During the 2017-2018 school year, educators, including mentor teachers and graduate students, and families, are participating in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.
“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? … I see children looking at me.”
Many of us have been taught, directly or indirectly, that this book is a lovely example of inclusive, non-bias, “colorblind” literature – sure to support children from diverse racial backgrounds in feeling comfortable and welcome – as there are children who appear Black, Asian, Latinx, and White all pictured happily together.
Marissa Tafura visited Boulder Journey School in October to join our community of educators and families in better understanding Reading for Racial Justice. She prompted us to examine the true message that we are portraying when we say we are “colorblind”. Marissa pointed out that we have been, “socialized to think that naming race is racist.” However, rather than being inclusive, an attitude of “not seeing race” erases diverse perspectives and someone’s experience in the world. She pointed out that just as we typically acknowledge someone’s gender, it’s similarly important that we acknowledge a person’s racial identity as central to who they are.
Marissa works with Empowering Kids Colorado and Showing Up For Racial Justice to encourage active participation in anti-bias practices that support racial justice. She shared that her own background, a white woman growing up in a culture that encouraged silence on topics of race, has shaped her own perspective on the topic. She reminded us that acting for racial justice is messy, and that we must be open to embracing our mistakes on the topic and learning from them. It is okay to ask our kids, “I didn’t like the way I phrased that, can we revisit the topic?”
As a community, we reflected that, while we are growing more comfortable engaging children when they bring a topic or question to us, we are less sure how to initiate conversations. Marissa shared tips for examining the books we offer as entry points into new conversations about race.
According to statistics compiled in 2015, 73.3% of children’s books published that year featured White protagonists, 12.5% featured non-living protagonists, 7.6% feature African and African-American protagonists, 3.3% feature Asian Pacific and Asian Pacific-American protagonists, 2.4% feature Latinx protagonists, and .9% feature Native American and First Nation protagonists. A great place to start is checking to see whether racial diversity is present in the books offered to children.
Marissa reminded us that the presence of racial diversity is not enough, however. We must also check to see whether there is racial diversity among the authors of the books we offer.
Additionally, books should be diverse in the stories they tell. It is crucial to have more than just stories of oppression or over-coming oppression; they should also tell stories of normalized life as a person of color, stories of activism, and stories of contribution from people of color.
It is also important to name race, including Whiteness, so that children can become practiced in identifying racial constructs.
So, when reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, a book that is all about naming differences that we see in animals, when we come to the last page, let’s discuss the races of the children who are “looking at me”.
What strategies do you use to support anti-bias in your classrooms or at home?
Resources from Marissa