Taking off my racial color-blind lens
by guest blogger Kelly Cutler
Let’s be honest, what does a White woman like myself know about raising race conscious children?!
I was raised in predominantly White, middle-class suburb with a culture that emphasized meritocracy, the idea that individuals succeed or fail according to their own merit. It was not until high school, and especially college, that I began to questions the ideologies of my upbringing. Reading books like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Before the Mayflower A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett Jr., and Voices Of Freedom An Oral History Of The Civil Rights Movement From The 1950s Through The 1980s by Hampton, Fayer, and Flynn challenged the very foundation of what I thought I knew about race.
Yet it was not until I became an elementary school teacher in a racially, ethnically, and linguistically “diverse” school, that I was able to truly dismantle my color-blind background. Right before my eyes, I watched the growing academic achievement gap play-out between students of color and their White counterparts. I witnessed the phenomenon of students of color being over-represented in discipline, where they are three times more likely than White students, to be suspended (United States Office of Civil Rights, 2014).
I saw color.
Subsequently, I am raising two children, two White children, in an era still dominated by the color-blind racial ideology. How do I teach my children something I was never taught?
I decided to be brave and just talk about it using books like, The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester, Skin Again by bell hooks, and All the Colors We Are Todos Los Colores de Nuestra Piel The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger.
My message branding was simple: “We may all be created equally, but we are not treated equally.”
At first, my kids remained relatively quiet, seemingly just taking it all in. I began to think my efforts were in vain until one day my son stopped me while we were reading and said:
“I noticed there are no Black or brown characters in this story.”
From there, my son became interested in a news story about a geography textbook that referred to slaves as “workers.” We had a rich dialog about the absurdity of such a label and even watched the YouTube video featuring this misnomer in the “immigration” chapter of the book.
Meanwhile, my daughter became entranced with the idea of exploring her exact skin color, realizing her skin wasn’t actually white. I purchased skin tone paints, and we smeared samples on our arms until finding the perfect match, which she called “french toast.”
She also called my attention to the fact that there were hardly any Black or brown girls in her Lego friends sets. With my help, my six-year-old decided to write Lego head quarters to suggest they add more Black and brown girls to their collection. Lego even wrote her back.
My kids see color.
In a recent Washington Post article by Brigitte Vittrup, How silence can breed breed prejudice: A child development professor explains how and why to talk to kids about race, she states that the color-blind ideology is often upheld because parents are uncomfortable talking about race. Without discussion, children will likely learn about race from the media and their misinformed peers and, as a result, “children will unwittingly adopt these images as pieces of evidence of how the world is supposed to be, and these pieces become a breeding ground for prejudice.”
Everyday I work to remove my color-blind lens, I hope you will join me and remove yours, too.
Kelly Cutler identifies as a White American with European descent. Kelly is a parent to a ten-year-old-son, and a six-year-old daughter. Kelly has been a public school educator for the last 15 years. Currently, Kelly is an instructor in a graduate level teacher preparatory program and is completing her doctorate in education researching racial colorblindness in schools.