WellesleyWeston Magazine

WINTER 2016-2017

Launched in 2005, WellesleyWeston Magazine is a quarterly publication tailored to Wellesley and Weston residents and edited to enrich the experience of living in two of Massachusetts' most desirable communities.

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44 W e l l e s l e y W e s t o n M a g a z i n e | w i n t e r 2 0 1 6 / 2 0 1 7 it is a common saying that raising children doesn't come with instructions. We may understand this all too well as we try our best to negotiate potty training, de-escalate temper tantrums, and establish a weekend curfew. The challenges of child rearing can seem daunting as we desperately seek guidance from family, friends, and many, many books. This all worked well for me, until I realized that I had to talk with my children about race. As a white woman raising bi-racial children (my husband identifies racially as black), it wasn't an option to not have these conversations with my children. When they were as young as three years old, my sons engaged me in conversations about skin color differences, stereotypes, and feeling marginal- ized. It was challenging on many fronts, and not ever having these conversations before, made it difficult to engage my family and friends. I began reading a lot. What I learned almost immediately is that most white people don't talk to their children about race and most people of color do, because they have to. At that moment, I realized that not engaging in conversations about race as a child with my parents and teachers truly affected the way I understood the world around me. As I continued to educate myself, I watched a powerful PBS documentary titled Race: The Power of an Illusion. It literally changed my life. I learned that the five or six distinct racial groups into which humans are categorized are not biological or genetic. Also, race is a relatively modern, socially constructed idea. Ancient soci- eties did not divide people according to physical differences. It was difficult for me to realize that I didn't know this and much more about the history of racism. Studying research on the development of young children, I learned that infants as young as six months of age are able to nonverbally categorize people by race and gender. Remarkably, children between the ages of three and five not only categorize people by race but express bias based on race. I had heard this all too many times from my friends of color, whose chil- dren were excluded from playing with white children because of the color of their skin. Thankfully, the research also revealed that having explicit conversations with chil- dren about interracial friendships helped children dramatically improve their racial attitudes in a single week. This research compelled me to write and self-publish my first children's book, The Skin on My Chin, a rhyming picture book about what skin does and what skin doesn't do. This book might be one way to begin or continue a conversation about human skin colors with children. Talking with young children about human differ- ences concretely and consistently helps them to become equipped with necessary social and emotional skills. In my parent and teacher workshops, I make the analogy of talking to children about sex to talking to them about race. It is actually hard to believe that it was once common practice Raising Children with a Deeper Understanding [ forum ] M I C H E L L E C H A L M E R S , M S W writer For more information about MICHELLE CHALMERS, her books, and her diversity workshops, visit www.theskinonmychin.com. Also visit www.worldofwellesley.org for additional community-wide events.

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