Susan recently wrote a piece about American-Americans and color-blindness that gave me ~*feelings*~, and it made me think, “How do we teach our children about race?”
Let me begin by saying that children are not stupid. When a child asks why someone looks different or has different color skin, you cannot respond with a hippy dippy trippy answer like, “We’re all the same inside. Color doesn’t matter. We’re all people!” No. We are not all the same. Our skin is different colors. Our facial features are different. By saying to children that we’re all the same only serves to confuse them.
Race needs to be addressed with young children. There is the now-famous doll study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark which showed that when presented with dolls that were identical in every way except that one was white and one black, African American children overwhelmingly chose the white doll as the “nice” and “good” doll. These were young children; we can’t wait until children are older to tackle open and honest discussions about race.
The first step in that open and honest discussion is to acknowledge the differences, and that is what I am focusing on here.
One way to address race with young children is to focus on skin color. Young children naturally like to compare their skin tones and this should not be discouraged; it is ok for children to notice that Lupe has darker skin than Luis. At a time when children are learning their colors, many are confused why some people are considered “white” and others “black” when that is not the color of their skin. A pre-K and primary skin color lesson staple is mixing colors to find each child’s unique color. Therefore a black child might have mahogany sepia skin and white child might have thistle peach skin instead of black and white. A necessity of any multicultural classroom is skin color or “people” crayons, markers, and paints. These are available at any teachers’ store, or off of Amazon.com.
Another diversity lesson for the pre-K crowd involves the book The Crayon Box That Talked. You begin by giving the children a box of crayons only containing the color green and have them draw a colorful picture. When they have finished, discuss if they liked their pictures; were they able to draw a yellow sun? A brown house? A blue sky? After discussing, read the book The Crayon Box That Talked and discuss how each crayon is important even though they all look different, just like people. The children can then draw a picture using all the colors.
There is also the old standby: literature. Although, I have found it very difficult to find quality fiction with a multicultural cast of characters. Two of my favorite books featuring characters of color (that aren’t about ~*diversity*~ or ~*tolerance*~) are anything by Ezra Jack Keats and Oh, Theodore! by Susan Katz (in addition to having a cast of people of color – it’s about a guinea pig!). If you all know of any other good fiction books for children featuring, but not focusing on, characters of color, I would love to hear about them.
I fully acknowledge that there is much more to learning about race than just focusing on skin color, but in order for children to be prepared for the more in-depth discussions and education about race and privilege, they must first recognize that all people are not the same and not be afraid to talk about differences.
By telling children that skin color doesn’t matter and that we are all the same we are only ignoring the bigger issue and creating a taboo subject. Race exists, as do all the privileges and discrimination that come along with it.