5 Ways To Teach Your Kids About Race & Cultural Diversity
It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
Last week I was asked to be on a local NPR station to talk about what it's like to be mixed-race in today's changing demographic. I love that question but even more, I love talking to parents about what they can do.
Tangible things about how can we raise children who love who they are as well as raise socially-conscious children who embrace other races?
I hear you saying, yes but aren't we all part of the human race? Of course we are! So why do we still need to talk about race? Well look around you. Turn on NPR, read through social media sites. We have to talk about it because race matters and there is still racial inequality - that's why.
Growing up mixed Latina and Black, the first thing folks ask me is "what are you?" It use to bother me but it doesn't anymore. I take it as a challenge to teach another person. I'm like the ambassador, if you will, of mixdom. I mean, it's like when you walk into a business and the person sitting at the front desk is the first person you meet and they will either reflect the business in a positive or negative light. If I am the first mixed person you meet, I want it to be a positive one. I take my role seriously, too. I am constantly talking about race and culture. This is my speech: "Hi, I'm Sonia. I'm mixed Mexican and Black. I was born in Puerto Rico, moved to Hawaii, then settled in California where I married my husband who is Korean. Together we have 4 children that we raise as mini global citizens." That's 40 years of the speech and yet my my kids are still asked "what are you?" So yes, we STILL need to talk about race.
So what can we do as parents?
Talk to your kids early on and often. I have four kids. There was a time when I had a kid at every developmental stage: toddler, adolescent, teen, and adult. I had to take them at their level and talk to them in way they would understand.
My race talk falls in line with the other biggies (in no particular order):
1.birds and the bees 2. drugs and alcohol 3. race talk
Yes, they are all pretty uncomfortable, but all very important issues that I discuss openly. I don't bury my head in he sand and think that if I don't talk about it, they aren't going to be exposed to it. Even if THEY don't, they will most likely be around others who may try it/do it/talk about it. And I want them to be prepared. Come up with a speech. Role play scenarios. But by all means, talk to them.
I get that you want to be "color blind". However it is unrealistic. Children as early as 2-3 start noticing differences in race. As soon as they are learn to sort, they are also becoming aware of differences even if they can't verbalize it. I am vice president of a nonprofit organization named Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC). MASC creates activities and designs programs to serve the community and increase awareness and understanding amongst the public about multiracial/multiethnic issues. I encourage you to take a look at the website for more information and join us for more ways to talk to your kids about race.
2. Take a chill pill
Your attitude can make all the difference to a child learning about race. Model good behavior.
We were driving one day and my husband didn't want to take a chance and rush through an intersection on a yellow light so he stopped the car abruptly. "What the f@#k are you doing ya stupid chink?" We looked over and saw a man with his 2 sons in the back seat. Seriously? Not only did his kids have to hear that but mine, too. "What are chinks?" asked my 6 year old son, Luke. Son, that's a derogatory word for Asians. It's a terrible word and that daddy is wrong for saying that. It's hurtful, right? Luke nodded yes. Now that other driver's son knows the word and may use it. We have to model better behavior and know that what we say about race, our children pick up on.
3. Read a book/play with toys
Reading books that look like you is one thing. Try reading to them a book that doesn't look like them. Let them know there are others out in the world that are the same inside but may look different on the outside. Find similarities they can understand. When looking at skin, I show my daughter, Ava, that both characters have skin but one is white and the other is brown. "Aww look, they both have hair but one is blond and straight and the other is brown and curly", I say.
Don't just buy a book for your home library. Donate a book to your child’s classroom just in case their classmates may not be exposed to multicultural books at home. That way everyone wins.
Support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. My multiracial/multicultural kids take solace in seeing characters that look like them. We need to support diverse authors to encourage them to continue creating books for our children.
Books are a bit easier to find. The multicultural dolls and toys are a bit more difficult. Believe me we WANT to buy dolls that look like our children. Our children WANT to play with dolls that look like them. Why are they not available especially since according to the 2012 U.S Census, the multiracial population has increased almost 50 percent, to 4.2 million, since 2000, when the option to check off more than one box became available? This makes it one of the fastest growing groups in the country. The number of people of all ages who identified themselves as both white and black is up since 2000 to 1.8 million people. So why aren't there books and toys that reflect this growing population?
4. Take a hike
Get out and explore your city and all the cultural venues it holds. Here in Los Angeles we are fortunate to have tons of cultural events to attend. Whether it's taking in a museum or city street fair, start at your local government agency. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has a cool website that marks out cultural events month by month.
Museums are a good spot, too. California African American Museum, Museum of Latin American Art, Japanese American National Museum are just a few. Head to their calendar of events and plan away. There are also walking tours that my kids love taking.
L.A. Commons has awesome walking tours that are led by docents that take you throughout the area and are ready to answer any questions you may have.
L.A. has several ethnic neighborhoods in addition to Chinatown and Japantown like: Historic Filipino Town, Little Ethiopia, Little Thai Town and Little Armenia. And also Koreatown, which is largest population of Koreans outside of South Korea. Pop in and try a restaurant. Ask the servers to talk to you and your kids about the popular foods and how to eat them. My kids love an opportunity to use their right hands to eat Ethiopian food.
I co-founded a group called Multiculti Cuties which goes on such tours with our little ones to teach them about other cultures. We have meet ups that go around the city so we encourage you to join us.
5. Join a class/group
It was important for my family to find a language immersion program for our children. They are in a Korean immersion school and I teach them Spanish. Quieres aprender español? Want your kids to learn Mandarin or Hebrew? There are fun, kid-friendly language programs out there. Take a look on Yelp or any parent magazine in your area. Jen's List and L.A Parent are good sites that usually announce language classes in different geographic areas.
Language isn't their thing? How about Korean drums or fan dance, Polynesian dance, Ballet Folklorico or Filipino folk dance? There are so many options to explore and introduce your kids to another culture.
Kids that learn another language have cognitive benefits. They perform higher in school and even score higher on SATs. Children who learn a foreign language are better at problem-solving skills, and communication skills.
My kids and I work with local non profits that do good work abroad. Did you know in Samburu, Kenya, women and girls have to walk up to 12 miles to find water? My kids and I learned that The Samburu Project is doing something about it. I bring my kids along to hear more about the program and to know what is going on in the world outside of their community. It's important to have compassion and larger world view. When we joined The Samburu Project for their annual "Walk for Fresh Water" fundraiser, my kids got a chance to hear from a man from Samburu and what effects this organization is having there. It was a great feeling.
Talking to your kids about race may be uncomfortable. It may make us look at ourselves a bit more deeply. But it truly is an investment in their future. Helping children embrace their culture as well as others, offers them an expanded world view and ultimately may provide a competitive edge in the future global marketplace.
To read the full interview, take a look at http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2015/01/07/41001/how-parents-can-talk-to-their-children-about-race/
****(NOT A COMPLETE LIST AND WOULD LOVE TO ADD MORE)***
Multicultural Facebook page
Cultural Programs around Los Angeles
Dolls and toys