Raising my Asian kids in a diverse community did not protect them from feelings of difference and “otherness,” or from landing on the receiving end of racial slurs - often, but not always, from kids who themselves belong to minority groups.
Classmates pulled the end of their eyes and yelled, “Ching-chong!” at them. A group of kids ran around the playground shouting “kon'nichiwa” every time they passed my daughter. As early as kindergarten, she came home angry and hurt because a little boy said, “You can’t sit here because you’re Chinese.”
As parents and teachers, we likely (hopefully) initiate many conversations with our young children about race and choose books with race in mind, making sure they include strong, positive African American or Hispanic characters.
But what about Asian or Asian American characters?
As a parent or teacher, you know the power of music. It can shift moods, help with transitions, encourage positive interactions, and teach lessons.
It can also change the world.
I really struggle with how and what to teach my preschool kids around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
First, I don’t want this to be a one-and-done. Learning about inclusion of all, using non-violence to fight for what is right, having the courage to stand up for your beliefs even when it’s hard, using words to get people to join you in doing the right thing - these are all things I want to be teaching every day, all year round.
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.
While diversity in children’s literature is increasing, the vast majority of characters remain overwhelmingly white, sending the message to all kids that Caucasian people constitute the norm. *
Minority children go through school with teacher after teacher mixing them up with same-race peers and with classmates asking “Are you two sisters?” when two children share few similarities other than race and gender. My kids, who are Asian, experienced this time after time. Even teachers who knew them well would sometimes call them by another Asian student’s name or pass back a paper written by an Asian classmate.
The “other race effect” makes it difficult for us to distinguish individual faces of people of other races.* Surprisingly, this effect shows up very early - even 9 month old infants “recognize same-race faces but have difficulty recognizing other-race faces.” **
All children love music. Singing and dancing with our kids and playing recorded music in the car and at home is fun, but also provides important benefits. Research shows that music instruction for preschoolers positively associates with intellectual growth, initiation of social contact, and an emerging propensity for self-directed and group-directed learning.*
Music also introduces children to concepts about the world.
So what could be better than great children’s music even parents will enjoy, that also offers positive messages about diversity, gender roles, and different family configurations?
Research makes clear that conversations about race provide a key building block in helping children develop anti-bias attitudes (see Make Race Explicit). The Colors of Us gives parents and teachers an opportune and gorgeous way to initiate just such a conversation. …
The research is clear: children absorb prevailing racial biases unless the adults in their lives speak with them explicitly about race …