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.
A 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.
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.