Monday, May 3, 2010

The Colors of My World

Today I talked about race with 350 children. Approximately 330 of them were white.

The occasion was the statewide conference of Maine's Civil Rights Team Project. Maine has the nation's most extensive network of school-based civil rights teams, from 3rd to 12th grade, involving more than 3000 students in helping to create safe, welcoming school communities for all kinds of difference. Bravo to them!

More than 1000 students and their adult advisors attended today's conference. In two sessions, I presented a workshop entitled "The Colors of My World" to all the 3rd-5th graders and their advisors.

Beginning with my own photo (the one from Seoul 1960 on the home page of this blog), I shared my own experience of race in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. I talked about how my consciousness of being white and American developed from having Koreans notice my difference every day of my young life. Every time I went to the market I drew a crowd of onlookers who exclaimed over my light hair ("it looks like gold!"), my light skin, my large, round eyes and prominent nose, my height - everything that made me look astonishingly different to them.

This led to a discussion of Racial Identity Development (see the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) - a mirror that other people hold up for you which forms your ideas of who you are racially - and Majority/Minority identity in relation to race (crucial to understand for those of us in Maine, currently the nation's whitest state), including:

Majority group members (one of many)
- experience self as the norm; minority members as different, sometimes Other
- strength: get to be seen as an individual; challenge: lack of awareness of race
Minority group members (one of a few)
- experience self as different
- strength: awareness of race, see things majority group members don't see
challenge: often seen as representative of racial group rather than individual
(I briefly noted that my experience of minority identity was unusual - both positive and privileged - but that's a big topic for another workshop.)

Then I led them in the following exercise:

Each student was given a blank card and packets of dot stickers. (This exercise is often done with jelly beans, but 350 students would have used more than 6000!) Using the color code here, I asked each of them to choose a dot to represent the race(s) of:

1. yourself
2. the family you live with (parents, siblings, etc)
3. the rest of your extended family
4. your closest friends (inner circle)
5. your friends (the wider circle)
6. most of your teachers
7. most of the students in your school
8. most of the people in your neighborhood
9. most of the people in your town

I instructed them to turn over the card for the final categories:

The race(s) of the characters in
1. your favorite TV shows, movies and video games
2. your favorite books
3. your imaginary worlds - the stories you write or pictures you draw

The culture(s)/race(s) of
4. your favorite music/musicians
5. your favorite foods
6. the holidays you celebrate

Students paired up to share what they noticed about the "colors of their worlds." Finally, we brainstormed lists of strengths, challenges, how they could share their colors with others, and things they could do to make their worlds more colorful. Some of their suggestions: get to know people of other races (in person or as pen pals); try foods of different cultures; visit churches, synagogues, mosques and temples; and watch movies and read books about people who don't look like you.

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