Despite the social justice work I do in my preschool, cultural bias creeps in.
Last week one of our teachers overheard a (Caucasian) four year old saying, “I don’t want the dark-skinned baby. I don’t like it. I want the light-skinned baby.” Hearing this, other children decided they didn’t want to play with the dark-skinned doll, either.
Yikes! Sadly, our group this year lacks diversity - a major problem, reflecting changing demographics in my community. I am determined to meet this challenge with next year’s enrollment … but that doesn’t help address the fact that a sweet child in my current group displayed blatant bias.
So at snack time this morning I came to the table snuggling two dolls - a dark-skinned one and a lighter one. I didn’t say anything, just sat down with the kids, a doll tucked under each arm.
Inevitably, one of the children asked me why I had the babies. I said that they were two of my favorites, and I just felt like snuggling with them.
The four year old who expressed bias the previous week piped right up: “I don’t like the dark skinned baby.”
My inclination here was to lecture, to say how beautiful the black baby is, how we shouldn’t like or dislike someone because of the color of their skin. But I held back and just said, “Why?”
“Because I like the light-skinned one better.”
“Because ballerinas have light skin and I want to be a ballerina.”
The sticky fingers of cultural bias reach long and hard: everything she’s seen about ballerinas, in books and videos, likely shows white dancers.
By asking “why” and “why” again, I got behind the reason for her bias and was able to address it. “Did you know,” I said, “that my very favorite ballerina, who’s such a good dancer that she’s very, very famous, has brown skin? Her name is Misty Copeland. And I have another favorite dancer, Michaela DePrince, whose skin color is the same as this baby’s. Would you like to see a video of them dancing?”
After, the child who expressed the bias took the dark skinned doll and hugged and kissed it, saying, “I love this baby.”
Is it always this easy? Of course not. But it always makes sense to ask “why?” and ask again, and even again, with the hope of understanding the reason behind a biased statement.
And it also always makes sense to make very sure that you expose your children to role models of color in whatever domain interests them. Don’t give your children reason to believe that only white people can be ballerinas, or scientists, or explorers, or astronauts, or … anything.