.ws/3lRZDqA

This document, created by a high school principal in Ohio, holds numerous links to valuable resources for parents, teachers and community. There are numerous websites that offer free courses or articles to help understand this topic. If you are anything like me, I didn’t know where to start:

Blogger: ubne.ws/3lZGhzV

Instagram: antiracismdaily

Twitter: @AntiracismCtr

We are still deconstructing this model, one family at a time, one educator at a time. There is so much work to do. Liberty and justice for all has never been so real to me as a mother, educator and change agent. As a white woman and mother of children who are different that I am, I will continue to listen, learn and grow so that I am part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Catherine Dennis is an early childhood specialist and adjunct faculty in the ECE department at Walla Walla Community College. Her work is her passion and so is being a mom of seven.