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parents, it's important that my husband and I help our daughter become a
racially sensitive and inclusive advocate, someone who is aware of both her own
inherent privileges and the social injustices taking place in our communities.
This goes for other forms of discrimination, too—those relating to gender,
ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. (And yes, that we even have the
option to talk about race and discrimination with our child is definitely a privilege
dialogues about intolerance with children from an early age is critical. Not
only because kids as young as 3 will embrace and mimic discriminatory behaviors if that's what's they see, but
because toddlers actually begin
to innately assign meaning to racial and ethnic differences even if discrimination
isn't being modeled.
Beyond living in a diverse neighborhood
and frequenting play spaces that support diversity, here are five ways we're teaching
our 3-year-old how to practice inclusivity and empathy:
1. We don't make value-judgments about how someone
looks, but we also aren't colorblind.
How people are dressed, their
weight, their ethnicity, their gender presentation or any other aspect of their
appearance isn't open to our interpretations or assumptions. But we don't opt
for invisibility either. To pretend we're color- or race-blind is a form
of erasure, not to mention the ethnocentricity involved in choosing to see all
others as the same as us. Sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield explains that "the
refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore
manifestations of persistent discrimination," so we use neutral
and/or positive observations to talk regularly with our daughter about people's
differences, both to appreciate them and to acknowledge that sometimes these
differences require sensitivity or care.
It isn't enough to discuss tolerance or simply stand as an ally.
2. We give Goldilocks two mommies.
The story of Goldilocks is a
longstanding favorite in our house and, through our daughter's repeated
requests to "tell it longer," has grown to include some off-script details.
When Goldilocks calls home to ask permission for a sleepover, she talks to her
two mommies, who tell her to have a great time and to thank the bears for
sharing their porridge. (We'll save the slightly less-bestie Grimms'
version for when she's a little older.)
Though we make strides every
year, homophobia and homosexism are still rampant in the
U.S. We see this in the sustained invisibility of LGBT individuals and in more alarming
acts of discrimination and physical violence. Promoting a culture in which all
forms of orientation and gender identity or expression are normalized starts
with talking at home about the many ways a family can look, and then in reinforcing
those concepts while creating a safe learning environment as part of inclusive and
anti-bias curricula at schools and within our communities.
3. We watch TV shows (and read books) featuring
families that look different from ours.
Tiger," "Doc McStuffins," "Nina's World," "Dora the Explorer," plus books like "Rad American Women A–Z"—we're
a fan of them all. Besides these, there are an increasing number of other great
shows that include kids with disabilities, feature
girls (and especially girls of color) in roles traditionally viewed as
male-dominated and offer alternatives to the nuclear family structure. As
Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Junot Diaz notes, it's important that ALL children
have opportunities to regularly see themselves represented in media, in
order to not "deny them, at the cultural level,
any reflection of themselves."
4. We include our daughter in activities that support
marginalized members of our community.
Recently an Islamic Center in our city was vandalized
during a hate crime. The Masjid is already a beautiful illustration of
inclusivity in its mission to "provide a diverse, cosmopolitan milieu where
everyone is welcome regardless of ethnicity, language or cultural heritage,"
and the outpouring of care from the community following
its defacement was astounding—close to 1,000 people were present for the
clean-up effort. On the drive over, I talked to our daughter in an
age-appropriate way about what had happened and what it means to offer support
and to help others feel safe when something bad happens to them.
5. We buy baby dolls with ethnicities besides our own.
There are approximately one zillion benefits to playing with dolls,
including development of toddlers' cognitive, speech-language, fine motor and
social-emotional skills. By providing our daughter with opportunities to engage
in imaginative play with dolls that represent multiple ethnicities, we're
reinforcing a healthy racial identity that doesn't center on an assumed
superiority of whiteness.
It isn't enough to discuss tolerance
or simply stand as an ally, of course—this is only the baseline, and there are
many other things to be doing beyond this brief list. To meaningfully advocate
for those who are marginalized requires continued
engagement with empathy and the ability to make space again and again at
the table even when that means giving up our own seat. It's challenging and
often uncomfortable and something I still get wrong plenty of times.
But for our toddler, this starts with us—her parents—being intentional in how
we talk about and model inclusivity in our daily actions.