In light of Spring Valley (Part One): Race, board books, and my 5-day-old baby
I often get comments from readers of Raising Race Conscious Children, who have babies or young, pre-verbal children. These parents tell me that they are interested in this work, but feel it is a little early to be talking about race. This is not meant as a defensive posture (having not, perhaps, explored this blog in depth). Their inclination that it is “too early to start” is just the honest reflection of what they have been taught, by a color-blind legacy, about talking to their very young child about race.
This past September, I was reminded on a very personal level, of how early one can start. My newborn son was 5 days old and I picked up “Baby Faces,” a simple board book with images of children from diverse racial backgrounds.
“Look at all the different children,” I observed out loud to him. “This little girl on the cover has brown skin. And she and her family might call themselves Black or maybe they’re biracial.”
A quick caveat based on concerns of past Raising Race Conscious Children workshop participants: When I’m looking at a picture book, I identify the images of people by race as a simple way of naming race explicitly. In the real world, I often add something to the effect of “We don’t really know what someone’s identity is without asking them.”
As I turned the pages, I commented: “This baby has light skin like us that we call White,” and “This baby is Asian…he might be Korean… or Chinese or Japanese.”
As I closed the book, I said: “You know, it’s nice that there is a baby with brown skin on the cover but I noticed that most of the babies in the book are actually White.”
And then I thought to myself:
“This is why parents should start with babies! How easy it is to practice explicit race talk with a baby! What a unique opportunity to try on words that, based on research particularly about White people, may feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar.”
A baby, who doesn’t talk back, can give new parents a perfect space to practice talking about race. This is why, of course, in Raising Race Conscious Children’s workshops, we ask participants to pretend they’re talking to a baby.
The goal for these new parents is for talking about race explicitly to become familiar and comfortable. As a result of explicit race talk, “White” and “Black” and “Multiracial” will be words that their children will hear everyday as a matter of course. So that, indeed, these children see race (as all children do whether or not their parents commit to being race conscious). The children parented by race conscious parents will be race conscious themselves.
Because we are reminded that, all too often…race matters.
Click here to read Part Two of this post.
Two additional book suggestions for talking about race with babies include:
All Kinds Of…in addition to a lesson plan for parents with talking prompts with a caveat: This book names all differences with the exception of skin tone/race. I urge readers of this lovely book to name race explicitly along with the other differences noted.
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. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a three-year-old daughter and newborn son.