While sitting outdoors at a local restaurant, I noticed a white family nearby. There was nothing uncommon about them until another family who happened to be black with a teenage son walked past them to be seated. One of the teenage white boys leaned over to who I presume to be his brother and said, “Black Lives Matter.” Both giggled. The little girl with them, about five or six years of age, pulled on her mother’s sleeve and asked, “Mom what does “Black Life Matter” mean? The mom looked up from her menu and over at me who was looking directly at her, waiting to hear the response. She blushed and shushed the girl. “Sara, sit up. I’ll tell you later.”
I had taken the day off to rest from my daily work of training and talking to nonprofit board members about racism and why diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging matter. Too often, my efforts to disrupt bias and challenge white supremacy norms in board work are met with resistance, hostility, or confusion.
It can be exhausting!
Even with political, social, and economic instability and subsequent published works about white fragility, the zero sum, a caste system and racial trauma, many people are not tuned in to the harsh realities of racism, exclusion, bias, and inequity. Some grown men and women seem not to understand the need and desire of people of color to be seen, heard, and respected. Blind spots allow them to ignore their privilege and how it hurts others.
With the rejection of critical race theory, little to no mention of the contributions of people of color in the history books, attacks on voting rights, and a lack of understanding about what it feels like to be targeted because of skin color, so many white people are still clueless of the daily struggles of black and brown people in our country.
How then will white children learn? Who will tell Sara the truth?
Children notice differences in other people as young as three months. All parents, but especially white parents should talk to their young children about racial differences as early as possible. In doing so, not only will they teach their children – the next generation - about discrimination, fairness, and acceptance, but they can begin their own work to reconcile and accept the past and understand the current hostile state of race relations in our society and what they can do to change it.
Starting at home just makes sense. There is no social justice fairy. Change begins with individuals deciding to become allies with those who do not look like them. Turning inward at self and talking about family values is a great launching point for new conversations and behaviors.
This is what I hoped to achieve with the publishing and launch of my new children’s book, Mac and Cheez, Being Different is Okay. It’s a story about a little boy, Mac, a biracial Black and Mexican child who is shunned by white children on the playground. He befriends another little boy, Cheez who is a dark-skinned black boy with blue eyes. Together they learn that they do not have to change to be accepted but they can be the change by inviting all the children on the playground to play with them. There are images of children of every hue and ability playing together. At the end, they realize that they all matter and are uniquely made. There is a feeling of acceptance.
Positive images displayed in children’s book are an impactful way to show that reconciliation and harmony can come from initial conflict. Children of any race will understand this with adequate and appropriate dialogue with their parents and siblings.
One reader who purchased my book shared that she and her seven-year-old daughter, Julia had an enlightening conversation about race that may not have happened were it not for my book. Julia was upset that Mac was not accepted and didn’t feel like he belonged. She shared that she would stand up for any of her black or brown friends who were being mistreated at school. At seven years old, Julia has already embraced allyship and made her intentions known. Julia’s mom expressed gratitude to me and vowed to continue to have conversations about bias and racism with her daughter and other children too.
Here a few other ways parents can begin to build and model empathy and teach their kids about race:
1. Visit www.macandcheez.org. Learn more about Mac. Purchase a copy for your family and or copies for a local day care center.
2. Visit embracerace.org, a website with a plethora of resources to help kids embrace racial differences.
3. At www.pbs.org, there are compelling videos and books and articles that introduce children to stories that reflect different cultures and ethnicities.
A simple tale about acceptance and belonging is a lesson so many of my board clients could benefit from. And while I have not read Mac and Cheez, Being Different is Okay in my trainings, it may be a good idea to start!
And for Sara, I happened to have a copy of Mac and Cheez with me that day at the restaurant. As I left to pay my bill, I handed a copy to Sara’s mother as a gift and invited her to read it to Sara. She smiled and with the sound of relief in her voice, thanked me.
We can all champion and celebrate diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging by doing something small. You have no idea how a tiny gesture may be the impetus for more substantial efforts to learn, grow, and be a part of a system of change. The story of Mac and Cheez is the perfect example of this.
Get your copy and begin to make changes in your life and the life of your little ones. I promise, you won’t regret it.