Sunday, February 20, 2011


Discovery Place, a local science museum here in Charlotte, just opened a special exhibit on Race. I was pretty excited to bring the kids but ended up being a bit disappointed. The exhibit was aimed at an older age group, high school, and the few things that were geared towards younger children just didn't work. There were some women sitting around with puppets and books but they didn't engage with my children at all. In fact, they pretty much ignored us. Not that puppets were going to be a big hit.

I had hope when I saw a display set up which appeared to be a segregated store front but it wasn't interactive. It was just a decoration. There wasn't much at all to actually engage my children in thinking about race. I read some of the things to the beasties but so much of it was just over their heads and they were bored.

After an attempt, I let them run about the rest of the museum to do the familiar well loved activities (touching sea animals, learning about pulleys, etc). But I was thinking about race while I watched them. H and I don't make a big deal about race. We made a conscious decision not to focus on this aspect of our lives. We believe firmly that Race is a cultural category and that our children are members of the human race. Period. But we also have talked about discrimination. We've told them about slavery. We've talked about injustice and inequality but in connection to things like gender and class as well as to people's perceived notions about race. We just didn't want them to think about themselves as humans caught between two racial worlds.

In our home, skin color is just a matter of fact difference. We don't deny that we are all different colors, we just don't make a big deal of it. Sometimes we joke about it. We never define ourselves by it.

Of course we also don't make a big deal about nationalities. The kids know that H is from Mexico, and that I am from the United States. We have learned the histories of both countries, and we study culture in both countries. BUT we don't teach them any kind of ideas about belonging or frankly even ideas of patriotism. I am not fond of nationalism and I have no intention of creating children who are nationalistic.

And I started to wonder how do you teach kids this about race? Is it a disservice to them? Am I neglecting something by not focusing on race? Do I deprive them of an identity when I don't focus on them being Hispanic or on them being half-Mexican? Are they going to get older and feel forced to choose and then resentful that I didn't give them enough information to make a choice? How do you teach kids about race? And what should you teach?

My biggest worry is that I don't want my children to go into the world navie. I try to make it clear to them that people will judge them based on their skin color. They know this already as it has happened to them. But I don't want race to be the only or even the biggest definer of who they are. However I can't help but wonder if this "white" me talking.


S said...

I never thought my kids really saw racial differences because they never brought them up on the playgrounds or in our homeschooling groups. Then one day we were driving through Atlanta and Nick asked me why everyone was black, and he said it was scary. It kinda threw me for a loop.

I've tried to put the focus on our human qualities and find ways to talk about people that is not based on physical appearance. But I'm not completely convinced that it's a bad thing so see the differences too. We all want to be unique after all :)

I'm trying to find a balance.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

I don't think we avoid talking about race at all. We just don't talk about it like it's the end all category of existence.

My struggle is not as a white parent with white kids. My struggle is as a white parent with children of color.

And here's my problem. There is so much more out there than race that people use to define us in negative ways. But race is often the only focus in this country.

In our home, I make it clear to my kids that they will be judged on mnay stupid things like skin color, class, gender. And we talk pretty frankly about this because it is a reality. BUT I do make it clear that there are more things out than race. Does that make sense? I certainly don't think children are blank slates and we have very frank conversations about race. I guess what I struggle with the idea of identification with one race.

Sarah, we struggle as well because the men who tried to break into our house were black. Umberto struggled with this because he is the only of us who saw the men who did it. He was really scared of black men afterwards, and we had many, many conversations about how people of all colors do horrible things and people of all colors do wonderful things.