Conversations About Race With Young Children | New Hampshire Public Radio

Conversations About Race With Young Children

Jun 22, 2020

Todd Bookman/NHPR

As books about systemic racism rise to the top of best seller lists, and calls for action against  oppression and daily microaggressions dominate social media, we talk about the effective ways to have conversations with children about race, and how those conversations look different based on a child's own race and personal background. 

Air date: Monday, June 22, 2020.

GUESTS:

  • Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite - Psychiatrist with an expertise in perinatal and post-partum mental health, trauma-infored care, mental health in communities of color, and implicit bias and racism in mental health. She participated in a webinar with the Nashua Division of Public Health & Community Services on how to talk to kids about race. You can find that webinar here.
  • Elyse Hambacher - Associate professor of Education and in the Women’s Studies program at UNH. Her research focuses on equity in elementary education.
  • Bethany Silva - Research assistant professor of Education at UNH and Director of the Community Literacy Center.

Resources mentioned on today's show:

 Ways with Words: Language, Life, And Work In Communities And Classrooms by Shirley Brice Heath.

"Study: White and Black children biased toward lighter skin," from CNN. 

Encounter by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon. 

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. 

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora. 

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. 

Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades, by Mary Cowhey. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

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Laura Knoy:
I'm Laura Knoy. and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
When is the right time to talk about race with children and how should you do it? The answer is, of course, different, depending upon a child's own race, ethnicity, family history and values. Our guests today share their experiences and expertise about having these conversations in age appropriate ways with young children, including sensitivity to mental health and resources for starting the discussion and exchange listeners. Let's hear from you. What are your questions about how to launch this conversation? Also, tell us how that is. This is played out in your own household or from your own childhood. What do you remember about how your parents discussed this? We have three guests. They are Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite.

Laura Knoy:
She's a psychiatrist and CEO of Well Minds Psychiatry in Boston with a focus on mental health in communities of color. She's also the former medical director of a large community mental health clinic. Also with us, Elyse Hambacher. She's an associate professor of education and core faculty member of the Women's Studies Program at UNH with a research focus on equity in elementary education. And also with us, Bethany Silva, a research assistant professor of education at UNH and director of the Community Literacy Center there. A big welcome to all of you and Dr. Christian-Brathwaite. I'd like to start with you. You had a virtual event in Nashua just on Friday about how to talk to kids about race. What were some of the most common questions or concerns that came up at that event?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Sure. Thank you so much for having me. So there there were certainly a number of questions. One of the more prominent questions was when when do you begin this conversation and how do you begin this conversation? There certainly is a tremendous amount of angst around starting it and what to say for parents.

Laura Knoy:
So when is too early and how to start? And how did you answer that one question? I'm interested.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Sure. So, you know, as early as possible there. I mean, the evidence shows that even that a few months old babies recognize differences. But certainly by preschool age, children are able to appreciate and acknowledge physical characteristics and differences in people. And there's a lot of evidence showing that particularly black children experience discrimination in school and preschool settings as early as age three. So it's important to begin having those conversations even at that time.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. And a little bit later, I know we've got Bethany with us and she's got an expertise in literacy. And we can talk about, you know, just even early books when before kids can even read.

Laura Knoy:
So the second part is probably the harder one to answer. Dr. Christian, how do you get started? What did you say to folks in Nashua? And let's just say this was a virtual event. So you weren't before a large physical crowd?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Right. Right. So one of the first things that I recommend for parents and teachers is just start starting with educating yourself. Fortunately, there are tremendous resources available online about how to have these conversations. The specific age range is how to discuss them. And so my my first recommendation would just be starting with educating yourself, getting an understanding of why it's important to have these conversations. The language that could be helpful to use with your children. And once you develop some level of comfort. No one's ever 100 percent comfortable having these conversations, but some level of comfort. Then you can start having these discussions with kids. And the only other thing I would say is it really shouldn't just be one discussion that should be at over a lifetime of discussion. So things that come up periodically.

Laura Knoy:
Why is this so uncomfortable, as you just mentioned?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
You know, I think race and racism in America has always been a difficult subject, and because so many of our institutions and so much of the structure of America has been based on discrimination and racism, and it's existed for so long that many people are nervous or afraid to talk about it. People are afraid of offending people. People may be afraid of saying the wrong things or just really not being able to relate or understand it. But at the same time, we have difficult conversations all the time. We talk to our kids about not getting into cars with strangers and not using substances. And, you know, protection when they become of age. And so we we always have difficult conversations. And this is just yet another one of those that's absolutely necessary and also totally possible.

Laura Knoy:
Black parents often say they have to have, quote, the talk with their kids pretty early on about what they'll face out in the world, how to respond to that. For those listeners, Dr. Christian, who are unfamiliar with the talk. What does the talk sound like?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
That's a great question and it can really vary. I unfortunately have to have a talk with my son when he was three. He experienced time discrimination. A five year old young white child told him that his skin was ugly, his brown skin was ugly, and that he shouldn't wear red sneakers because Red looked ugly on his brown skin. And he he didn't understand that, of course. And he was devastated. And from that day, he refused to wear his favorite sneakers. And so I ended up having to have a conversation with him about certain people not understanding or not appreciating or loving who he is simply because of the color of his skin. And as he gets older, that conversation has to has to turn into as a result of this dislike and hatred. Some people may actually attempt to hurt you. And so that, you know, as a result, we have to talk to kids about how they behave in certain environments, how they speak to police. Understanding that in some situations they may be discriminated against. And that's it's very it's very painful.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
So for black parents, the talk again and it's always, you know, capitalized T "the Talk," that conversation happens very early and it continues as the child grows up with, you know, increasing complexity.

Laura Knoy:
Yes, absolutely. What's the talk, Dr. Christian, for white kids? What should it be about? Thank you. Thank you for asking that.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
So, you know, I think it's important to recognize that racism isn't just a problem for black people or for people of color. Racism is and should be painful for everyone. So when we think about raising good children and kind children in one of the most important things to understand is building empathy and developing empathy in children. And when we explain to our kids that racism is very painful and it's very hurtful, and when they witness it, it hurts them when they hurt other people. Ultimately, that ends up hurting them as well.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
And so helping white children or even nonblack children understand the importance of caring about other people, being able to take someone else's perspective. Being able to say, you know, when someone else hurts, that it hurts them. So having that conversation and understanding in the same way we talk about any type of bullying, we want our children to be able to to recognize pain and to support their fellow friends or colleagues or when they're adults, you know, their neighbors.

Laura Knoy:
What's one rookie mistake you think, Dr. Christian, that white parents make?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
One is probably the biggest mistake is avoidance.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Just pretending that it doesn't exist. There are certainly many communities in America where there may not be people of color. And so because these experiences may not be directly observed by their kids, they tried to avoid them altogether. And unfortunately, that's probably the biggest mistake. Avoidance doesn't make the problem go away. And avoidance. Does it teach our children to love and to care for other people? I think the second biggest mistake is, well, you know, there's no such thing as color. We're colorblind. We don't see color. And that that really is unfortunately not true. We do recognize color. We know that children recognize color. But children don't assign positive or negative meanings to color. And so what we have to do is support that, that everyone is unique. Every diversity is special. Diversity is important. And supporting and acknowledging differences and appreciating differences rather than avoiding them or pretending that they don't exist.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Elyse, Bethany, I would bring you into this, too. And Elyse You, first, please, I'd love your thoughts about how these conversations around race with little kids are might be playing out now, given the protests around race. Around police brutality. How does this current moment, at least sort of shape the way these conversations should be approached again with the littlest kids?

Elyse Hambacher:
Yeah. So I went to say, Laura, thanks again for having me on. So I think in in my work, I'm a university professor and I focus on social justice oriented teacher professional development.

Elyse Hambacher:
So what I'm doing at the University of New Hampshire is really preparing teachers to improve equity and excellence in elementary schools in particular. And so I see my goal as helping teachers think about how they can be beacons of change through changes in their own professional practice. And so changes in their own professional practice, of course, would include having conversations about race and racism with elementary aged students. And so my work isn't specifically I don't work specifically with young children a whole lot. And my work is really more around preparing teachers to think about how they can engage in those kinds of discussions with the children that they teach.

Laura Knoy:
Right. So it does make sense. And I wonder what you're hearing from teachers nowadays about, you know, what kind of help they need and what questions they themselves have?

Elyse Hambacher:
Yeah, I think a lot of so, so similar to what Dr. Christian mentioned in terms of questions, I think are the same questions that teachers are act asking. So they're asking, how do I do this? This is really uncomfortable for me. I'm not quite sure how to go about this. What if I say the wrong thing? How do I bring this up? And so I just a lot of similar questions.

Laura Knoy:
But for teachers as well, how do you advise them at least to move through that discomfort that you and Dr. Christian both mentioned?

Elyse Hambacher:
Well, so I think it's important. One of the things that I say to a lot of the teachers that I provide professional development for and aspiring teachers is "you just got to do it." You know, you're you're going to mess up and messing up is a part of learning. And so when you mess up, it's important to sort of reflect and think about. All right. Well, what hap what just happened there? And think about how one can of work to do better. But I think that this idea of saying the wrong thing or this avoidance that Dr. Christian mentioned is all too common. And it really prevents teachers from from, you know, from engaging in a.. Activist or anti-racist activism in their in their classrooms.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Bethany, speaking of again, discomfort, you've written about the "pedagogy of discomfort." I'm quoting you there. What does that mean? The pedagogy of discomfort.

Bethany Silva:
The pedagogy of discomfort. Is a comes from an article written by two researchers named Wohler and Zembylas.

Bethany Silva:
And it has to do with the fact that we as teachers, we often want our students to come into the classroom and just be comfortable and able to learn and able to do anything.

Bethany Silva:
And if we embrace the idea that perhaps learning is actually something that is uncomfortable and that and we make spaces where students can feel comfortable. Considering ambivalence, considering the fact that things aren't just one way or the other and that they're very, very complicated and that there is that there are a lot of emotions that go with that. If we create classrooms that embrace that, then we are more able to focus in on topics like race or other social justice topics that that can feel like we might need to silence them in the classroom.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Dr. Christian said something that I want to ask you about, too, Bethany. The idea that the biggest mistake that white parents make, she said, is just avoidance. But then we're also talking about how people are worried about saying the wrong thing. Bethany, we are in a very tough social media era, a tough media spotlight. Sometimes people just aren't up to speed on everything. They say the wrong thing, not intending to be hurtful. And then it blows up and goes viral. So I'm wondering how you talk to teachers and maybe parents as well about expressing themselves in this environment where if you say one wrong thing, you do get sort of jumped all over.

Bethany Silva:
That's a good question. Well, I think that I think that the first thing to remember is that is to take a step back and think about it. I mean, when something goes to social media and it goes viral, it's it hit a point where where the context may have may have been lost. But in general, if you're a teacher in a classroom or if you're a parent talking to your child or if you know, even if a family member is critiquing what it is that you're saying, the first step is most certainly to listen. And it's also to it's also to listen to, you know what?

Bethany Silva:
What are the identity is around the person who is who is critiquing you about this. So let's say, for example, you try to explain the systemic bias to your mom and she has a really hard time hearing it and then maybe taking a step back and saying, OK, what part of this is she not understanding?

Bethany Silva:
Because I feel like I'm talking about something that just makes sense.

Bethany Silva:
And she feels like and she feels like, well, I personally myself am not a racist and therefore I can't have racist thoughts.

Bethany Silva:
And in that particular case, you might be talking about talking about racism on a she might be talking about racism on a personal level and you might be talking about it on a systems level and being able to step back and say it's not about the individual, it's about the the systems that we're living in can often help to reframe that idea. If I as a white person, if a person of color calls me out on saying something, then my job is just to listen.

Bethany Silva:
So that's two different examples.

Bethany Silva:
Because because the things that I understand, the things that I've experienced in my life as a white person, I might not I might not have seen the things that that person of color has seen. And therefore, it is my job just to listen in that situation.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Dr. Christian, I'd love to throw the two to how can teachers and parents do a good job navigating mistakes they may make?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Sure. So, again, I would say this with any and every conversation that we have with kids, One: I totally agree. It's important first to listen and understand the child's perspective. I think we often assume that kids don't have intense feelings or thoughts about these topics. And given social media, it's surprising how much access even younger children have to the news have to information. And we really aren't sure how they're interpreting this, how they're processing this or what they're even seeing on social media.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
So when starting these conversations, I tell both parents and educators, listen, so what? Asking the kids, what do you think about what's going on? How do you feel about this? What what's your perspective? And I would say this even with younger children. So, you know, I I talked to my my my three and my now six year old about, you know, certain things like how do you feel? What are your thoughts? And we're often surprised at the perspective of our kids. And once you know where they are coming from, then you're able to approach them a little bit differently because you can reflect what they've told you. So, OK. So it sounds like you're pretty angry and one may feel like that you've listened to them. They feel heard and respected and then they're more open to having this conversation and understanding. And so when you go from there and you're able to reflect what they've told you and you can address some of their specific questions, it's also OK to say, you know what? This is this is a really difficult subject. And I don't know all of the answers to this. Maybe this is something we can learn together and the transparency and the honesty.

Laura Knoy:
Again, kids appreciate that, Bethany.

Laura Knoy:
You do a lot of work with picture books. And we talked earlier about, you know, Dr. Kristin mentioned starting very early, even before kids are verbal. How do these visual tools help with this conversation? That that happens a little bit later when kids can talk?

Bethany Silva:
Well, it can help and it can help in more than one way. It it really depends on the message of the particular book.

Bethany Silva:
So if you're reading if you're reading picture books that feature children of color and you are reading to children of color, then you are affirming who they are in the world.

Bethany Silva:
And if you're reading with with children who are white, then you are making visible a world view that is larger than just a lot of books that are by a lot of books that are by white people and feature white people. One of the activities that we do in my class is I have all of my students brainstorm five books that they remember reading in school. And then we look at who are the characters who are featured in each of these books. And what are some of their identities.

Bethany Silva:
Right. And, you know, what is their race? What is their gender? And overwhelmingly, the books are written by white people and and they feature characters who are white. And so when we start to break that down, we realize how important it is to have our classrooms filled with books that that feature many different types of people.

Laura Knoy:
Coming up, I have a lot more questions for all of you about this.

Laura Knoy:
And I also want to hear stories and comments from listeners. We're gonna talk about how young kids talk to their parents, talk to their teachers about race, how to get those conversations going. We will also take your questions in just a moment. And we'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. today talking to young children about race in families and in schools. Listeners, tell us how these conversations have gone in your household or when you're young, how your parents talk to you about this. We'd love to hear your stories and your questions. Send us an e-mail. You can use Facebook. You can tweet us or give us a call. We're talking with Dr Nicole Christian-Brathwaite. She's a psychiatrist and CEO of Well Minds Psychiatry in Boston with a focus on mental health in communities of color. Also with us, Elyse Hambacher, an associate professor of education and member of the Women's Studies Program at UNH, With a research focus on equity in elementary education. And also with us, Bethany Silva, a research professor of education at UNH and director of the Community Literacy Center. And Elyse want to turn back to you. You taught young children in Miami. And I wonder how that work informs the work that you're doing now at UNH How does what you saw as a classroom teacher down there to help teachers in New Hampshire with this?

Elyse Hambacher:
That's a really great question. Yeah. So I am not originally from New Hampshire, I moved here about seven years ago. I was born and raised in Miami. And so when I graduated in elementary education, I decided to go back and to be an elementary school teacher in South Florida. And I taught kindergarten.

Elyse Hambacher:
I taught fourth grade. And I also actually did a little teaching in Japan. And I would say that my teaching experiences in the South Florida area are really are what really served as the impetus for me becoming growingly interested in issues of race, racism, white supremacy and social justice in general.

Elyse Hambacher:
And that was because as I was a teacher, I taught in a really racially and ethnically diverse elementary school. And I witnessed I observed so many instances where children of color where were treated differently.

Elyse Hambacher:
They were treated as less than than their white peers. And if I might be able to give an example, maybe that will help. So I remember teaching kindergarten and this was within the first three months of of me teaching. And the administration really wanted us to start tracking students. So for those of you who aren't familiar with tracking, tracking is a process that is very common in schools where we separate and sought students based on perceived ability. And so the administration was asking us to sort and separate our students at kindergarten.

Elyse Hambacher:
These were five and six year olds in terms of their reading ability. And so. That's that is what we did. And so there was a high group, a high reading group, a a medium reading group and a low reading group. And, you know, some might argue that, you know, children aren't aware of that at an early age, but they are so aware they're so they're just so aware of of what groups they're placed in and what kinds of books and what kind of levels they're reading. And so one of the things that I noticed when we were separating and tracking those students was that mostly the white kids were in the high reading group and there was a disproportionate number of black and brown children that were in the low reading group. And so this separating and sorting starts at a really early age and has serious implications for children as they continue to move through the K-12 school system. And so that's just an example of what know those sorts of injustices. And that's what got me really interested in learning more about how this how this impacts children, teachers and teachers and their families and schools. I don't know if I really answered your question, but so now I'm in a different context. Now I'm in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Right. So tracking is very interesting. And we have been talking about doing a whole show on that at some point. So I am really glad you brought that up, but definitely yet translate sort of what you saw in Miami. What upset you about that? And now the work that you're doing in New Hampshire.

Elyse Hambacher:
Yeah. And so now the work that I'm doing in New Hampshire is similar, but it looks a little different. And so now what I'm doing is I am preparing mostly white teachers to think about race, racism, white supremacy in the context of white communities. And so I've had to shift a little bit because the context is entirely different. Where now when I'm teaching in New Hampshire, it's it's, I'll say, almost a bit of resistance to acknowledge that racism even exists in these predominantly white communities. And so that's been a little bit of a struggle. But it's been a nice challenge to be able to teach aspiring and practicing teachers that, yes, racism actually does exist in mostly white communities. That may just may look a little more complicated.

Laura Knoy:
You know, that's really interesting. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite, I'd love your thoughts, too, on what at least just said. We just lost Dr. Christian-Brathwaite. OK. So this is what happens when everyone's remote and we're all working through it, and I'm sure that we'll get her back. What about that, Bethany? I love your thoughts to what Elyse said about working in different demographics here in New Hampshire and how you talk about these issues with kids in a different, different demographic context. Go ahead, Bethany.

Bethany Silva:
I think that the biggest thing that comes up.

Bethany Silva:
Oh, actually, just, um, I wanted to take one quick step back to to note something that Elyse mentioned about separating readers and tracking them based on assessments.

Bethany Silva:
There's in the literacy world, there's a wonderful book called Ways with Words, where a researcher followed a group of children who were white and a group of children who are black and observe the different ways that the families engaged with literacy at home and then observed what happened when they got to school.

Bethany Silva:
And the assessments that we use in schools are actually they expect children to respond to literature, to literature in a very particular way.

Bethany Silva:
And that very particular way is is something that the children who are white have experienced in the home. A good example is from this particular book is that the children who were white were being asked by their parents to like if they were reading a picture book. The parent might ask them to answer a question that the parent already knew the answer to. Like, for example, what color is the ball? Whereas the children who were coming from the community of color, what was valued in that community was extending the story. And in the assessments, extending the story and making up, making up a new ending, for example, is not is not valued. You get points off on the assessment. And so what Shirley Bryce Heath found was that when students were asked to engage with literacy in a way that was culturally relevant to them, they succeeded far more in school. So the idea of tracking the idea of tracking is embedded in racial ideas all the way down to how the assessments work.

Laura Knoy:
What does that mean, Bethany? Extending the story? Give us an example of Adam. I think I know where you're going, but go ahead. Oh, sorry. So extending the story.

Bethany Silva:
But say you're reading let's say you're reading the Snowy Day and at the very end of this snowy day, it's snowy day is about a little boy who goes out and plays in the snow all day and then he goes to sleep. And when he wakes up, a snowball that he had put in his pocket has melted. And the next morning, he goes out with his friends. So extending the school might be. Might be. What happened the next day in the snow?

Laura Knoy:
I see. Yeah, it's adorable book, by the way. And I read it with my kids. He has an adorable little red snow suit on. I think he's in some big city, maybe New York or something like that.

Laura Knoy:
So one way to look at that book would be, you know, what color is his snow suit? But another one is, how did you feel when he went out with his friends? Is that what you're saying, Bethany?

Bethany Silva:
Well, how did he. How do you think he's feeling? Is more of a there's a known answer to that. That makes sense. You know, he's disappointed because the snowball melted. Extending the story would be OK. They just they just went out in the snow for the second day. What happens next?

Laura Knoy:
Gotcha. And Dr. Christian, we lost you there for a moment, but I really wanted your thoughts on what Elyse told us about her experience working in a very diverse environment in Miami and then coming to New Hampshire. And now she's talking with mostly white teachers about, you know, justice in classrooms and so forth. And I love your thoughts, too, on how teachers and parents in New Hampshire, with our particular demographics, approach these conversations or how you think we should approach these conversations with little kids.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Sure, sure. So I think it's kind of what's been mentioned, representation matters. So what's on the walls of the schools? And, you know, beginning this conversation because children are very literal and very visual. That's often how they communicate and that's how they relate. And so a lot of the learning should start there. And so pictures on the walls should be pictures of kids of different races and ethnicities, kids of different religions. The books should be diverse books, authors from different countries, tied up characters of color or of different races. And so that's one place to begin the conversation, because so often what is portrayed in the media and what kids see is kind of this very blanket. White is good, black is bad. And you don't even thinking about there's a doll study, you know, asking white kids to talk about, you know, the positives and negatives of dolls. And a lot of assumptions were made that the white dolls were positive and the black dolls were negative. And this was both for white and black children. So a lot of the work has to be trying to undo some of those negative stereotypes that are these children are being inundated with unconsciously, so often. And, you know, even though the majority of the schools may have white students, there are a handful of students of color who are walking in these environments and feel very unwelcome simply because there's no one that looks like them in their school.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
None of the teachers look like them. None of the books have characters that look look like them. And the only time that their ethnicity or hair could just disgust is during that assigned month. And so, you know, that would be one of the first places because it's easy to have a conversation and it's easy to build empathy when you're, you know, using dolls or characters or books of different races and colors. And, you know, you'd be so surprised. I have a patient who is a seven year old boy, and we were talking about his favorite superhero. And he said his two favorite superheroes are Black Panther and Myles Morales. And Miles Morales is a young child of color who was the new Spider-Man? And when I asked him why? He said, Well, because I've never seen brown superheroes. And I think it's so cool. And it just it that exposure alone, he he didn't know that superheroes could be brown or black. And so just having that exposure opens up conversations and it opens up opportunities for kids to start learning.

Laura Knoy:
Bethany, what do you think? It's about what Dr. Christian says. You know, you're a child of color.

Laura Knoy:
You're a black child. You walk into the classroom. There's maybe one kid who looks like you. The pictures on the walls don't reflect you.

Laura Knoy:
Why is it important to bring these books into the classroom? And can you also give us a couple of your favorites for young children?

Bethany Silva:
Sure. Well, my favorites are always changing.

Bethany Silva:
But but recently I have been reading some of the books that I have really loved recently have been "Maybe Something Beautiful, How Art Transformed a Neighborhood".

Bethany Silva:
And so that book is it's semi non-fiction and it tells the story of a fictional girl named Mira.

Bethany Silva:
And the real artist, Rafael Lopez. And they transform a real neighborhood in San Diego, California, through artwork and murals. And they bring the entire community together around art. And what I love about that is that the main characters are people of color.And there is strength and in the community that they have in the in the work that they're doing.

Bethany Silva:
And then another favorite right now is "Thank You Omu" by Oge Mora. And the book is about a grandmother named Omu.

Bethany Silva:
She makes stew and it smells so good that everyone from the neighborhood comes in and asks her for some and she ends up giving away all of her stew. And then at the end, she has nothing to eat.

Bethany Silva:
So the whole neighborhood comes in and has a dinner party with her where they brought the food back to her. So, again, both of those books are are featuring people of color and also they have wonderful messages of support and love.

Bethany Silva:
And then for the first part of the question, why is it so important? It's so important because I think other people have spoken more even more eloquently than I have about this.

Bethany Silva:
But it's so important for children of color, because if you're living in a world where if you're living in a world where the only people you see doing amazing things and supporting their communities is are people who are white, then you're missing out on all of the wonderful people in your world and you're also having your world view questioned because in your in your life, you've got all sorts of wonderful people who demonstrate strength and who are heroes. And then you get to the classroom and you have this vision of, oh, well, it's well, it's only people who are white who are doing that.

Bethany Silva:
And we definitely don't want to send that message to children. And on the flip side, we don't want to send that message to white children either.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. I also want to let listeners know that the recommendations that our guests are talking about in terms of books and materials and so forth, we will put those on our website after the show. So if you're listening and you can't Johnny this down, don't worry. We'll have it there for you. Yeah, go ahead.

Elyse Hambacher:
Great. Great. So I wanted to go back to something that Dr. Christian-Brathwaite said and also something that you mentioned, Laura, about changing of context.

Elyse Hambacher:
Right. Being in a predominantly white context.

Elyse Hambacher:
So that is so this doll study that Dr. Christian-Brathwaite was mentioning, I think. Well, I could be wrong about this, but I think was initially done in the 60s or 70s. But for those of you who are interested, who are listening, if you just Google Doll study and Anderson Cooper, it will pop up. And it's a video where he has young children looking at sort of dolls in a variety of skin colors and asking them to choose, which is the smart doll, which is the dumb doll, which is a good doll, which is the bad doll. So so that is a really powerful tool, I think, to get people in general.

Elyse Hambacher:
So it like I said, my context is in preparing teachers, but that's a that's a video that I used to first engage my students in what Bethany said earlier about a pedagogy of discomfort. So my students are predominantly white, will come, you know, to me and claim that they're colorblind. Right. So that's that's a term that we used earlier. They'll say I don't see color. And so when you show them a video like that, it's really hard for them to refute that. It's really hard for them to still hang on to that to that claim. Right. I don't see color because we're Shia, because that Anderson Cooper video clearly shows that young kids see color and they see it at a very, very early age. And I also want to just go back to this idea of this really pervasive ideology of I don't see color or I'm colorblind and how that's really problematic. And it's really problematic because when you are when you are someone that says, I don't see color, you're rendering people of color invisible.

Elyse Hambacher:
You're saying that you don't see them. And and that's really problematic for different reasons.

Laura Knoy:
Why is that problematic? Elyse? And I'm wondering if some of our older listeners were brought up to say that.

Elyse Hambacher:
Oh, sure. Sure. And so just to get a little personal, you know, I met my partner here in New Hampshire and he's white and we've had conversations about this. And he initially, when we first started dating, he said that very statement, I don't see color. So we really had to unpack that. And I think your question was why people might say that.

Laura Knoy:
The question is, you know. You said that that is that people say that.

Laura Knoy:
And they were taught to say that. They were taught that that is the right thing to say. And so it be good for you to explain to them why that's not OK. You kinda did earlier, but I'd like a little bit more.

Elyse Hambacher:
Yeah. So when you think that when you see that when you're saying that you don't see color, when clearly we as humans have different variations of skin color, you're saying that you don't see that person, that that person is invisible. And I think that also goes back to these children's literature books that Bethany Silver is talking about. When you are only reading children's literature that features that feature white characters, that feature stories that happened in the suburbs. You're saying that black indigenous people of color experiences don't exist.

Elyse Hambacher:
And I think that's problematic in a society where, you know, where there are lots of diverse people living in or living in this country.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's really interesting. And we've got an e-mail from a listener, Meg, in Dover, who writes, Is it fair to say we're all the same race, the human race and not Dr. Christian? I'll throw that to first. Thank you, Meg, for writing in.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Sure. Thanks. So you know, that's true. So race is a social construct. It doesn't have any significant physiologic meaning. But it was created intentionally to separate slaves and Africans from, you know, other white immigrants. And that was meant to kind of be like your you know, that's them over there and you're better. And so race was intentionally created to separate people. However, given that it is a social construct and we are all one human race, the fact is a lot of decisions are made based on race. And so one of the other issues, when someone says I don't see color. They're also kind of giving themselves an out if they engage in implicit bias or if they engage in micro aggressions or some form of racism. They can say, well, I don't see color. So that can't be racism.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
And so it also prevents people from actually learning and growing and acknowledging that some of the choices and some of the things that they do and say are based on their bias or against certain races. And so if we're really trying to grow and we're really trying to engage in anti-racism work, we have to acknowledge that race exists and we have to acknowledge that some of our behaviors may be dictated on the race of the person in front of us.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, I'm going to ask all of you what conversations you think are better suited for school and which ones are better suited for home. And we'll take a lot more of your e-mails as well. So, Megg, again, thank you for writing in.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy.. This hour, how to talk to young children about race at home and its school exchange. Listeners would love to hear from you. Tell us how this has come up in your household or if you're older, how your own parents talk to you about this. We're talking this hour with Dr Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, a psychiatrist and CEO of Well Mind Psychiatry in Boston, with a focus on mental health in communities of color. Also with us, Elyse Hambacher, an associate professor of education and core faculty member of the Women's Studies Program at U.N. H. And Bethany Silva, a research assistant professor of education at U.N. Age and director of the community literacy program there. And Dr. Christian, you first. We talked earlier about the discomfort level that a lot of adults have with these conversations. You've all said that some adults, especially teachers, may worry about saying the quote unquote, wrong thing. Which conversations do you think Dr. Christian are better suited for at home with parents?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
You know, all learning starts at home. And so a lot of the same conversations that we're having at home can certainly be had or replicated in the school setting. But it's great if we start these conversations at home and allow kids to feel vulnerable, because, again, you know, kids may also recognize that discomfort that kids can read body language can read the change in tone of the adult voice. And so when you're initially talking to kids about their thoughts and feelings around this and if you know fears that they may have, it would be great to begin that at home. So that we're really able to get to the root of it.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
And, you know, kids may even be absorbing or harboring biases that parents may not be aware of. And and it's certainly important to have that conversation at home so that kids don't feel shamed or embarrassed in school. But, you know, really anything that starts at home should certainly be continued in school. And again, these cannot just be one off conversations or just Black History Month conversations. And from, you know, information and research about race and racism and disparities really goes through the entire thread of our history and should be a part of just about every subject that we discuss in school.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think, Bethany?

Bethany Silva:
Oh, I was. Exactly. Ditto. You asked which of these conversations are better suited for home and which are better suited for school. And I think that they're suited for both places.

Bethany Silva:
I think the big difference is that in school, as an educator, your goal is to embed them into your curriculum. So there might be a targeted focus. Right. So if your if your school is focusing on bullying and standing up and activism as you're engaging in research, as your students are engaging in research on activism, you are going to be having conversations about race and about various activist movements throughout the course of American history that people of color engaged in. But if you're talking about, you know, but if your focus is on welcoming and belonging at the beginning of the school year, you might be reading. Jacqueline Woodson's book. You might be reading Jacqueline Woodson's book. Oh, gosh. The Day You Begin. It's a picture book that talks about the feeling of walking into school and just feeling like you don't fit in.

Bethany Silva:
And it's really lovely and can only be told from the perspective of that, like the things that make that character feel like she doesn't fit in can only be told from the perspective of. That particular person of color. But the feeling of not fitting in is universal. So in that case, you would be focusing on you would be focusing on what? How do we make everyone feel welcome?

Laura Knoy:
And a slightly different question for you, Elyse. So because you're working with teachers, so teachers face a classroom, bunch of different kids, different backgrounds, different family, sets of values. How do educators approach kids who may be having different conversations about race at home into the classroom? How do they sort of make that happen when each kid is kind of bringing a different set of home conversations and values into school?

Elyse Hambacher:
Well, I think one of the first things to think about is to ask your students, you know, to have maybe a whole class discussion about what kinds of conversations are. Is everyone talking about it? And I think you'll get a whole range of answers. You'll probably get some students who say, yeah, we talk about this all the time at home, probably have some students that are thinking we've never had these conversations. And so I think the first step would be to get a sense of what you know, what kinds of conversations, what kinds of discussions are happening at home and then to sort of build off that in your classroom. One thing that I do want to say. Given my context is really in schools and in education, is the question that you had asked earlier was, you know, are these. Are there certain questions that are better for school or better for home? And I don't know that certain kinds of conversations are better for one context over the other. I think that they both complement each other. And that's really the point that I wanted to make.

Elyse Hambacher:
Another point that I want to make here is that these conversations, they raise awareness, but it can't just be about awareness. There needs to be some action that's tied to awareness. So now that we understand are now that we know that these that these injustices are happening, what are we going to do?

Laura Knoy:
Well, we got an email to that effect from Mary in Lebanon who says, I'm a high school anatomy teacher in New Hampshire. About five years ago, I noticed my classes were more diverse, so I started creating worksheets and tests, using pictures of people of color and women. I think it is important to represent all people. So there's Mary sort of taking action in her own way, in her own class. Here's another e-mail from Lisa. How can we have discussions that expand on history that is taught in schools? For example, kids as young as preschool are taught the Thanksgiving story in an ethnocentric way where Native Americans are seen as, quote, less than even simply by the clothing they wear and illustrations. How can we help children expand their view without contradicting teachers at every step of the story? Wow.

Laura Knoy:
Lisa, thank you for writing in and Elyse to throw that to you first. But I want to hear from everybody. Go ahead, please.

Laura Knoy:
So that's a that's a it's all things show right there, isn't it?

Elyse Hambacher:
And I think I'm going to I'm going to I'll start.

Elyse Hambacher:
But I want to pass it on to Bethany because I think she's got a lot more knowledge when it comes to what I'm about to bring up. So in terms of Thanksgiving, Christopher Columbus, all that stuff, you know, I wasn't taught the truth about Columbus until eighth grade. And truth be told, you know, I meet some of my, you know, my college age students, and they don't they still don't know the real truth about Christopher Columbus. And so I think that sort of speaks to like these pervasive ideas and this history that we're taught in school that these are false narratives. Right. But what I was going to say was at four young children, one of the ways that teachers might start might be looking at literature that that shares an alternative perspective, a more accurate perspective or a perspective told by those being marginalized.

Elyse Hambacher:
I'm thinking, Bethany, you might have to help me out here. That Jane Yolen book you encounter. Yeah, maybe you could say a little little bit about that.

Laura Knoy:
And is that for young kids, Bethany?

Bethany Silva:
Oh, absolutely. I've read it with my four year old, so. Wow. Yeah. So. So Jane Yolen, who is she? New Hampshire author. She might be, but so she wrote a book called The Encounter.

Bethany Silva:
And it tells the story of Columbus coming to the Americas.

Bethany Silva:
And I apologize because I remember that he did not land in North America. He landed in the Caribbean, I believe.

Bethany Silva:
But regardless, it's told from the perspective of some of the indigenous peoples who were there.

Bethany Silva:
And Elyse and I actually both use in our classes a text called Black Ants and Buddhists and the author of that text with her first grade students. Does a does a unit on Thanksgiving that inspects the story of Thanksgiving from multiple sides and and looks at what the students already know. And by.

Bethany Silva:
And they when they read the encounter, they ask questions of the book like, you know, this is still a person who is right while telling the story of of indigenous peoples. What does that tell us? She did she did research. But who is still telling the story? What are the perspectives of the people who were already here? How does that and how does that work in relationship to the stories that we've heard in the past? So so that's a really great book to use when telling that story. And then you asked at the beginning, I believe the questioner asked how what if parents are telling a different story than what gets told in schools?

Bethany Silva:
And I think that's something that we want to think about. A lot is, is how can parents and schools work together to open up curriculum? I'm working with a group of teachers right now through New Hampshire Listens, which is a group at the University of New Hampshire.

Bethany Silva:
And they're rewriting their curriculum and which which in the past would have focused on, would have focused on the story of Thanksgiving. And they wanted to change it so that they were telling a wider, more detailed form of history. So they actually are connecting with members of the Abenaki, the Abenaki tribe in New Hampshire to consider how it is that they're telling the stories that they're telling.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's interesting. It relates to something that, you know, that I think it was Dr. Christian said at the beginning. Just listening and thinking about who is telling the story and just asking. Again, we're talking about young kids. Asking them the questions, but also educating ourselves. I think that was one of the first things that you said, Dr Christian, and I did want to turn back to you. You know, as everyone knows, there's a lot of attention and effort on this issue right now. And Dr. Christian, what are your hopes for what comes out of this moment when it comes to conversation? Conversations with the youngest kids?

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Now, I have so many hopes. I I'm hoping that it lasts. I'm hoping that the energy and the excitement and the momentum around making these changes persists and that things kind of don't just burn out. But even beyond having conversations, I'm hoping that it changes those statistics. So, you know, again, as we kind of discussed, black children are, you know, suspended more or more often. Black students make up 18 percent of pre-school enrollment, but are about 48 percent of out of school suspensions. Black students and Latino students are 70 percent of the kids nationwide referred to law enforcement. So I'm hoping not only having these conversations with young children, helping to change their perspective and helping them to build empathy.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
But I'm also hoping to help change the perspective of teachers and so that they can acknowledge and recognize their implicit bias and so that black and brown children aren't disproportionately hurt by the racism that exists institutionally. And also the individual implicit bias and that, you know, even their excellence and their grievances recognized because in the same way that they're more negatively impacted. Also, when children, black or brown children are bright or are very smart, they're less likely to be referred to gifted programs or to be selected for sparing special opportunities.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
So, you know, I'm hoping there are a lot of changes, obviously, starting at the individual level, but also moving to the institutional level.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and as we talked earlier about, you know, books and teachers and the sort of cross pollination between teachers and families. Maureen wrote, I'm a literacy curriculum developer who lives in Portsmouth. Ironically, I'm sitting here reviewing collections of books that my company will soon launch to double triple check that we are including diverse representations of people that go beyond skin tone. Maureen mentions representations of diverse family structures, people with diverse abilities and so on. Thank you for writing in, Maureen. And thank you, everyone, for being with us. And Dr. Christian, it was really great to have you.

Dr. Christian-Brathwaite:
Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Laura Knoy:
That's Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, a psychiatrist and CEO of Well Mind psychiatry in Boston with a focus on mental health and communities of color. And Bethany Silva, great to have you, too. Thank you for your time. That's Bethany Silva, research professor of education at U.N., NH and Elyse Hambacher. Associate Professor of education at U.N. H. And thanks for being with us. You're listening to The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.