RESOURCES

OLD POST cross-posted from an old blog

July 16, 2017

 

During the school year, we find ourselves in close proximity to one another — popping into each other’s classrooms to see an interesting lesson; walking by each other in the hallways to say “hello”; or waiting by the copy machine and discussing the latest news story we’ve heard on our drive into work.

But, during the summer, we find ourselves in this absence of community. And, yet, in times and days like these, community is precisely what we need. During this week, there were times when I was thankful for colleagues who checked in on me and who were interested in discussing violence in our communities. At other times, I was grateful for my morning run when I tuned out the world and simply listened to my heart and my own breath.

As educators, we have the privilege of engaging in dialogue around meaning and purpose. In many ways, we seek the comfort of our classrooms, hallways and offices where we can more easily find community. But, the summer time brings about new challenges — challenges to connecting, to seeking predictability, and to experiencing our comfort.

If you are a parent reading this list of resources, know that we, as teachers, struggle with how to have conversations with our students about the recent tragedies in our world. Children look for predictability. Children look for comforting responses from adults. Children look for cues that they are going to be alright. But, as adults, we have been forced to question these for ourselves. Know this this is difficult. Know that this is a struggle. Know that you are human and will experience conflicting feelings. And, know that these conversations with our children are important.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from parents who are seeking resources about how to talk to their children about recent events in our country. I have provided resources for parents and caring adults; for children in our lower division ages (ages 4-8); for children in our middle division (ages 9-11); and for children in our upper division (ages 12-14). It is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is a simple list. I wanted to provide you with some activities or questions that you can “do now” rather than overwhelm you with feelings of “when do I have time to do this?” I have provided a few follow up discussion questions to each activity.

But, parents and families and caring adults, this list doesn’t do anything unless you have the conversation. I’m asking you to have these conversations. Note that the list below doesn’t explicitly prompt you to discuss mass shootings or racism in America or protocol for when you encounter law enforcement with your children. But, those are important, too. If you are just wading into these waters, I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we normalize difference. I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we highlight that people are treated differently and that we must work together to create equity (that people have access to resources and opportunities for success). I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we co-create tools for ourselves to include the humanity of others in our own lives. 

Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there. 

The other day, I dropped off one of my children at a sleepover. I was talking to the host parent about the incidents in our communities, and she simply asked, “So, what do we do? Where do we start?” I looked over her shoulder at the small group of children who were gathered for the sleepover, giddy over the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since June 18th, our last day of school. They were hugging and smiling and making plans for how late they would stay up that night. Looking deeper, they were children from different racial backgrounds; children from different family structures; children of same-sex parents; children of parents from different racial identities; children from different socioeconomic backgrounds; children with different interests and likes; children from different towns and communities; children with different abilities and disabilities. And, they were all going to spend time together.

I’m not implying that simply bringing together diversity helps our world. Just having diverse groups doesn’t change our world. I am saying that these children — early in their lives — have developed close relationships across identities. They see each other as people. They see each other as humans. They see each other as friends. They see each other’s differences and have come together across, not despite of, these differences. They have parents who have invited children to their homes and who have welcomed them for who they are. They have parents who have committed to driving across three or four towns to encourage friendships. They have parents who are proud of their cultures, families, class, and abilities and who have invited these difference into their lives.

I turned to the host parent and said, “This is where we start.” I’m not sure if she saw the tear roll from my eye. In the midst of writing about so much hate and violence, I had forgotten that this, too — this joy of friendship — exists.

Where will you start? What are you willing to do to invite difference into your life? What must you do in order to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in which others want to join you? 

Below are some resources where you can begin. I hope that these resources springboard you into other areas of literature, social media, conversation, dialogue and experience.

I continue to keep all of the families and communities that are affected by tragedy in our hearts. I hope you will engage in conversations with your children, your family, and your loved ones. And, I hope we commit ourselves to building community, compassion, and connection to all.

With peace,

Liza Talusan, Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

For Parents and Caring Adults

  • An article about how to talk to your kids about race
  • An article of by a mother reflecting on the lessons she hopes to teach her sons about #BlackLivesMatter
  • A StoryCorps about a White mother and a Black son (graphic warning included)
  • A NYT article highlighting structural class inequity and health
  • An article about how we inadvertently send negative messages about race to our children
  • An article about why it is important to talk about Whiteness
  • A TED talk from Bryan Stevenson titled “We Need to Talk About an Injustice”
  • A list of ways that well-meaning allies are counterproductive
  • The manuscript on the impact of racial trauma
  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas

 

For Students in Lower Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Activity: Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake or meatloaf. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside.
    • What type of eggs do we tend to buy for our house? Do you think we can try other eggs? What difference would that make? What kind of lesson do you think that would teach us in this house?
    • How might this example of the eggs relate to our friends or classmates or family?
  • Reading Rainbow (Season 1, Episode 24, free with a Prime membership)
    • “A simple misunderstanding almost kept the boys from becoming friends.” What are some examples where this has happened to you?
    • When you met the two girls, one said, “I just got kind of nervous because I was wondering about all the kinds of things in her house.” How do you feel when you meet someone new? What types of cultural things do we have in our house? What are some examples of cultural items you have seen in other houses?

 

For Students in Middle Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Video featuring children ages 8-11 talking about their reactions to Dr. King’s speech
    • What is your dream for our country?
    • People in our country experience inequality. What are 3 ideas you have for making our country more equal?

 

For Students in Upper Division

  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas
    • What are your reactions to this?
    • What is something the announcer said that you have heard before? What was something new?
    • What do you have questions about?
  • A video called “Which games are culturally insensitive”
    • Do you play these games? Have you noticed this occurring?
    • What can we do as a family to help you understand stereotypes?
    • What should we do when we encounter racial stereotypes in things that we enjoy, like video games or comic books or movies?
    • What impact do you think this is having on you? What kind of impact is it having on your friends or peers?
  • A series called “Being 12” which has a few areas addressing race
    • As a family, do you think we talk about race? What kinds of things have you learned from our family about race?
    • What do your peers say about race? Are they aware of racism?
    • If there was one thing you would tell your peers about racism, what would it be?
  • Rising Grade VIII students have summer reading assignments that lean into issues of race. We invite you to ask your child about their reading and to engage in conversations that connect their books to our real-world experience.
    • How does the topic of your book relate to what’s happening on our world right now?
    • What types of solutions are offered in your books?
    • What types of challenges to the characters face that are similar to ones we have heard about in the news?

INCLUDING DIVERSITY

It's summer time, and hopefully that means there is a bit more time to make some intentional decisions around including diversity in your practice, interactions, experiences, and education. I'm actually writing this from the back row of my daughters' dance dress rehearsal, and thankful for the decision to choose a dance school that has incredible racial diversity. Back in August, when the two girls expressed interest in taking dance, we traveled to over a dozen dance schools. In all honesty, I was curious to find out the differences in prices -- with two girls and limited resources, I wanted to make sure they could both attend dance classes. However, as we visited schools, I glanced at all of the lovely, glossy photos on the walls. And, at each school, there were few-to-no children who looked like my own -- dark skin, curly hair, visible disability.

I was so committed to my children having diverse role models, classmates, and interactions that I was getting ready to close the door to dance classes.  As a feminist of color, I was also interested in how dance schools talked about body image, body-positive acceptance, and messaging around body size. So, despite my desire to give up, my older daughter pleaded, "Mom, just one more! Please let's look at one more!" I gave in, and we drove to the heart of our downtown city, and located a dance school. It was in a slightly run down building, and it was a very reasonable price for two kids. But, more importantly to me, the woman who ran the school is a dark skin, beautiful, plus size woman with a strong dancer's body.

As the year progressed, my daughters were exposed to a racially diverse group of girls, parents, families, and teacher. To them, their "first message" of who a dance teacher is will be their teacher -- their beautiful and strong teacher who looks like them; who looks like their aunts; who looks like their grandmother.

And, as I sit here blinded by the sequins and jazz hands from the back row, I am amazed at what a powerful message my girls received every week --- about themselves, about their bodies, about their teachers, and about their classmates.

One of my most linked blogs was the one on "what do to when there isn't diversity." Well, now that it's summer time, I thought it would be good to revisit some great tools for using this time to include diversity (now and always!). These are just beginning points, not end points. Let's get started!

  • plan a field trip to a local (nearby?) historic site that teaches from a point of view you may not have been taught. For example, we live near Boston -- this year, we plan on visiting some of the early African American and Native American memorials and historic sites. Our kids spend a lot of time learning about the "settlers"; well, let's also expand their education into those who were here first and who came with a different story.
  • Read a book a week. Borrow books that have representation from different ethnic groups, cultures, family structures, etc.
  • As an adult, introduce a topic of conversation with your kids/younger ones. WE tend to need some sort of segue, context, etc., but I have found that the whole "wait until they bring it up" approach really doesn't work. Would you wait until they ASK to cross the street before WE bring up the topic, hold their hands, and show them how? No, of course not. So, let's not wait until they ASK about race, gender, stereotypes, bullying, love, etc.
  • Go play at a playground you don't usually visit --you might see more diversity of mobility, race, ethnicity, body types, parenting structures. I grew up in a small town, with very little diversity in our neighborhood. So, even when we went to the most local playground, it was made up of kids who I knew from school. Whenever we ventured into a new neighborhood, I had to learn how to play with kids I didn't know; who maybe didn't look like anyone I played with; and who I was not used to. Try this. See if it takes you outside of your own comfort zone as a parent/care taker/adult, too.
  • Finally reach out to that person you've wanted to talk to, but felt like you were too busy -- it's summer. People tend to be a bit more relaxed; a bit more interested in meeting up with others. That person you always "like" on Facebook but never make eye contact with when you see him/her? Set up a coffee date, a walk, or a real live chat.
  • Volunteer somewhere for so many obvious reasons that contribute to socially just reciprocity, good old fun, feel-good experiences, and also as an opportunity to get out of your own comfort zone. Is there a family friendly opportunity? Take your kids or young ones, too.
  • Try a new food from an ethnic/racial/cultural group and be open to the experience
  • Listen to a new album, type of music, genre, style. I don't tend to listen to traditional/folk music, so I never look up these types of bands. Recently, a friend of mine told me about Carolina Chocolate Drops -- a old time banjo, string, guitar band of African Americans. Their stuff is awesome. I've listened to their album every single day for a week now. It opened up doors to music, history, culture, and information that I had never accessed before!
  • Find a street festival, a celebration
  • Go seek out different cultural organizations that are hosting lectures, get-togethers, community socials, and find ways to contribute and to be open the knowledge of that community
  • Find a book club that focuses on diversity and participate

Though these tend to fall into the food/festival/fun experiences in diversity, they are a good way to get started. But, also use this time as an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and the education of your kids/young ones. Talk proactively about race, love, families, disability, body image, gender. Why wait?

Peace, love, and actively including,

Liza

**Please note: Any ads you see below this line are not placed there by me. Rather, they are randomly selected by Wordpress and not by Liza at all. Thank you.

OH HAPPY DAY ...

I grew up in a white, Irish Catholic suburb of Boston. My town was so overwhelmingly Catholic that I saw my same school friends 6 days a week -- Monday through Friday I saw them at school; Sunday I saw them at CCD, a Catholic education program that teaches children about sacraments of the church, biblical readings and how to always feel guilty for bad thoughts and deeds.  

As kids, we always geared up for Christmas and Easter. I'm sure the few Jewish students and the even fewer Atheists at my school somehow managed to get swept right into the mix of Catholic and Christian holidays. But there was one day -- one day -- where everyone seemed to share the same interest. The same background. The same heritage.

 

That day was St. Patrick's Day. A day when, no matter if you were Asian, Black, Hispanic, Jewish, or Italian, you were Irish.

Sure, slight correction. You may not have been suddenly and magically made Irish for the day, but you sure as heck wore green. A sea of children became unrecognizable as the chill of the March landscape became overwhelmed with kelly green, lime green, dark green and white green. If we moved fast enough, our group of children appeared to be wisps of grass blowing in the cold March air.

Everyone wanted to be Irish.

Working at a Catholic college, the ramp up to St. Patrick's Day reaches epic proportions. Though many do share the ethnic Irish heritage, few embrace foundations of the religious meaning of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Rather than attend church in observance of a holy day of obligation, many go to the local church, the Church of Beer. And, like nearly everything on that day, even the beer is green.  No matter where you go or who you are, you are wished a "Happy Saint Patrick's Day!"

Though my family is not Chinese, we celebrate Chinese New Year. We don't go all out -- we don't close up shop, surround ourselves with family, nor eat until our bellies extend past our knees. Rather, we take key aspects of the tradition and share it with our children. Admittedly, we Google which Lunar New Year it is and which animal sign is associated with that year. We wear red. We clean the house thoroughly the night prior. We sometimes get a new haircut (if we've planned enough in advance). I have a stash of red envelopes in my office drawer that I take out once a year and present to my kids.

 

On that day, I wish everyone I meet a "Happy New Year." Mostly, I get funny looks. Usually, I have a second to explain that it's Lunar New Year. Then, I nearly always get "But, Liza, you're not Chinese."

 

My response: "Recognizing that others celebrate traditions around the world isn't dependent on me being that identity."

 

I'm not being un-authentic. I know that I'm not Chinese. And, I know not to go so far as to offend a cultural tradition that spans thousands of years. I don't pretend to be Chinese nor do I pretend to know more about Lunar New Year than the average person. But I do know that we need to expand our view of who's holidays we celebrate, who's holidays we hear about, and who's holidays we see as weird or strange.

 

I want my children -- my students, my colleagues, my friends, strangers -- to be reminded that our country is made up of many different cultures and traditions. That the beauty of the United States is that people have the freedom to celebrate their faiths and beliefs without persecution. And, of course, we don't always live up to that foundational belief of our country when we deem other people's cultural traditions as "not-American."

 

I recently was having coffee with a Vietnamese friend of mine who said that, earlier, a white woman smiled at her and said, "Happy New Year." Though the exchange was brief and seemed friendly, my friend was pissed off. "Why the heck does she have to assume that I'm Chinese? This whole we-all-look-alike mess has got to end!" she exclaimed. "Girl," I replied. "I kind of give that lady props for even knowing it was Lunar New Year. After all, how many people don't even give a damn right now or who think that celebrating lunar-rabbit-anything is some ancient Chinese secret?"

 

I admit. On Chinese New Year, I wish everyone a "Happy New Year", too. But, it's not because I ignorantly think everyone is Chinese; I do it because I want to honor that we almost never get to celebrate our cultural heritage and most certainly never have it recognized by our fellow Americans. When I wish you a "Happy New Year", it's because we share a community of memory, a shared experience of simply having black hair, almond shaped eyes, and an assumption of what we sound like even before we open our mouths. We share a common experience of being both invisible and being a model of success. We share a common experience of being both loved and hated. We share a common experience of being both motivated and overbearing.

 

While we may never be able to know every cultural holiday nor every cultural tradition, it is important for us to include the diverse perspectives that make up our country and society. So, if I wish you a Happy New Year or Happy Saint Patrick's Day or Happy Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Eid Sa'eed, or Happy Earth Day .. it's because I want you to know that we can respect traditions of others. That, to be a truly inclusive society, we must include the traditions of others.

 

So, happy day to you!

The Golden Rule of Differences

I went to college about 90 minutes from where my parents lived. It was just close enough to visit during special occasions (acapella concerts, award nights, out to dinner, etc) but far enough that you had to plan on visiting. I loved my college, and my parents felt welcomed by my hall mates and friends. During every visit, there came a time when my dad would turn to me and say, "I have to use the bathroom. Can you stand outside?" Let me explain.

I went to a college where every bathroom in the residential spaces was co-ed. Yes, co-ed. There was anywhere between 3-5 toilet stalls and 3-5 shower stalls. That means I went to the bathroom next to a man. I often showered next to a man (in a different stall). I brushed my teeth next to a man. Even though I lived on an all-women's floor my first year, the bathroom was still considered co-ed.

This freaked out my dad. Even though the official college policy stated that it was fine that my dad used the bathroom (and it would have been fine if a woman then entered that bathroom), he couldn't do it. I had to wait outside of the bathroom and ask my hall mates if they could wait until my dad came out. And, because my dad was, again, so uncomfortable by this practice, he usually was only in that bathroom for less than a minute.

It's been over 12 years since I last used (with any frequency) a co-ed bathroom. While I'm pretty sure I am comfortable with the practice, it would probably feel a little strange to me the first few times if I had to be in that environment again. I'd get used to it, of course, but I'd be foolish to say that it wouldn't throw me off the first few times.

The past few weeks, my work life has been consumed with facilitating conversations about differences, respect, civility and inclusion. Along with my colleague, Donna, we've been in classes, hosted dialogue groups, and had conversations with students, faculty, staff, and administrators. While most are open to the conversation, we always get a handful who bring up this point: "Why do we have to talk about differences? Why can't we just treat everyone the same?"

Seems like a decent request, right? I mean, didn't we learn in kindergarten that we should "treat people like we want to be treated"? Golden rule.

At this point in our careers, that question doesn't throw us off anymore. Here is our response:

Golden Rule. Yes, we should treat one another the way we would want to be treated. No doubt.

Differences. Unfortunately, so many of us have been socialized to believe that being different is a bad thing. We need to start embracing that being different -- different from one another -- is a good thing.

The Golden Rule of Differences? Treat me the way you'd want to be treated -- like a person with your own unique personality, character, experience, identity, family, religion, ability, etc. I have a different set of finger prints, a different shade of eye color, a different height, body shape, and shoe size than you. I have a different family structure, favorite food, favorite song, and favorite shampoo brand than you do. I have a different car, size jeans, and number of siblings than you do.  And, all those things say something about me. They don't define me, no. However, they all impact who I am, decisions I make, and how I move around this world.  None of those aspects make me better than you, nor you me. Yet, they make me who I am.

You probably don't want to be just like me. In fact, you'd likely not want to use my pomegranate scented shampoo, drive my beat up old minivan, nor wear uncomfortable heels all day. You probably enjoy the scents you like, the car you drive, and the shoes you wear. So, wouldn't it be odd if I told you I was going to start treating you as if you were "the same as me?" Sounds so simple. Yet, when we substitute those basic interests with words like race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., individuals get tripped up over wanting to just "treat everyone the same."

I agree that we sometimes perpetuate these differences. After all, why should my dad feel strange entering into a public bathroom where there is a woman, especially when the college rules -- and that college's cultural norms -- explicitly say that it is okay? He felt that way because he sees a difference. He grew up socialized that men and women shouldn't share the same public bathroom. In fact, if  a man walks into a women's bathroom in a public space, he likely would have security escort him out of the building (after being detained and questioned).

Differences aren't a bad concept. Differences allow us to find our unique soul mate. They allow us to be attracted to one person over another. They allow us to mix up the genetic pool. In my family's case, differences in genetics have given my children a 50/50 chance of inheriting any combination of genetic mutations. Differences allow us to be interesting, intriguing, and insightful. They allow us to argue, disagree, and reshape our experiences. Calling attention to our differences is only negative if we can't see the value in being different from one another.

My Golden Rule of Differences: Treat others as you would like to be treated; like an individual who can contribute in ways that make our world a better, brighter, and more interesting place to live, learn and grow. Be different. Embrace difference. See the importance of difference. Learn from difference.

POST NOTE: I'm actually a big fan of gender neutral bathrooms for a few reasons: 1) gender neutral bathrooms often have a baby changing table which means my cute husband can't use the "there is no changing table in the men's room!" excuse when baby has a poop-diaper; 2) gender neutral bathrooms means hubby and/or I can take all of the kids into the bathroom (boy/girls) without worrying about comments, and 3) gender neutral bathrooms allow for an option for individuals who identify as transgender to use a bathroom without fear of judgment about their gender identity.

What's So Hard About Teaching Truth?

Wow, sometimes post topics just fall into my lap -- or, fall into my Facebook, to be more accurate. Seriously, what did we all socially write about before people's Facebook comments, status updates, and links? Picture 2This one comes courtesy of a simple comment about "Columbus" (this being, ya know, Columbus's big DAY and all....)

A friend status-ed about loving Columbus. So, I bit, and commented that I hope my friend loves the day off and not actually what Columbus did.  That led to the response that the teacher does teach a socially responsible unit on Columbus (yay!! Give it up for one more teacher who teaches the truth!). Another person then asked what Columbus did. I, unable to resist, simply stated that "Columbus gets credit for discovering a place that already had people, language, culture, traditions, etc. That would be like me walking into your apartment, saying that I founded it, and then making you go get me a drink."

A response came along -- the kind you hope for when you're in a blogging rut -- with something like this: "Yeah, but how much violent-invading history are we really gonna teach 3rd graders, or their parents, who want everything to be sugary and nice?" I actually agreed here because I thought the commenter was heading in the "yes, and therefore we shouldn't teach Columbus=Discoverer". But, alas, the commenter wasn't making that point. The commenter then proceeded to say that the "(n)ative (p)eople in Plimouth were rude and off-putting with their political agendas worn like a giant chip on their shoulders." I swear, I can't make this stuff up....

Giant.Chip. On.Their.Shoulders? Yeah, there sure is a chip; and that chip is called "we were having a grand old time, then random people came, stole our land, killed our people, and then told stories about how we shared some turkey, jokes, and smiles." I'd be rude, too, if kids dressed up like my people, athletic teams mock my elders, and people took tours of my land every November to see a rock.

But, really, my question goes back to this statement: "How much violent-invading history are we going to teach 3rd graders?" Right, exactly. So, let's not teach it. If you don't want to teach the true history of the First People, then at least let's not teach Columbus=Savior. Okay, if you don't want to teach the atrocities of the Pilgrim/Native times, at least let's stop teaching that the Pilgrims saved the Native people.

You can teach the truth in age appropriate ways. After all, those populations and peoples are/were MORE than the events that happened to them. Picture 3Teach the cultures as they existed before colonization. Do work beyond what is given in just the most basic (and empty) of textbooks. If you teach 3rd grade, then make sure you do your own age appropriate (adult) homework. Pick up Howard Zinn's book. Read Ronald Takaki's work. If you teach, read James Loewen. Challenge the education that we received growing up. Teach that Columbus didn't end up where he thought he was, and that's why he landed where he did, calling Native people "Indians." (Heck, I'm pissed that the nickname my sister gave me when I was 7 years old has still stuck with me; Imagine being stuck with the same nickname for, oh, 500+years!) Teach that Europeans did not discover the world; that people existed long before colonization; that colonization, itself, relates to a lot of the playground antics that exist outside during elementary school recess.

So, what's so hard about teaching the truth? These days, teaching the truth takes some effort. While many textbooks are finally telling stories other than just European history, many still do not. And, for most teachers in my generation and older, we grew up on a very different telling of history. We were educated during  a time when social perspective was rarely challenged. But, today, now, there is an emphasis on teaching the truth. And, indeed, as most historical truths are a result of "violent-invading-forces", we need to teach that there exists different truths. Don't we always tell our kids there are "always two sides to every story?" Playground rules, right?

Teaching the truth also teaches our children to think critically. They learn that there is a perspective other than their own. They learn to think bigger than a situation. They learn to seek the truth rather than just accept the truth. By learning both/all sides, they learn to engage in conflict resolution and mediation.

My kids are little. At least few times a day, they grab from one another, they tease one another, they take credit (or blame) from one another. They trick one another into doing their chores. If someone gets a treat, a sibling will almost predictably try to distract then steal a piece of that treat. And, at least once a week, one of my girls will kick the other girl out of their shared room. Sound historically familiar?

We end up having talks about these actions. And, I know they won't end anytime soon (after all, puberty and teenage years are still a bit away...). The lessons learned don't involve violence. Rather, we talk about respect. We talk about fairness. Justice. Equality. Kindness. Why can't these truths be taught in terms of history?

They can.

They should.

They must.

So, let's realize that teaching the truth is possible. Let's realize that we can teach a sugary version of the truth that is also historically responsible. Let's realize that the "chip-on-the-shoulder" is usually a result of the truth being withheld. If people were spreading lies about you, about your friends, about your family, you would be pretty pissed off, too. When you hear that a people/person is pissed off about something that historically has been misrepresented about them, ask why. Listen to the answer, and you likely will be listening to their truth.

(hat tip to my friend Jenn who teaches with this book to help her students understand the different stories surrounding Columbus)

What are some age appropriate specific resources that other anti-racist parents and/or responsible educators are using in their homes or classrooms? Please share! Make teaching the truth a whole lot easier!

What Makes them Whole

(Note: I wrote this back in the Summer of 2008, swore I had published it somewhere, but can't seem to find it. So, my apologies if you've read this already, but I figured it was worth re-posting anyways! Enjoy - Liza)

There are so many times when I've wanted to give up the fight against racism. There are many of my friends and a few of my favorite bloggers who have. There are days when I sit at work thinking, "Is this worth it? Can we really heal? Can we really learn? Move forward?" There are days when I want to scream, "I quit!"

Thankfully, I know that there is at least one week during my race-filled year when I do recharge and when I am humbled. This past week, I spent our 2nd visit to Camp Sunshine, a retreat camp for families with children with life threatening illnesses. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks after her 2nd birthday. It rocked our world. It changed our lives. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma - a rare eye cancer that resulted in the removal of her right eye, 6 months of chemotherapy, and dozens upon dozens of doctor's appointments, hospitalizations, and tests.

I tend to link disability activism with racism activism because I believe that, at it's core, our goal is to raise children who treat others like human beings in this world.

Coming to camp has been a fantastic experience because "camp" is the place where we all feel normal for a week. Retinoblastoma children get to be in the majority. They get to experience privilege. They get to experience power. Confidence. Support. Every family that attends that week has been affected by retinoblastoma. Some children have both their eyes, having sucessfully treated their cancer with laser, radiation, or chemotherapy. Some children have lost one of their eyes. Some children have lost both of their eyes and navigate our sighted world completely blind. Each family has a slightly different story, but at the heart of our experiences is cancer in our children. Families from all over the country fly in to be together, to heal, to relax, and to be in the majority for a week.

One of the many things that I find interesting about coming to camp is that race, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, and gender all seem to fade away. It's a place where people find that they are bonded by their experiences with cancer, rather than the identity labels we are faced with outside of this little heaven. For most of my year, I talk about race, diversity, sexism, etc., and for this one week, none of that even enters into my mind. We are all united by cancer. Our conversations are guided around the "cancer lens" through which we all see the world. And, for many of us, that cancer lens has given us a strong faith in the human spirit.

For 51 weeks out of the year, my daughter lives in the numeric minority. She is different than any other child she plays with at school and at home. She doesn't interact with any other children with a prosthetic eye; and, outside of the hospital, we never meet any other children her age with cancer. Camp is where she feels normal, where she is in the numeric majority. Camp is where she doesn't have to worry about dumb things people say when they notice she only has one eye. She doesn't have to worry about what people will say if there is goop on her eye or if her prosthesis happens to pop out while she is rubbing it. Camp is where kids talk freely about chemotherapy, about their "special eyes", and about their radiation. And, camp is where, if they choose, they don't ever have to talk about it at all.

Camp is also where my daughter learns how to interact with children who are Picture 1differently abled. She has made fast friends with two girls , Tacey and Mayci, who both lost their sight at around age 7 from reoccurances with retinoblastoma. Through their stubborness and their insistence that they not be perjoratively treated as "blind kids", Tacey and Mayci defy stereotypes. They defy preconceived notions about blind children. They set a new standard, a new "normal", and a new understanding of how high our children can soar if we give them wings rather than weights. Tacey barrel races horses in her homestate of Texas. Mayci plays softball on a sighted team (and, when given the option of having a "beeping sound" signal an approaching softball, she made the officials turn off the beeping because it was annoying her!). Parents and kids watch in awe as these two little blind girls actually lead each other around hand-in-hand through the camp grounds (which, yes, gives new meaning to "the blind leading the blind.").

At first, my daughter was afraid of Tacey and Mayci with their white canes and the blank, unresponsive look in their eyes (they both wear prosthetic eyes). But, Joli really wanted to make friends with these two girls. When the girls would walked by, Joli would wave at them and, in her smallest voice, say "hi." This happened a number of times, but I just watched to see how she would respond, react, and adapt to her method of "waving hello" to a couple of blind girls. Eventually, Joli grew discouraged and their un-reciprocated "hello" and said to me, "Mommy, I don't think I like Tacey and Mayci - they never say hello to me. I don't want to be friends with them." We had to explain to her that "they can't see you waving to them, Joli. You have to actually say 'Hello, Tacey and Mayci! This is Joli and I am in front of you waving.'"

Simple, right? Right.

We practiced saying, "Hello, Tacey and Mayci! This is Joli saying HI to you!" Joli tried that method the next time she saw Tacey and Mayci. They, of course, said "Hello, Joli!" and were so excited to make a new friend. Tacey and Mayci began to feel Joli's hands, her face, her coarse curly hair, and her glases. They also felt Joli's smile that was stretched from ear-to-ear in pure happiness! Since that day, the girls have been inseparable and even keep in touch during the school year. It was that easy....

This year, our second daughter was now old enough to experience camp with her sister. Of course, the first kids we saw when we pulled up to camp were Tacey and Mayci. Joli hopped out of the car, announced she was there and invited the girls to touch her -- feeling the change in her height, the shape of her new Hannah Montana glasses, and her tight braids that stretched from the front of her head to the back. Once the girls reacquainted themselves, Joli brought her 2-year old sister, Jada, over to meet the girls. When Jada first saw Tacey and Mayci, she kind of freaked out. They were touching her face, touching her hair, and "seeing" Jada with their hands. I watched Jada's body tense up and tears well in her eyes. Joli felt it, too. Joli, the now experienced 4-year-old-big sister, held Jada's hand and, in her most delicate way, explained what Tacey and Mayci were doing. Jada stopped crying. Jada stood still. Jada touched back.

Camp is special for me for so many reasons. This time around, though, it helped renew my faith in our children - for whom many of us parents/teachers/counselors/friends want to raise in an anti-racist world. As I re-read my post, I mentally substituted words related to blindness and disabilities with words that are related to race and anti-racism. It's amazing to me the connection between what we experience as a family with a differently abled child and as a family with race and ethnicity at our core. Through both lenses, we constantly learn and reinforce valuable lessons about treating people as humans.

We learned valuable lessons about making mistakes and finding ways to move beyond them. We teach and learn that sometimes we can control how we interact with others (saying "HELLO" to a blind person) and how sometimes we have no control over a situation (a healthy toddler being diagnosed with cancer). We learn that kids sometimes do know better than we do. We learn that kids make the same pre-judgements that we do, and that kids can also quickly learn how to challenge those pre-judgements. We witness that our children are more adaptable than we are. And, they are often more resilient than we are, too.

My daughters and their friends many not necessarily think about living in an anti-racist way. They just want to make a new friend. They just want to be treated kindly. They want to have the same opportunities as others have, and they truly want to share their happiness. Learning from my children gives me hope. On those days when I get so discouraged having encountered a racist person, a racist practice, and an unjust system, I think back to those first moments when my kids met Tacey and Mayci - how hard it was to feel left out and how easy it was to make a friend. They don't see one another despite their disabilities, they see one another in light of their disabilities. They have seen beauty in being different.

And they know that different is what makes them whole.

Changing the Complexion

A little too mad to even respond to this one, so I'll just do blips. I think it's one thing to do racist stuff to adults, it's another thing to make kids the subject of one's racism and stupidity. This story is going viral, so if you haven't checked it out, here it is.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

See, white kids never have to wonder if a negative behavior is attached to their race. It's called white privilege....

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

Except for the fact that the day camp PAID to use the facility for the summer, was accepted to do so, and entered into a contract with the Valley Club. So, yes, they were allowed to use the pool. And, if the white kids didn't want to swim with them, that was THEIR CHOICE. But, instead of stating it was a choice, the white parents/children instead decided to remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation and just deprive another EQUAL paying customer the right to a service.

After being told the Club would refund their money...

"I said, 'The parents don't want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'" camp director Aetha Wright said.

They just want a place to swim. Jeez, really, people? Are the club members working on old school racism that the black kids might a) pass on cooties, or b) steal something from kids in the pool (perhaps their shorts? I dunno?), c) act like... kids?

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat.

And, that's what white privilege does. It puts white people ahead and POC behind. So, while the white kids get to just sit back, relax, and enjoy their summer, the black kids have to scramble and find something to do. Next thing you know, you'll hear from white people saying "I can't believe all these Black kids are out on the streets. Don't they have anything better to do?"

YES. THEY COULD BE SWIMMING.

On Organic vs Proactive Diversity

One of my favorite bloggers/writers is Tami Winfrey Harris. She's brilliant, and she can be found at What Tami Said and at Anti-Racist Parent. Here is just one of the many posts that I love: written by Anti-Racist Parent editor Tami Winfrey Harris

Diversity is important to personal and community development. Diversity is not organic. Kathleen Parker's article two week's ago in the Washington Post helped me to crystalize my thoughts on diversity, its importance and how community's can achieve successful and beneficial diversity. You may remember that Parker wasn't sold on new radio commercials celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act: Lately, the fine intent of eliminating discrimination seems to have morphed into diversity advocacy.

Before I proceed, let me say that I prefer a world in which not everyone is the same. I like that my neighbors include a gay couple and a single mother and that several languages are spoken on my street.

But happy diversity is an organic process that results when like-minded citizens congregate around shared values and interests. Often those interests and values have evolved from racial and ethnic identities, but not necessarily. Sometimes neighbors of diverse backgrounds share affection for old houses, or window boxes, or pet-friendliness.

That not all people have access to all the same housing opportunities is called life in a free-market society. But the fair-housing folks want life to be more fair, and the ads are warming us up for some really fun social engineering. Read more...

One of the ads that so disturb Ms. Parker:

The wormiest of three ads posted online features a mother and daughter just home from visiting mom's workplace. Daughter is breathless with wonder at how diverse Mom's workplace is, but wants to know why everyone in their neighborhood "looks just like us?" Dum-de-dum-dum.

Horrors!

I tend to think those who disdain proactive encouragement of diversity are really poor students of human behavior and that they don't really believe in diversity's importance. It feels more secure to be surrounded by people who look and think and eat and worship and work and live and parent the way you do. The echo chamber of homogenity is comforting in the way it tacitly approves of your life and choices. Who wouldn't want this? Like seeks like--it is easiest that way. It is the rare person who likes to be uncomfortable.

Diversity done correctly is almost always uncomfortable--at least a little. Living or socializing or working around people who are different--racially, ethnically, politically, religiously, etc.--requires compromise, requires empathy, requires withholding judgement, requires being open to learning. Being confronted with difference can mean having your way of looking, thinking, eating, worshipping, working, parenting and living challenged. It means having your biases and bigotry challenged (and we don't like to think we have any of those, do we?). But these are good things, yes? The discomfort of diversity yields better people and better communities. Diversity done correctly is also almost always rewarding. But it should be clear why it isn't and never will be "organic."

Anti-Racist Parent columnist Susan Lyons-Joell also weighed in on the article:

What do people want in their neighborhood? How about affordable housing, access to decent hospitals, grocery stores and businesses, a police force on your side, and a good public education and the careers that come with it. It’s no coincidence that neighborhoods where those things are missing are those that overwhelmingly are minority-dominated. That’s not the “free market,” that’s institutional racism held in place by economic disparity. Where one grows up can be a burden or a blessing, and it is not easily negated after the fact. Contrary to what Ms. Parker claims, diverse neighborhoods are not produced deliberately and intentionally – they are more often than not a product of economic and social circumstance. For that matter, so are the non-diverse neighborhoods, like the 1950s white-only enclaves that have only recently begun to have ethnic diversity, as those neighborhoods decline and the white people MOVE OUT.

It must be so nice to be able to pretend that a diverse environment is something willfully chosen or unchosen based on your own personal preference and needs. But it’s not. It’s a social justice issue, showing the inequalities, often along color lines, that still exist in America. There’s nothing “free-market” about a social stratum that is stacked against you from day one because of where you live. Ms. Parker, if you’re not committed to fixing it, you’re part of the problem. Readers, what do you think?

Thanks to Tami for allowing the cross-post!

The Diverse Friends

And so it begins -- the marathon stretch of birthday parties, graduation parties, long weekend parties, and just-because-its-summer parties. This weekend was no exception. Except, this time, my husband, who usually doesn't engage me in diversity conversations (knowing that we'll talk about it for the next few hours) actually turned to me during a birthday party and said, "Why are we the only brown people here?"

"Because. We are," was my witty response. "What do we want them to do about it?"

"I mean WHY are we the only brown people here? It's not like there is a shortage of people of color in this area or anything. So, why, in a room full of about 50 people, are we - and our children - the only brown people here?" He began to go on about how the children at the birthday party were all of school age, ranging from 4 year olds to 6 year olds, and that if this was an actual "school" party (the kind where you have to invite everyone in your class), then why were we the only brown people in the room (note: our children don't go to school with the children at the party - we know the parents from college).

"I don't know, honey. Believe it or not, there are people who don't know any people of color - at least not well enough to invite them to their kid's birthday party."

Husband wasn't impressed. "I just don't understand. I don't understand how kids can be in school and not know any children of color."

Needless to say, the party ended but the conversation didn't.

I reminded Husband of all the posts I have written over the past few years, all of the questions very well-meaning white parents write about how to engage in diversity, and all the frustrations people have about truly not having a diverse circle. Husband wasn't implying that the people at the party were racists nor that they were ignorant. Not at all.

Rather, the point he was making was this: How can we truly teach our children to accept others if the "others" are never in the room. How can we teach children to see the beauty in our diverse skin colors if there is only one color in the room? Religion? Regional accents? Hair texture? Language?

And, while this question often gets posed, it's worth bringing it back again -- can we truly learn to accept all people if we only meet one type of person?

Why Can't Tween Shows Get it Right?

I have a like/hate relationship with the tween shows. It's no surprise to anyone that Disney has made some pretty bad choices when it comes to representing diversity, using appropriate language and avoiding stereotypes. When my kids were much younger, my husband and I feverishly bought into all the hype about "Disney Movies coming out of the vault!" and such, so we purchased all the ones we grew up watching as kids.  

As we watched the movies - now as adults - we found ourselves appalled at the messages, songs, characters, and out-and-out racism that was in the movies and their themes. So, we stopped buying them and no longer fall into the "Disney Vault" trap.

 

When our older child became interested in the Disney Channel, we proceeded with caution. We don't believe in banning certain shows altogether, rather we like to use television -- with all of its negative/positive messaging -- to start conversations with our kids. Of course, there is always a  line. Our daughter was pretty into Hannah Montana, and even though the only 2 people of color are the "mean girls", we still watched with our daughter. Yet, Miley Cyrus's recent poor choice of using "chinky face" crossed the line. So, no more Hannah Montana purchases from our house. Though, even with this one, we didn't really bring it up with our daughter because she's just too young to understand this part.

 

We do like Wizards of Waverly Place for their biracial family. And, they sometimes drop in some Spanish and such; so, this one is still good on our list.

We always thought that Nickelodeon, with it's Dora the Explorer, Diego, etc., line up would be a safer bet. And, truthfully, I think the younger kid shows do get it right. So, what's up with the tween shows?

 

scene from iCarly visting Japan

This past week, we decided to try the show iCarly. We had watched School of Rock before, and we like the little girl (who is now Carly of iCarly) and decided to watch it. This was the episode where Carly and her friends are invited to Japan to attend an awards show. "Hmmm..." we though, "Interesting. This could be going somewhere good!" The group flew to Japan, there was some good humor in there, and then... of course....the tween show took a turn for the racist worse.

 

For some reason, despite the fact that 1/2 of this episode's actors were Japanese and/or of Asian heritage, racist stereotypes and ignorant American-centricity began to rear it's ugly head. Phrases like "those sneaky Japanese", and "Why can't anyone speak English in this country?!?" were abundant. Scenes of Japanese having to look up in the English/Japanese dictionary the word "Hello" and "a" were torture to watch. The obligatory karate match in which the American boy and girl break up the fight seemed to last forever. And, let's not forget the Japanese toupe-wearing security guard who could only communicate with colorful childlike signs.

 

My husband and I kept the television on for as long as we could, and finally, we turned to each other and said, "That's enough!" Our daughters asked why we turned it off, and, age appropriately, we simply said, "we don't like to watch shows where people make fun of other people." If they were older, yes, we'd go into the whole racial stereotyping, and maybe they do understand it on some level. But, for now, we have to talk about it in terms of who's "being nice" and "who is not being nice."

 

Frankly, I'm looking forward to the age when we CAN have these types of conversations -- conversations about racial stereotyping, about American-centric ignorance, about ways in which media inaccurately portray certain groups of people. But, for now, this will have to do.

 

Anyone else out there with older/younger kids who would do this differently? Do you ban certain shows all together, or do you use them as springboards for conversation?

Presence Does Make a Difference

I often field questions about diversity and inclusion - especially ones like, "Well, why does it matter if a person of color is in my class?" or "What difference does it make if I have a Black professor?" or "Since I treat all people the same, why should it be important that my kids have a diverse group of friends?" I believe that the presence of people with diverse backgrounds, needs, abilities, etc., changes the conversation and ways we do things simply by their presence. In an exercise I do in workshops, I ask participants to move around a room and talk to a different person every 30 seconds or so.  It requires an ability to physically move quickly AND an ability to filter sounds easily (the room gets quite noisy). Those are just the surface needs. The exercise also requires people to be somewhat extroverted, comfortable with asking un-comfortable questions, and comfortable with answering un-comfortable questions.

The exercise ends without a hitch - usually everyone is feeding off the energy of moving around quickly and trying to get points (you receive points my talking to many people). After asking typical process questions like, "What was this like for you?" or "What was something interesting you learned about another person in the room?", I then follow up with these types of questions:

  • "Is there anyone was physically challenged by this exercise?"
  • "Is there anyone for whom hearing was a challenge in this type of room?"

I typically am working in a room of able-bodied participants; and I tend to co-host this workshop with a friend of mine who uses hearing aids. She often shares how this exercise would have been extremely difficult for her to filter out individual voices in such a noisy room. I then share that, due to chemotherapy, my own daughter would have difficult with this exercise since she cannot filter voices well in a loud room. This type of exercise -- given that you earn points for moving around quickly -- would also prove unfair for anyone who might have mobility challenges. By design, this exercise creates advantage.... and ideally, it helps to highlight to others that we tend not to think about that advantage unless we have others in the room who are unfairly disadvantaged because of it.

picture-11

I am loving this year's American Idol series. While, yes, we do watch it as a family, it particularly hits home for us as a family with a visually impaired child. Scott MacIntyre, a top 12 finalist, is raising our awareness of how we do things.

Millions dream of making it to the final rounds of American Idol but for Scott MacIntyre, the dream has become reality. Born with severe vision loss from Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), Scott is an incredibly gifted musical performer who has made it to the Top 12 on American Idol. With his remarkable talent, Scott is bound to make it far in the competition, and we need you to support him as he shoots his way to the top!

An Arizona State University graduate, a Marshall scholar, and a Fulbright scholar, Scott learned to play the piano at the age of three.  His piano professor, Walter Cosand, said, "He's always been able to do what everyone else could do and many things no one else could do. A lot of things he does are very remarkable, even for someone without a disability."

Scott also has a sister, Katelyn, who has lost her vision to LCA. With their brother Todd, the three siblings have made a splash performing as the MacIntyre Family Singers. Scott even shared his talents with the FFB family when he performed at the opening luncheon of the 1998 VISIONS Conference in Chicago.

Not only do we have a visually impaired child, many of her friends (at least the ones we see over the summer in a special camp) are also visually impaired. So, the language that Ryan Seacrest uses when Scott MacIntyre is on stage is so familiar to us. Ryan Seacrest describes what direction Scott is facing, he details that Scott is receiving a standing ovation, and he uses physical touch (likely already negotiated -- side note: it's considered very rude to just come up to a visually impaired person and touch them; you approach and ask permission prior to touching someone!) to guide him when on stage. It's something the American Idol host has never had to do in the 8 seasons the show has been on the air. While not explicitly drawing attention to Scott's challenge, his very presence raises our awareness of a community that has not gotten exposure in mainstream media.

Yet, it's a learning process. Because we are so used to speaking and working with able-bodied folks, we still slip. So, last night, I cringed as Ryan Seacrest told all of the finalists to "come to the middle of the stage!" at which point everyone came running down the stairs and hugged one another in the center of the stage. And, up in the left hand corner of the screen, there was Scott MacIntyre -- standing still, not moving, and stuck. There were no handrails on the stairs, and Scott was indeed on the top of the risers. After about 20 seconds (which, to me, felt like 20 minutes!), someone came running out from backstage to guide Scott to the center of the stage where he could join his fellow finalists.

Scott's success in American Idol -- and the ways in which his very presence raises our awareness -- is so important to the conversation about how we benefit from having diversity in our lives. It requires us to think about ways in which we assume that "everyone is like us". In the disability circle, specifically, it raises our awareness of ways in which we are blind (my own pun, intended), to the assumptions that everyone does things just like us.

Just like us. Note that I didn't write "the assumptions that everyone can do things", but rather that "everyone does things just like us."  My daughter can jump, run, play sports, sing, walk, participate in just about everything else that any visual child can do ... she just doesn't do it like everyone else. Go check out a "blind baseball game" (there are national leagues that do exist!). Listen to how conversations are built around faith and religion when there are Christians, Jews, and Muslims all in one room as opposed to when those groups are in isolation. Having different types of people and experiences requires us to take into consideration how others engage in the conversation, activity, and process.

So, do I think it matters if someone has a Black professor? Yes. A group of diverse friends/co-workers? Yes. Opportunities to dialogue across faith traditions? Yes. That there is diversity in decision making positions? Yes.

Experiences that require us to work with different types of people bring a new level of awareness to how we navigate through our own world. When we aren't challenged to see things outside of how we do things, we don't suffer. American Idol has been just fine in the past 7 seasons. But, this season - with the inclusion of a very talented and deserving artist - has hopefully highlighted ways in which we take for granted that OUR way is the ONLY way.

Is There a Right Way?

My husband and I have been trying to make more connections with families in our area - a task somewhat difficult given that so many of our family members live within a 1 hour radius from our house. Weekends are usually spent hanging out with the same brothers and/or sisters along with their kids. But, we realize that we and our children need to also get to know more people outside of that small circle -- no easy task for introverts like my husband and me. 608110045_buttermilkpancakeRecently, we met up with a friend of mine and her husband who have children in the same age bracket as our kids. They are both white, though the mom grew up and was educated outside of the U.S., and have biological white children. We joined them for brunch at their house which gave the kids time to play and the grown ups time to talk.

It was our first real get-together, so we kept the conversation pretty light. We talked about work, where we lived prior to our current location, things we did over the holiday, etc. At one point, though, the discussion touched race, diversity, and our children. Both sets of children go to racially diverse schools. The mom talked about how she doesn't encourage her children to use racial descriptors when referring to people. On the flipside, she doesn't discourage it either. She said she pretty much waits and sees how her child will talk about a particular person. My husband then said, "For us, we always bring up color and encourage our kids to do so. When our kids describe others in their classes, one of the things they talk about first is whether the child has 'brown skin' or 'peach skin'. There are two boys named Tyler in the school, and when we ask for clarification, we ask if it's the Tyler-with-the-brown-skin or Tyler-with-the-peach-skin."

For my husband, who is Puerto Rican and who, too, has worked in predominantly white environments, he has always expressed frustration in the practice of using every single other descriptor about a person other than race, especially when race is the only thing separating someone from all others.  So, it's the "see that guy over there... kind of athletic build .. with the brown hair... with the book bag... standing up straight... with the nice smile...." rather than, "The Puerto Rican guy in that group." You know what I mean....

The mom responded with, "We don't bring up race because we're afraid of doing it wrong."

It got me thinking -- I definitely didn't get the "colorblind" vibe from her. Not at all, in fact. She has lived in enough places and knows enough not to live in a whitewashed world. I got the sense that it was a true issue of  "I don't want to mess it up". But I was wondering, how many other diversity saavy parents out there have chosen not to talk obviously about race? Is there a right way? More specificially, is there a right way for white parents? Is there a right way for parents of color? And, is there a right way for parents of transracial adoptive children?

Most parents of color I know always talk about race with their children. I remember when my daughter had just turned 2 years old, and we were walking on a city street. We walked by a tall Black man, and she said, "Mommy, he has brown skin."

"Yes," I responded. "He does."

That was all. No big deal. I didn't "shush" her. I didn't falsly patronize a stranger by saying how beautiful his skin was, how smart the man must be, etc. My daughter's statement about brown skin was just an observation. She noticed his brown skin in the same way she noticed the car that we walked by was red; color was just a part of her vocabulary.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues came to me asking for advice. She said that she picked up her 6-year old son from school and asked about his day, his friends, etc. Her son mentioned a few of names of some kids, and then said, "There is also David. But, we don't like David because we don't like Black people." My friend said she nearly drove off the road in shock. "What do you mean we don't like Black people? Where did you hear that? Who told you that??" she screamed, later admitting that she probably shouldn't have reacted so strongly at that moment. "Oh, never mind. Sorry, Mom, I mean, yes, we like Black people. We like Black people, right, Mom??"

My colleague -- again, another person who I consider diversity saavy -- realized her reaction had just simply scared him into not talking about it anymore rather than engaging her son in the conversation. Now, when she tries to revisit the conversation -- even weeks later -- her 6-year old son clams up and says, "I don't want to talk about it, Mom. I'm so sorry. I like Black people. I really like Black people." She's struggling to re-engage him into the conversation. She says she tries to bring up race and the color of skin in very nonchalant ways, but her son immediately flies into apology mode and wants to end the discussion. I encouraged her to buy some children's books that have kids of color in it, etc. Her son likes to hear a bedtime story each night, and so I suggested this might be a good way to introduce the discussion back again without obviously talking about the comments in the car.

My colleague asked questions that many of us hear often: "Where did he learn that? Why did he say 'we' don't like Black people?  Am I doing something that is sending him messages about Black people? Is it school? Kids at school? Television that we watch?"

"Probably a little bit of all of the above," I replied.

Was this the "we-don't-want-to-do-it-wrong" example that my brunch friend was talking about? Did my colleague do something wrong by reacting as strongly as she did with her son? Or, was she just sending a clear message that the sentiment of  "we don't like Black people" is unacceptable?

wrongway1So, back to my question -- is there a right way to bring up race? Is there a wrong way?

Degrees of Blog Separation

I love blogging. I'm a Facebook addict. I love connections. So, imagine my giggles of delight when I find a new and interesting blog that is connected by a few other blogs to me. Thanks to some of my readers, I caught on to an interesting blog called "Resist Racism". Clicked on it and and managed to ignore my fighting children long enough to read some good stuff. I especially liked two of their pages: Racism 101 and We Heard it Before

Here is a sample of the Racism 101 part that I really liked:

  1. White privilege exists.
  2. Sanctuary is not segregation.
  3. Flipping the actors does not lend clarity to an issue, nor does it mean that you have created equivalent analogies. See entry under Fallacious Flip.
  4. People must own their feelings and expressions. Ventriloquy is not helpful in discussions of racism.
  5. Seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people.
  6. Racism is more than individual acts of meanness.

Looking forward to reading more of their posts - catch some of their stuff when you can!

Some great adoption resources

Just caught on to a brilliant blog by a white woman who has three children of color. She shares her list of adoption books on her site! Thanks "Mama D"! While the books address adoption, a number of the stories have central themes of transracial and multicultural/multinational families.

Excerpt from "Mama D's" blog:

books about adoption, parenting, family, and belonging ... and one on race (find them at, or order them from, your local bookstore) Parenting the Hurt Child : Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck, Regina M. Kupecky Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best Let's Talk About It: Adoption by Fred Rogers I Love You Rituals by Rebecca Anne Bailey, Sarah Whalen, Jeff Jones Attaching in Adoption by Deborah D. Gray Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child by  Robert J. MacKenzie I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie Kitzke Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings We See The Moon by Carrie Kitze When Sophie Get's Angry - Really, Really Angry by Ann Caron Whoever You Are by Mem Fox and Leslie Staub Yell-Oh Girls!: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American by Vickie Nam It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (we love most books by Todd Parr) I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri

Dolls - and the Office to prove it

the-officeI love the show "The Office." Love it. Live for it. It's the 30 minutes in the week when I know, for sure, that I'm gonna hurt from laughing. When I bring up that my favorite show is "The Office," I get two reactions: 1) "I LOVE THAT SHOW, TOO!" or 2) "Oh, god, that show makes me so uncomfortable. I can't watch it!" I think that the characters are so real to life that it's just hysterical. And, unfortunately, I can match up every single Office character with someone I have worked with in my professional career. Maybe that's why it's so funny -- because it wasn't funny when they were real people in my life.

The show this week was no exception to the uncomfortably hilarious diversity conversation. This week, Dwight had the brilliant forsight to purchase all of the "Unicorn Princess" dolls in the local stores and charge "those lazy parents" upwards of $200 for the dolls. As with just about every new kid craze, these dolls were ridiculous. They were pretty princesses, dressed in shimmery pink dresses, with a long white horn coming out of the forehead. I joke not.

Throughout the show, anxious white fathers come in, give the secret nod,princess-unicorn-300x192 and get their dolls after exchanging a wad of cash. Toby, the poor fool of an HR guy, goes to buy the last doll from Dwight. He ends up paying $400 for the doll, the camera pans to his delighted face as he holds the precious box in his hands, and then his expression quickly turns sour as he discovers he has just bought the Black Unicorn Princess. Yes, folks, the Black Unicorn Princess.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3GPOgJ6WtM&hl=en&fs=1]

I get asked a lot about dolls, given that I have two little girls. My husband and I have a practice of only buying dolls with brown skin (and, ideally, ones with a waist larger than my ring-size). Everywhere my kids go, they are surrounded by white dolls. They see white characters -- whom they idolize -- on television. They listen to young white girls singing on Radio Disney. And, conversely, they see far too many shows with young brown girls as the "mean kids" or the "dumb girls" or the "bratty teens."

Purchasing power is on my side. The brown dolls ... they always seem to be on clearance. That helps me out. But, in the neighborhood and city in which I live, whites are the minority. Yet, the brown dolls are always the one on clearance. White dolls dominate the shelves on the toy racks. On a recent trip to North Carolina for a speaking engagement, I nearly lost my mind when I walked into a store and found shelves and shelves of beautiful Black dolls -- angels, princesses, books with Black characters, and a Black Nativity scene. My host had accompanied me into the store and couldn't believe my shock.

"You don't understand," I said. "I never see Black dolls -- in so many numbers -- in a store. The multicultural dolls are usually hidden in a corner with red tags on their boxes."

"Honey, this is North Carolina. There are plenty of Black dolls down here. I think it's time for you to relocate!" said my host.

Thankful for the luxury of internet shopping, I avoid most of the big toy and book stores these days and give my money to smaller companies who have made multicultural options their business plan. I know this makes my white relatives uncomfortable - we've had some great discussions about how my actions aren't to exclude white merchandise. After all, my kids are surrounded by it. Their dolls at school, their books at their library, their favorite characters on television, and the stars of their favorite movies are all white. They have plenty of exposure to white culture. Believe me.

And, if you haven't seen this experiment re-done, check out the impact of racial preferencing and messaging in young kids:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybDa0gSuAcg]

What I do is actively look to INCLUDE multicultural images in their lives. It's so easy to exclude these for many reasons; in my area, the most powerful reason is that multicultural resources are not readily accessible.

What am I looking for next? Waiting for the Ken, Ben and Baby doll sets to hit the shelves, though sadly even in Massachusetts, I'm sure this will be a while before this happens.

Wait... you're BROWN?

To keep myself entertained -- rather, to keep myself from going nuts -- I often try to find humor in my non-diverse working world. A game I typically play is "How many brown people will I see when walking from my office to the dining hall?" I've been playing this little game for about 3 years now. In those first three years, unless I saw my own reflection in a mirrored window, that number was ZERO. Yup. Zero. And, this is no short walk, mind you. It's a good 7 minutes, and I'm typically walking at a time when classes are just getting out and everyone is rushing to the dining commons.

This past year, with increased efforts to increase diversity, I'm shocked at the number of SOC's (students of color) that I see --- I see an average of 4-5 students during my 7 minute walk! C'mon... I know that's not a huge number, but for me, that's a 500% increase! I'll play those odds any day!

So, here's an interesting twist to the game. Sometimes, if I pass by a tour that is being given by the admissions office, I'll even count "visitors" to campus. Alas, that doesn't change the number.

Today, however, I was walking with a friend to the dining commons from my office, and exclaimed "Oh my GOD! Stop everything! There are two brown families on that tour!!" My friend looked over and said, "Where?" I said, "Are you freakin' kidding me? There are brown people on that tour!!" His response: "Who?"

"Those three people of Asian heritage! Look!!"

And my friend replies, "They're not brown, are they? Wait, you count Asians as BROWN?"

"Listen, friend. I take what I can get on this campus.... and, yes, Asian is BROWN. I am BROWN. My skin is BROWN."

** So, let me briefly stop here and say that I have the best conversations with this friend. He's probably one of the most aware people I know. And, he loves Obama. So, therefore, I love him (in a professional way, of course). For me, that fact highlights that even the most aware allies sometimes don't quite get it. **

Moving on....

We were already getting close to the busy lunch line (where you have to throw elbows just to get some chicken nuggets and curly fries), so I didn't continue the conversation. But, the comment stayed with me.

Brown. Am I brown? Yes, I am Brown. When I talk to my daughters, we talk about our skin being different shades of brown. My older daughter's skin color resembles my husband's dark chocolate skin shade. I'm a lighter shade of that brown. And, my younger daughter is a very light brown. But, we are unmistakably BROWN.

Not Yellow? I'm not sure if my friend was trying to get me to say that I was "yellow" -- a common color so wrongly associated with people of my heritage background: Asian. When people say they have friends of all different colors, "black, white, red, yellow....", they mean "African American, Euro American, First Peoples, and Asian." But, I am not hella' yella' people. I'm just not.

Well, then, that got me thinking further -- what is my dad, who's racial background is made up predominantly of a Chinese lineage. His skin is as white as the Mac laptop I'm typing on now. Is HE BROWN? The shape of his eyes keeps me from calling him white. And, aside from jaundice when he was born in 1947, he hasn't ever been yellow. Is Dad BROWN?

So, naturally, I have the answers to these questions that I pose here....

Skin "color" is more about political connotations than it is about "color." I have had plenty of white people email me and say, "I don't like the term 'people of color'... we all have 'color.'" And, I respectfully disagree. The term "people of color" is less about the actual Crayola shade and more about the political, systematic, and institutionalized implications that go along with color. So, is my dad's skin physically WHITE? Yes. Has he ever in his entire life been given the same privilege as a White person? Uh, no....

Why do I emphatically disagree with the "yellow" part? Well, honestly, I'm just not yellow. That's weird. That's like some f'd up Big Bird shit or something. Peeps are Yellow. That neon bubble gum that's been sitting in the $.25 dispenser since 1987 is Yellow. That damn "Have a Nice Day" smiley face is Yellow.

I am a shade of Brown. Beautiful. Blessed.

And, before people start to do the jump off of "Well, then, as a white person, I embrace my Peachness...." realize that the conversation here is around politics of color. Go on and embrace the Peachness, because, you're right, I don't believe that anyone is a true "beige, eggshell, ivory" or any other paint color that's a version of White. But, we'd be crazy to think that the politics, the institutionalization of privilege and power, and equity and resources aren't given to those of the "peach persuasion."

Mellow? Maybe. Yellow? No.

Introducing... White Privilege

Ah, my good old friend - White Privilege. Unfortunately, too many people have been subjected to this friend's presence. And, too many people have never even heard of this legendary idea. That's too bad, because we all have to deal with it. It's the house guest that was never invited, never leaves, and is also the elephant in the room. As an aspiring anti-racist and multicultural life liver, white privilege has been something I've known about for years and years. It's taken some time to truly understand it, but I had at least heard of it, knew I needed to know it, and have been working to introduce it to others.

Most folks (hopefully) are hip to Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". If you aren't, it's a "gotta read." Or, really, a "stop what you're doing and gotta read it now" deal. Want someone more current, get hip to Tim Wise's work. While he's been out there a long time, people recently started to get on to him with an essay that's gone viral (nice job, Tim!). I'm finally hearing people mention his name (even though he's spoken at hundreds of schools and organizations, has a great blog, and written a handful of powerful books).

There are entire blogs out there just about white privilege, and mine certainly isn't one dedicated to it. But, as white privilege is the flipside of discrimination, it's a must-talk-about in all diversity circles.

So, a few interesting stories about white privilege that I've experienced in the past few weeks:

There have been a couple of other messages out there about white privilege and the election (of course). So, one was forwaded to me the other day at work comparing and contrasting the "get out of jail free" cards that McCain and Palin get while the Obamas get slammed. I won't go into all the details here, but they are obvious enough to figure out.

A friend of mine had forwarded to me, and I simply responded with, "Hurray for white privilege!" (sarcastic, of course). She then emailed me back and wrote, "I don't think it has anything to do with white privilege -- they would have done the same things to John Kerry and Hilary Clinton." I didn't respond via email, rather, I snarked and said aloud, "Like I said.... Hurray for white privilege." Yes, the friend is a white woman... with enough privilege to be able to negate that the freebies McCain/Palin were getting weren't based on race. Yup. White privilege. Let me introduce you, shall I?

I've written before about how a dark-skinned Puerto Rican friend of mine got nailed for wearing a "Got Privilege?" shirt in public. A white woman came up to him and began criticizing him for wearing it and even went as far to say, "How would you like it if I wore a 'Got Affirmative Action?' shirt??" Uh, huh. It's too good to even lie about that stuff.

This entry wasn't so much to digest White Privilege, but hopefully to get you to click on some links and check out other people's thoughts and such. Feel free to leave you're own here, too!

Okay, 1 Disney thing that I do like

It's no secret -- I think lots of Disney things are totally racist. I do allow my daughters to watch their shows, though, because the character choices of behavior, race, stereotyping, etc., actually make for great material for me. We talk about "kindness" (or lack thereof in some of the characters), personalities, who the "bad" girls and the "good" girls tend to be, etc. While my daughters certainly can identify Cinderella, Belle, and all of those princess types, we read them books of the same themes but with Black/Brown characters in them (check out the Jump at the Sun series of books -- they are awesome!). In their coloring books, my daughters easily make choices to color the princesses with white or brown skin, blond or black hair. Have you noticed what colors your child(ren) in your life chooses to color princesses? What messages are they receiving, and then projecting, about who can be a princess and what a princess looks like?

My husband and I *always* watch every television show with the girls. We never let them watch the shows without a) us screening them first, and b) without at least providing some sort of lesson or awareness about key areas that draw our attention.

But, a shout out - finally! -- to a Disney movie that I think gets it right... Camp Rock.

Now, disclaimer: The only way we have watched it is through recording it off the Disney channel. And, by chance, our recorder stopped recording with a few minutes to go at the end. So, far be it from me not to assume that something totally whack happens at the end.

Camp Rock. I love it. Latina main character with Latino parents who don't have to make any ethnic statement other than to be visually Latino/a and to have the surname "Torres." No one busts out any Spanish. No one starts doing salsa or saying they have to call their abuela (although, the representation WOULD be nice in a Disney movie!). No - they just get to be Latina without having to do the very-Disney-thing of qualifying their experiences. The lead not-so-nice-girl is thin, blond, and super rich. And, yes, she has the friends-of-color sidekicks so often found in Disney movies and shows.

But.. (spoiler alert for anyone who is actually holding out to watch the movie).... in the end, the gals-of color sidekicks completely stick it to the lead character and refuse to be objectified by her. Nice going, gals! And, in a good Disney way, the lead character apologizes without being nasty -- she just says she was wrong and eats it. Now, I'm not sure if there is anything that I miss in the last 2 minutes, but that's my version of how it ended!

Why post about this on "To Loosen?" Well, a few reasons:

1. I am a big fan of having conversations about race that can begin in a relaxed way -- like as a result of watching a movie or show

2. I am a FIRM believer that kids ARE aware of racism and messages about inequality. So, for me, the sooner I can talk about it in an age appropriate way, the better. And, unfortunately, so many of the Disney movies and shows are riddled with stereotyping and racism that it makes it easy.

3. I don't think television is bad -- I DO think that unsupervised television is horrible. So, if you're going to let your kids watch tv, then watch with them. Use their interests as a way to engage them in conversations that affect their lives.

4. Lots of times, people say that I'm making a lot of the Disney race thing (I'm not, I assure you). It's there, and it's obvious if you are aware of race and racism. If you're NOT seeing the racism in Disney shows and movies, then it's time To Loosen Your Mind and figure out what that's all about. Ignoring it is reinforcing the white privilege that comes along with not needing to notice it.

I like High School Musical, too, with my kids - but, for some reason, Camp Rock just really stuck with me this time on the race thing.

Are You Kidding Me?

 I've heard of lots of "good luck" cheers and traditions, but this one is a new one -- pulling the corner of your eyes so that you "look" Chinese is now the new "good luck" cheer. Really?

Spain's Basketball Federation published a "good luck" advertisement to wish their team well in Beijing.

There is no obvious intention to upset their Olympic hosts in Beijing, but the irresponsible picture is likely to cause controversy and could be interpreted so as to lead to accusations of racism.

Really, ya think?

This reminds me of Tami's recent post about ownership of offensiveness. This is certainly a moment where I think everyone should feel offended - and, yes, feel free to tell me how much I should be offended, too.

Seeing this picture, as an Asian American woman, brings me back to those playground days of kids pulling at their eyes and asking me if "I can see them" or "Ching-Chong"-ing me in a playful, yet hateful, way. This picture brings me back to the days when I was humiliated that my parents chose to use their native language in the our white, Irish Catholic neighborhood. This picture brings me back to being picked last at kickball or picked-NEVER at basketball because, after all, Asian kids weren't good at anything but karate...

But, here. Now. And, at the Olympics? I often hit a cross road when I talk to young people who say that they don't think their world is as racist as it was when "we" were growing up, and then images like this surface.

What troubles me even more is that the article is, maybe, 4 paragraphs long and it ends with a promo of when you can watch the Spanish team play.

Hopefully, I'll be able to see the television with my pulled, slanted eyes. Or, not.

Who are the people in your network?

Much of the educational work I do tends to involve groups made up of predominantly white individuals – students, parents, professionals, educators, etc. And, as many diversity facilitators would agree, I tend not to take the “guilt” route, but rather I work to point out ways in which we must actively make decisions now that we are adults. Photo from www.reneebeads.com

One of the exercises I begin with in group facilitation is a variation of a popular exercise called “The Bead Exercise.” There are a few variations of the exercise that are designed to visually point out ways in which our circle of trusted individuals is often not diverse, or tends to reflect our own ethnicity or racial identity.

In my version of The Bead Exercise, I have various circles on a piece of white paper that have between 15-20 different professions or interests written within the circle: doctor, neighbor, roommate, best friend, hairstylist, favorite movie actor, favorite singer, mechanic, etc. The participants write down the name of the individual who they trust or admire. Then, I give them a “key” - - a list of colors that correspond to the major racial categories, with a few more thrown in. The participants must them color in each “bead” as it corresponds to the racial key. As the participants are doing this, I duly note that this exercise is very focused on “race” – and that we are well aware that individuals may have other areas of identity (ability, sexual identity, religion, etc) that are not mentioned here.

In the many times I’ve run this exercise, I usually hear the same thing in predominantly white groups: “Oh my gosh. I had no idea there were no people of color included in my circle.” or “Woah. I guess I’m not as inclusive as I thought I was.” Now, because I don’t operate from a philosophy of guilt, I process this exercise in a very different way than others. I encourage people to look at the entities that were chosen for us prior to having independence as adults (or that are still being chosen for us, if I’m working with a group of young people) . We typically don’t get a chance to choose our doctors when we are younger. We don’t get to choose our neighbors, our religious leaders, and we sometimes don’t get to choose our roommates.

But, the question is … now that we may be of age to make our own decisions, how are we actively diversifying our close network of professionals? What are the early messages we received about certain races, ethnicities, religions, colors, identities and their abilities to perform or not perform certain jobs?

I always challenge people to envision the “old boys network” – if we only see one type of professional, then we only refer one type of professional, then we are building our “old boys network.” One of the criticisms I’ve received (mostly online) about this practice of actively seeking to diversify is the comment that “I’m not going to just go out and pick a Black doctor if the Black doctor isn’t the best one” or “I’m going to go to the best professional … not the brownest professional” or my personal favorite is “That’s a racist thing to say – that I should actively seek to exclude Whites from my professional network” (no, that's not the message of the exercise…)

Seeing the point, yet?

Here are a few stories that individuals have told me who have stepped up to the challenge of actively seeking to diversify their professionals. Their names have been changed, although, they should be very proud of themselves for rising to the challenge!:

Jennifer, mother of twins, said that she wasn’t happy with the care her pediatrician was giving her toddlers. She was in the process of looking for a new doctor. After attending a session I held on this topic, Jennifer looked at her list of doctors she had prepared to call and interview. Sure enough, of the 12 doctors she had on her “call” list, all 12 of those doctors were white. She got online, logged into her health insurance network, found a few names of doctors from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and added them to the list. Jennifer went to the first African American doctor on her list, interviewed him about his medical philosophy, his training and experience, and watched him interact with her children. Jennifer absolutely fell in love with him and his care for her toddlers. With due diligence, Jennifer went and interviewed a few of the other doctors on her list, and she felt the African American pediatrician was the best fit for her and her family. Jennifer now has an African American pediatrician who she has been recommending to other parents.

Jennifer’s is such a great story because she never really thought about including a doctor of color into her mix. She didn’t think she was actively excluding one, but she certainly never thought to include one. Probably every doctor on her big list was talented, kind, smart, and well-respected. While she would never consider herself a prejudiced person (and I wouldn’t refer to her as that, either), it’s great to hear that she is now looking at the other types of lists she makes and thinks “Is this inclusive or am I just going with the type of professional that meets my comfort needs?”

Likely feedback from readers is, “Well, if the African American doctor wasn’t a good fit, should Jennifer have stuck with that doctor?” No. Of course not. In the same way that she shouldn’t stay with a White doctor if she didn’t feel comfortable. But, I hopefully Jennifer has a new awareness to then ask herself, “Well, what is it that I’m not comfortable with? Am I not comfortable with something associated with the doctor’s race? With the doctor’s gender? Am I uncomfortable if the doctor has an accent? Or, did I simply not like the his medical philosophy about pediatric medicine?”

We always challenge people to actively reflect on conscious and subconscious bias … that’s how we start to work towards becoming an anti-racist.

Another story comes from Ben who also participated in the exercise. What made an impact with Ben was the “bead” asking about favorite movie actor. Ben began to reflect, not on his movie taste, but on his movie choices. As we began sharing his favorite movies, he realized that many of the movies that he has watched that had POC’s were slapstick comedies. He came to realize there was an absence of movies that showed POCs as heros/heroines. He didn’t watch any movies that addressed POC issues or history. He felt he owed it to himself to start watching some movies that addressed these issues. As a frequent Netflix user, Ben added some of the “must watch” movies to his list, and soon began committing to 2 movies a month.

See, it’s not that hard. No one is asking Ben to start liking those movies. Rather, the challenge is including those movies into his mental library. Doing so challenges his perception of POC, issues around politics, etc. Soon, Ben even began to rent movies that were subtitled (and, if you knew Ben, his favorite line was always, “If I wanted to read a movie, I would have gotten the book!”).

One of my favorite “A-ha” moments was when I did this exercise with a group of upper-middle class adults, and I happened to include “mortgage broker/banker/financial planner” (which I knew many of them had). After we had processed the exercise, Ryan came up to me with a “lightbulb look” on his face – you know, that look when someone just realized something big! He looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, at first I thought this whole exercise was a little ridiculous, until we got to the one about the person who handles our money. I thought about why Jim was our financial planner, and I know that we are with him because he’s trustworthy, honest, and has our best financial intentions in mind. Well, I began to think about messages I received about people who weren’t white, and came to the realization that I would never have a Black person or Mexican person handle my finances because my dad always told me ‘you could never trust a person like that with your money’…. I’m 35 years old, and I’m just realizing that now.” Ryan was on the verge of tears and definitely on the brink of disgust.

Now, going back to my original point about “choosing the most talented and not necessarily the brownest….”, my advice wasn’t to ditch Jim and find a Black or Mexican financial planner. No, obviously not. But, it was because of the exercise that this man challenged his practice of NOT including people of color in his trusted circle. I never heard from Ryan after that day, but I’m hoping he took that a-ha moment with him and challenged other ways he might have internalized early messages about people of color.

From my own experience, women of color are often shocked when they hear that I bring my daughter – the one with the hair issues at age 5! – to a white woman who does her hair. When we go to visit her grandparents in NYC, we go to an all Dominican hair salon. Here in Boston, my daughter sees a white woman who braids, conditions, thins out, etc. her hair. “Why are you sending her to a white woman!!??! They can’t do her hair!!” Yes. Yes, she can. And, she does it quite well, actually…. She fully understands my daughter’s hair, has worked on hair exactly like my daughter’s hair in her 10 years as a hairdresser, and my daughter loves her. So, yes, the white woman does an excellent job with my daughter’s tight, curly, hair.

Actively seeking to diversify the professionals in your life goes a number of ways. I’ve also run this exercise with predominantly Latino, Black and Asian groups, too. And for many of these groups, they, too, have mono-chromatic “beads”. In some of those groups, they were also given early messages to only trust people within their ethnic neighborhoods, etc. They went to schools where they were the majority, went to the local bodega or corner store to buy their groceries, and/or only listen to music popularized within their community. Imagine the look I get when working with predominantly Latino students from the Bronx when I encourage them that “for 1 week, listen to Country Music and Classical Music or music that is not in English or Spanish!” I ask them to look at the messages they received about different races, ethnicities, religions, identities, etc., and jobs those different identities can and cannot perform, in their minds.

I find it interesting that, out of all the anti-racist “working points” I give, this is the one that gets the most controversy. But, it’s also understandable given that these choices are often the most loaded with our own subconscious messages we received about different identities. It’s also the area where people are interested more in “merit” – when, in fact, merit is very racially loaded in our U.S. society.

So, in what ways are you looking to diversify your life? What will you now include in your toolbox? What messages did you receive about different identities as they pertain to “who can or cannot perform a certain job?”