Why I talk about race when I read with my toddler
Sometimes, I sit down to read a book with my two and half-year-old, and I ask myself if my race-conscious talk is overkill. “Do I have to talk about race every single time we read?” And I don’t. Not every single time, not on every single page. But I do quite frequently—by which I mean on a daily basis.
I open Vera B. Williams’ beautiful and diverse book “More More More,” Said the Baby and say: “Look, this baby has peachy skin that people call White, like us. This baby also has blonde hair like your friend Sienna.” Or: “This baby has brown skin that people call Black. Our neighbor Sally is Black, too.”
When I imagine the alternative, I understand why I talk race every single day. The alternative looks like this: I open “More, More, More” and I don’t see race. In fact, I pretend it doesn’t exist. Or maybe I don’t completely pretend, maybe I say, “Isn’t it wonderful how each baby is different?” Is this talking about race? No. At least it isn’t ignoring race, but the truth is that being “different” in the United States still carries the repercussions of both historical and ongoing racial discrimination…which is definitely not “wonderful.” This color-blind approach reinforces this legacy of discrimination. (To connect this to the larger movement for racial justice, consider reading Alicia Garza’a eloquent post on the creation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and the importance of using the word “Black.”)
This is why I choose to interrupt this legacy of discrimination by being race-conscious. This is why I talk race every single day. The School Library Journal review of “More, More, More” calls William’s presentation of diversity “natural and unforced.” Naming race, which might at first feel forced and unnatural, is what I do to ultimately make talking about race feel “natural and unforced.” (For examples of children’s books that explicitly name race, see Taye Digg’s Chocolate Me! and Karen Katz’ The Colors of Us and Monica Brown’s Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina) As I always have shared, this is just about saying words that are strung together to form sentences. We can all talk race.
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.