Archives For August 2013

 

 

Fifty years ago this week, two individuals peacefully fought for freedom by raising their powerful voices during the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington.

Today, a husband and wife team employs their gifts to keep that dream alive for the next generation.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, an award winning author, who strives to fill the gaps in children’s literature with books that celebrate the African- American community, and Brian Pinkney, a Caldecott Honor illustrator, have created another stunning book.

martin-and-mahalia

Martin & Mahalia is the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the legendary gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. You can hear her amazing voice and learn more about her life and work from  the Official Web Site of the Mahalia Jackson Residual Family Corporation.

The art and words bring to life the parallel and intersecting paths of Martin and Mahalia as they both use their gospel gift and voice to fight unjust practices. It also shares the little known story of how during the rally, Mahalia shouted to Martin to tell the crowds about his dream. So he deviated from his script and the rest is history.

To learn more about this story and the making of the book click on Entertainment Weekly’s family blog to read an interview with the Pinkneys.

And stay tuned for ways to keep the dream alive.

 

Advertisements

What are some of the phrases/ actions associated with race/racism that you never want children to hear or see?

What racism do you want to stop?

A mentor, who’s taught me much about multiple perspectives, has often told me, “unmentionable becomes unmanageable.” So when faced with an awkward conversation about race, I try to forge ahead despite my fear. I do worry that I may say the wrong thing but I’d rather start a dialogue than miss an opportunity.

According to Pro Bronson (see this post) ,many white parents and educators don’t find these race conversations easy. I am no different. But if I’m not willing to engage, then I’m responsible for making the unmentionable unmanageable.

12danceprincessA library class with lots of five year olds clamoring for books was one such occasion when I felt out of my depth but obligated to speak. A girl requested a “princess book”. I handed her Rachel Isadora’s stunning version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. When she replied, “no, I want a pretty one,” I had two choices.

I could find another book.  Or I could find out why a classic fairytale set in Africa was not acceptable. Obviously, she couldn’t  articulate that she had been indoctrinated by Disney’s values of beauty, princesses and fairytales.

I had five minutes left of class and was at a loss for words.

As my mentor said, “just start the conversation. You don’t have to finish it.” So I told my student, that Isadora’s version was beautiful. However, it sounded like she was looking for a specific type of book that was of a different style. I showed her a Disney style fairytale she left happy.

I may not have said the right thing.

She may not remember the conversation.

I may not have shifted her thinking.

But.

I feel better for trying, in my awkward, off-guarded attempt, to interrupt her unconscious, internalized racism. I, at least, acknowledged the unmentionable to myself.

I hope she heard, so  that one day it won’t be unmanageable for her.

Here are 10 books to use as spring boards for discussions about skin color. They range from picture books to young adult titles. Hope they help.

PICTURE BOOKS

1.

The Skin You Live In_LargeThe Skin You Live In    By Michael Tyler, David Lee Csicsko, (Illustrator) Chicago Children Museum, 2005

This picture book uses rhyme to celebrate the range of skin color and the fact that children are simultaneously unique and similar.

2.

skinagainSkin Again   By bell hooks, Chris Raschka (Illustrator) Jump at the Sun, 2004

Another good title to discuss differences in skin color but honor that what’s inside is what counts.

3.

shadesofpeopleShades of people   By Shelley Rotner, Sheila M.Kelly Holiday House, 2010

Echoing the above titles in theme, this title uses photographs to show that skin is a covering that comes in all different shades, even within a family. Yet we have more in common when we move past these external differences.

 

4.

daisyDaisy and the Doll   By Michael Medearis, Angela Shelf Medearis, Larry Johnson (Illustrator) University Press of New England, 2005

While this story is 100 year old Daisy Turner’s memory that she recounted about her experience growing up in Grafton Vermont in the 1890’s, the emotions and issues of what it feels like to be different and face racial prejudice are no different today. Click here to find fascinating information about Daisy’s experience on the Vermont Folklore Center’s website.

NON-FICTION

5.

all the colorsAll the Colors we are: the story of how we get our skin color   By Katie Kissinger, Wernher Krutein (Photographer) Redleaf Press, 2002

A useful resource to teach children the environmental and hereditary aspects of melanin, or skin color.

6.

skininracismThe Skin I’m In  By Pat Thomas, Lesley Harker (Illustrator) Barron’s Educational Series, 2003

This nonfiction title provides young children with examples of racist acts while encouraging children to embrace differences.

7.

racism-pete-sanders-hardcover-cover-artRacism (Let’s Talk About) By Bruce Sanders Creative Co, 2005

As the title indicates, the book explains how skin color can be cause for unfair treatment. It also suggests that we can combat racism if we work together.

YOUNG ADULT / ADULT

8.

skinaminflakeThe Skin I’m In   By Sharon Flake Hyperion Books, 2007

This awarding YA title is great for older audiences. The thirteen-year-old heroine, Maleeka, doesn’t like being dark skinned because everyone at school makes it a problem. Befriending a bully doesn’t help. She has to learn to love herself and the skin she’s in.  Click here to see what one school has done with this profound text.

9.

face relationsFace Relations: 11 Stories about seeing beyond Color Marilyn Singer (Editor) Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004

This YA collection explores issues of diversity, racism and ways to move beyond with well known authors such as M.E Kerr and Joseph Bruchac.

10.

blacklikemeBlack Like Me   By John Howard Griffin Wings Press, 2011

Though it is 50 years old, this adult or young adult title is not to be missed. It explores the issue of racial injustice after a white writer darkens his skin and spends time in the American South. Click here for Smithsonian’s view of how the book has stood the test of time.

color_of_us

Talking about skin color is both never easy and entirely simple. Especially if you keep three things in mind.

  1. Any conversation is better than no conversation, so don’t worry about getting it perfect.
  2. One conversation is just that. One conversation, a beginning. It doesn’t have to do everything.
  3. Practice makes better. The more conversations you have the more natural it feels.

The Color of Us by Karen Katz ,the wonderful author/illustrator of books like Can you Say Peace and My First Ramadan is a great entryway into the conversation.

Over the years, I had read this book a number of times to my library classes before I felt comfortable enough to actually do more than a read-aloud. And I use the word comfortable loosely. I was nervous that I wouldn’t do it right, that I’d get questions I couldn’t answer, that I wasn’t an art teacher, and who was I to have these conversations.

But as soon as I read this story, asked everyone to put a hand in a circle, and started talking about the shades of color we saw, my kindergartPeople's mandala - 12 handsners were eager for more. Everyone was clamoring at once. Lena,  the seven year old in the story was cinnamon brown. What color were they?

Be forewarned, you should have lots of food and spice colors to use for all the various shades of your community. The first time I did this I didn’t have enough variations of white – peach, apricot, milk white, eggshell white only covered some of the ranges in our class. But everyone left proud of their new-found vocabulary as they headed off to art class where they mixed paint to match their skin.

For further activities and discussions for this book check out Karen Katz’s suggestions.and this link too.

Happy skin coloring with your child or class!

I was raised not to notice skin color, it was polite and kind to be color blind to not acknowledge difference. That race doesn’t matter; all people are humans;

And if indeed you are taught that racism is learned, you’d think it would make sense don’t talk about race or skin color, then children’ won’t learn to be racist. If adults don’t point out the racial differences, kids won’t see them. But in fact the opposite is true.

If you don’t have explicit conversations with children about race, they will be drawing their own conclusions without adult guidance. Children, like all humans, categorize all day long. When they are young, they can only categorize using one attribute at a time. They use the most salient one, which is often color.

And when white parents use phrases like “we are all the same” that code is confusing for children. It ignores the physical differences a child sees without actually explaining that we aspire to have everyone treated equally.

White parents often wait until third grade to talk about race. But it is too late. Research shows it must happen earlier to be effective. If you don’t have practice, these conversations can seem hard, awkward, uncomfortable. But if you don’t try, children also lack the practice and vocabulary. And suddenly when they don’t know how to acknowledge differences a child may say something like “he looks like us,” setting up an “us versus them” paradigm.

Does your child have the vocabulary to talk about skin color and race? What conclusions would you want your child to draw? Do you know what they are really concluding? Ask them. Talk with them. Find out and feel free to share your findings.

nutrure

You can learn more about the need to stop color blindness in Pro Bronson’s  & Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock, Chapter 3 ” Why White Parents Don’t talk about Race.”

Here’s another great article written by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton “Should we talk to young children about race?

Stay tuned for ways I discuss race and skin color with kindergartners.

When I was thinking about what I would put in my museum of tolerance I thought about the concept of being color blind and how its meaning has changed.

It was how I was raised. To view the person not the color of their skin. We are all human beings and that’s what counts. While the sentiment and or the intent of this teaching seems to come from a good place, I have since learned that the impact, has the opposite effect for many people of color.

It is true we are all human. But if I don’t acknowledge someone’s skin color I am denying that the color of their skin has literally colored their life experience. I am choosing to ignore how they may have been treated because of it. I am avoiding coming to terms with how I exist in the world because of my white skin.

As a white woman in affluent suburb on the East Coast, I can walk into a boutique, whether or not I can afford anything, and be treated with respect or at least left to my own devices. I know for a fact (because a friend of color shared that story with me ) that if you are dark skinned and walk into that same store, you are followed.

If I ignore this truth by saying I don’t see color I am also saying I don’t believe or care that you have been followed in that same store because of skin color. I am denying someone else’s reality. And who wants to do that?

ImagePhoto from http://plusmood.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/museum-of-tolerance-renovation-07.jpg

If you’re in Los Angeles, don’t leave without visiting the Museum of Tolerance. The 1993 museum was designed to examine racism and prejudice. My exploration was too brief, but it got me thinking.

What would I include in my museum of tolerance? What would you?

What stories /histories of injustice, hate, intolerance, civil right abuses, human right abuses would you highlight? Why? What would you say?

What legacies should children not forget? Are there stories not told in your region that should be included? For example have you heard of the 1946 Ca civil rights segregation case Mendez vs Westminister ?  I hadn’t.

How would you bring these stories to life? What medium? How would you engage the visitor?

How would you spark dialogue or broaden horizons to be inclusive of many multiple perspectives? 

Below are some exhibits that the educational arm of the Human Rights Simon Wiesenthal center includes. Use them to get you thinking.

Glossaries : What words are important to share? How would you define them? Does everyone agree with that definition?

Timelines:  What would you include? How far back? How detailed? Would you want to highlight big themes? Or focus on one topic and go into great detail?

Multimedia exhibit about a time of injustice:  One exhibit is the Holocaust. What would yours be?

Tolerance center: How would you encourage genuine celebration of differences?

Point of view diner: What controversial topics would you include to help viewers tackle their personal responsibility for an issue?

Globalhate.com: What sites do you think promote fear, hate, injustice, prejudice?

Making your mark: How would you encourage others to make their mark?

Finding our families ourselves: What stories do we need to preserve? Why? What do families have in common in the U.S?

Special exhibits: I saw Para Todos Los Niños – how Mexican families fought for equal education in Ca. Other special exhibits included toys from trash, Black is a Color, and Albanian Muslims saving Jews during the Holocaust. What special exhibits would you create?

I’d love to hear plans for your museum of tolerance. And maybe before we know it, they will pop up everywhere and we can all learn from each other’s stories of the pain that we want to avoid recreating in the future.

I ‘m excited to hear your brainstorms.

I just arrived in Los Angeles to attend my first ever SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) conference. Yeah!
As I traveled from one coast to the other, watching the country pass beneath the belly of the plane, I remembered the last time I changed coasts to live in San Francisco. The time when I learned a core-shocking lesson.
Teaching Social Studies in the Bay area revealed an ugly truth. I had reached my mid twenties, and had never heard about the U.S government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II or that Ellis island wasn’t the only port of entry. How had I missed the fact, that if you were of Chinese decent, Angel Island held your ancestors’ stories of arrival not the New York icon of European immigration.?
Medical Exams on Angel Island

Medical exams on Angel Island, San Francisco, Ca

I was appalled at my ignorance. Especially as I had received the top mark on the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. history and had furthered my studies at a reputable college.Then it dawned on me. I had unwittingly grown up with a Eurocentric understanding of history. Unbeknownst to me I had received a biased education.
Discovering that gold nugget and appreciating how I had to unpack my world view and fill it with multiple perspectives wasn’t easy. But I began to see importance of windows and mirrors. As a white female who was born in Britain, raised in Bermuda, and educated on the East coast, the history that I was taught reflected me.
So I never noticed that I was missing windows. There was no disconnect between who I was and what I was learning. But I can only imagine what it must have been like to take the AP exam as a Japanese American in San Francisco!
As a library teacher back again on the East coast, I am doing my best to make sure that I provide my daughter and the children I teach, with many different windows into the world. But after San Francisco where my eyes were opened, I especially include Asian American windows and the uncomfortable history that was swept under the rug in my own schooling.
I traveled cross country to learn about my narrow view of the world. Not everyone can. So as parents and educators it’s our job to make sure we give children as many windows and as broad a horizon as we can, one story at a time!
 Photo credit: national archives