Archives For skin color

In a few days my students will tumble through my library doors after a summer of reading stories elsewhere. Like many others I am eagerly preparing for a fresh new year.

I dust the library shelves, create book displays about sustainability, and finalize lesson plans for creating a second grade research project on bento boxes.

Then there is one more important step before I feel ready.  I pull out and study a checklist that I created for myself based on and inspired by the work I so admire at EdChange: Building Equitable and Just Schools, Communities and Organizations through Transformative Action.

So far, I haven’t been able to check anything off the list.  And I don’t expect to. This work is ongoing, though some of it is getting easier.

  1. Do I learn to pronounce each student’s full name correctly? No one should feel like they have to change his or her name to make it easier for me.
  2. Do I continually assess my bias, prejudice and cultural upbringing and how they influence my teaching practices and relations with my colleagues, students and their families?
  3. Do I consciously pay attention to my language and not use expressions which originated from inequities of power?
  4. Am I using materials that are unbiased? If not, do I use it as a teaching tool to help students analyze and recognize it?
  5. Do I help my students unpack the myth of color-blindness? Do I discuss why it is important to acknowledge differences, and not deny another person’s experience that has been shaped by their skin color?
  6. When an issue such as racism or classism comes up in the classroom, do I address it or shy away from it out of fear or ignorance? Neither is a good reason.
  7. Is my curriculum inclusive of a wide range of multiple perspectives all the time or just a token gesture especially during special months?
  8. Do I work toward equity for ALL underrepresented groups? Or for example do I strive for gender equity but not racial equity?
  9. Do I work towards equality or equity?  Do I try and give everybody the same thing which may not be what everyone needs or do I try and change the disparity in access for an underrepresented or disenfranchised person?
  10. Am I constantly working towards understanding my whiteness and the privileges it gives me?

Wish me a good fall and support in accomplishing these goals. May they be useful to you too.

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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.