Monday, June 11, 2007

What Age Do You Introduce Race?

Not so long ago I was having a conversation with an Asian friend of mine about when and how we should start talking about Race with our children. We didn’t want to “burden” them with this heavy concept, yet we didn’t want them to get their information from outside sources in a way that might make them feel embarrassed or ashamed of their ethnic background either. We finished the conversation when one of our kids poured a bowl of cheerios on their head, promising to get back to the discussion at a later date.

That later date happened for me last week.

I was lurking around the hallways at my son’s adorable Quaker School when I heard there was some presentation going on in the first grade classes. Since my son is going to be in first grade next year, I decided to go take a peek. Turns out it was a Race, Ethnicity and Identity extravaganza presented by the first and second graders.

Using a carefully selected collection of picture books (Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, The Color of Us by Karen Katz) as their launch pad, the faculty created a curriculum to have the children explore the concept of identity. Rather than teaching the children about static racial categories, they gave the children the tools to define their own identity and share their personal true-life stories with their classmates. As the headmaster said to me as he witnessed parents, teachers and students gushing over the tremendous work these young people had created, “We’ve made it so the children want to learn about diversity because it’s fun, not because they’re supposed to.”

The kids made self-portraits, mixed paint colors to match their skin tones, wrote mini-biographies and of course had many enlightening discussions. Best of all was the aura of celebration and excitement around this theme instead of the weariness and dread usually associated with race-based curricula. I applaud the teaching team at Greene Street Friends School for taking the time and energy to infuse “diversity awareness education” with so much positive energy and excitement.

And I learned that if the story begins with a celebration of identity instead of a history lesson of oppression and other people’s perceptions, it’s never too early to begin the discussion of “race.”



Natasha said...

With four unique-looking multiracial children, we talk about race, color, ethnicity, and ancestors all the time. One of the most confusing parts for my preschool-age kids is the brown/tan color descriptors and the Black/White race descriptors. To be consistent with language when we are talking about our family's heritage, we use the terms Native American, African American, and European American. What a mouthful!

Glad to find another multiracial family thinking and talking about some of the same stuff we are. See you at the Loving Conference.


lori said...


Thanks for writing and visiting the Meltingpot.

I checked out your blog and loved it. I'll be adding a link to the Meltingpot right away. You're doing great work. I'll be checking in regularly.


cloudscome said...

This sounds wonderful. I have found my boys (white and black alike) started noticing and talking about race/skin color as young as 2 or 3. I am happy that you found this school where the community works together to present the ideas positively.

cloudscome said...

I tagged you with a meme today.

AMY said...

Your link to Greene Street has a typo, I think.

I often use the adjective "white" to describe myself and other white folks---trying to resist the tendency for whiteness to be equated with normal, while all other folks are labeled "diverse".

So I was caught off guard when my brand-new-to-America seven-year-old, whose own skin is a dark, dark Sudanese black/brown informed me that there was someone was at the door, "a brown person, like you, mom." Our labels and boxes are so---arbitrary, and relative.

lori said...

Thanks Amy for the link notice. I fixed it!

So your child sees you as brown and the coffee-colored Dominican woman suing her doctor because her daughter came out Black, calls herself White. Hmmm...

See how silly this whole thing called race really is. Color can never be the common denominator because everybody sees color so very differently.

Thanks for reading the MeltingPot. I dig your Ask Amy blog.

lori said...


Thank you for the tag...but pardon my ignorance. What does it mean exactly?

more cowbell said...

I'm just finding your blog today, so this comment is way after the fact, but I was so glad to read about a positive approach taken by the school, proactively! I co-founded a group to advocate for students of color in our district - we're mostly working at the middle/high school level -- and if some of these things had been the "norm" when kids are still young, what a difference that would make in the entire school culture by the time they hit high school. Very nice to hear about this.