Introducing Kids to Race and Bias

When I think about the books I read as a kid, some of the classics come to mind. There was a lot of Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Junie B. Jones, Baby Sitters’ Club, Magic Tree House, etc. I saw a lot of examples of girls who looked and thought like me in the books I read.

Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 6.11.44 AM.pngThank you to my friend Kristen for modeling and inspiring this slide.

Now that I have kids of my own, I am hoping to put quality stories in front of them that socialize them to really care about all people’s lived experiences. At the elementary level, they use this phrase called “mirrors and windows” meaning they want students to have books that are mirrors (they can see themselves in the story) and books that are windows (they can see the lived experiences of others in the story). 

I’m going to ask you to watch this YouTube video of a read aloud of the book:

Zadie picked out this Barbie book last summer from the library called I Can Be a Gymnast. It brought up all sorts of questions for me, mainly Who wrote this? Why? How did it get published? I was mad that of the 6 gymnasts, only one is black, and the white ones got names and the black character didn’t. I was mad that the book promotes one body type. I was mad that the book doesn’t seem to think boys might like to be gymnasts. Our world doesn’t have to be so narrow.

I made this resource for my students last year to reflect on when looking at a stack of kids’ books. I don’t really have time or desire to preview everything I put in front of my kids, and I have learned that it might be more valuable to give them the gift of racial consciousness and critical thinking instead. So, yes, I let Zadie read the Barbie book. And I paused after each page, and make inquiries like:

  • “What do you notice about skin color on this page?”
  • “How do you think the girl with the black skin feels when she is near all the other girls with white skin?”
  • “I think I would be sad if all my friends got names, but the author didn’t tell the readers about mine. I’m wondering why the author forgot. What do you think?”
  • How many pages is the black gymnast actually in? Let’s count them. I wonder if she feels sad that she was left out of the pages where Barbie asks for help from her team and celebrates her victory.
  • Why do you think the author included the black gymnast in the story if she doesn’t really get to be in any of the plot?

Resources for Starting to Talk with Your Kids:

  1. The BEST resource out there:
  2. A great article: “Your Kids Aren’t Too Young To Talk About Race: Resource Roundup”
  3. Click here for the handout I made for my students on what you can be looking for as you read a book.

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 10.04.34 AM

4. Click here for my book list of Zadie’s library that include strong examples of race being portrayed in a positive way for preschool aged kids.

5. National Geographic Article:

6.(Thank you to my friend Maria for this one!) YouTube video read aloud of “Something Happened in Our Town” 

7. Anti Racism Resources: An Awesome list in a google doc with tons of links.

8. Article by Michelle Silverthorn (black woman) “Mom, Why Don’t You Have Any Black Friends?”

9. Social Story for George Floyd by St. Paul ECFE

Actions You Can Do with Your Kids Now:

  1. Family friendly protests. Follow our group on facebook or me on instagram @bekahnoble for details. Or, organize your own!
  2.  Decorate your windows with messages like: Black Lives Matter, Black is Beautiful, Black Kids Matter, Black Babies Matter, etc…
  3. Chalk on the sidewalks near common walking areas together. #Blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorge #endpolicebrutality
  4. Ask your kids to choose 3 friends to call and ask what they are thinking about George Floyd’s killing.
  5. Analyze their “library” in their rooms or playrooms together. If you don’t notice a lot of characters of color, tell them that makes you sad and you’d like to buy them some new books. Then check out resource 1- hereweeread.

My best advice:

Talk to other parents and guardians: Be the vulnerable one that asks the question. Be in collective conversation together. Look at the Here Wee Read website and split it up so a group of you buys a few book each and then you rotate them and share. Do the work together.

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