Tag Archives: Social Justice

Parenting for Revolution: World Pizza and Subtle Messages

Parenting for Revolution

We recently came into possession of a book titled World Pizza. It came as a part of a book subscription service we use. My daughter was excited to read it and we sat down one evening to do that. The book is about a misheard wish for world peace that becomes world pizza. It’s silly and sweet and on a level that young children can grasp the meaning of world peace. 

And yet as we were reading I came across this illustration:

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As you may notice the text that accompanies this spot illustration doesn’t specifically call for this depiction. I immediately stopped reading and told my daughter, “I don’t like this picture.”

She asked why and I explained that it was showing a stereotyped image of people in Africa that was neither culturally accurate, flattering, nor historically accurate. My daughter said she thought some people in Africa might look like that. I was kind of horrified by the response, but figured she was extrapolating from images of various indigenous people in Africa she’s seen in books and on TV shows. 

I told her that it was true some people still dress in their traditional clothing and live in ways that reflect their traditional cultures. I then explained that the picture was not showing any of those people, or if it was it was not identifying them. Either way the illustration was wrong. It would have been better if it had showed someone in a specified African country living in a modern city or if it had specified which culture they were from and depicted their dress accurately. 

Frustratingly she has asked to read the book again several times. Or at least I was frustrated at first. But during each reading I have taken the opportunity to stop there and have a shortened version of the same conversation again. Certainly her thought that it could be accurate was a call to me to ensure that she sees more images of people across the African continent living much as we do. And to draw attention to that to counteract the stereotyped images she has clearly absorbed. 

IMG_4844The bigger issue here is that these kinds of subtly incorrect depictions turn up everywhere in children’s books. Sometimes it’s the fact that an older book has been republished or reprinted again and again so those images are still with us. Sometimes it’s just plain ignorance on the part of the author or illustrator. Whatever the case maybe for the appearance of problematic content, it’s how children quietly internalize these ideas and that’s why it’s so important to call them out when we see them. To name them and make it explicit that they are not okay.  

Parenting for Revolution: Stories We Aren’t Waiting On

Parenting for Revolution

Or How I’m Not Allowing White Privilege to Shield My Daughter

In my last post I talked about how powerful stories can be (in books and movies) and how I feel strongly that there are some I want my daughter to be exposed to when she is ready. A big part of my point about not encouraging my daughter to watch Jurassic Park at six years old is that it’s a story that tackles some incredibly deep questions about humanity and our role in life. Today I wanted to address the idea that there are difficult ideas that I am not holding back on with her and how I determine, rightly or wrongly, which ones those will be. 

The short answer to what hard topics and questions do I choose discuss openly with her is, if someone’s safety and/or humanity is impacted by the answers to those questions right now in the real world, then it is imperative we talk about it. This includes things like overt racism, systemic racism and sexism, police violence, Islamophobia, violence against trans and queer people. I have opened conversations about all of these topics with her. 

We talk about stories about how people have been and continue to be excluded, persecuted, and discriminated against. We talk openly about skin color, race, gender, sex, religion, disability, body type, immigration, and socio-economic status. None of these things are shameful. They are part of people’s identities and unless my daughter can talk about them without shame or without hatred or a feeling of superiority (i.e. white supremacy) then she can’t fight for equity. We read stories about current events and historical events. We have talked about people crossing the Mediterranean and the desperation that must drive them to take such risks. We have talked about rape and rape culture and the #metoo movement. We have talked about redlining. We have talked about slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation here in California, which impacted Latinx people. Of course these topics are tackled in an age appropriate way, but we don’t shy away from them and I give her honest answers to any and all questions she asks, even if the answers are hard and scary. She knows about Stephon Clark who was killed here in Sacramento a few months ago and she knows about the Black Lives Matter movement. We often first approach these stories through stories. Through picture books that bring up the topics and give us an opening to think and discuss more deeply and I think that is a very powerful and impactful approach to getting at real world problems. 

I know many white parents want to avoid talking about these things. They’re uncomfortable and awkward and difficult and we’re afraid of making mistakes. But that’s our privilege allowing us to not to talk about them and I don’t want to be party to that. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes and know all the answers to the tough questions we come up with, but I am trying. 

Parenting for Revolution: Popcorn by Frank Asch

Parenting for RevolutionpopcornDo you know this story? It’s an old one. And it is incredibly funny. But what do you see when you look at the cover of this book? When I bought the book a few years back nothing about it seemed amiss, but now that I’ve started learning about diversity and whiteness and cultural appropriation, the “Indian” headband jumped out at me. 

Here’s the thing, I really like the story and I decided to keep it. But I have to be able to talk to Cam about why his costume is not okay. So we read it together and the first thing I told her was that I did not like Sam’s costume. She asked why and we talked about how he’s supposedly dressed as a Native American and that the costume is both wrong and a stereotype. It doesn’t give any hint about what nation it was taken from and even if it did, it was taken from someone’s culture. 

These conversations are hard because I’m not used to having them. They can also be hard to gauge both what level to have them on and what Cam is getting out of them. I hope we reach the point where she can roll her eyes at me because she knows what I’m going to say when I see something like this (let’s face it the eye rolling is bound to happen in the adolescent years). Or even better points it out.

Here are some resources about costumes and why cultural dress is not okay to use as a Halloween (or any holiday) costume: We’re a Culture Not a Costume

Here is some information on the controversy over the Disney Moana movie and some of the dress-up merchandise they were selling: Moana Costume Controversy on LATimes

And finally here’s an excellent article on this particular book: Popcorn on American Indians In Children’s Literature

Parenting for Revolution: Baby Dolls

Parenting for Revolution

So after several years of learning about diversity in this country and the problems around it (i.e. racism, Islamaphobia, police violence, etc.) I’ve started to learn about how to talk about it with Cam. In case it wasn’t obvious from my picture or from the fact that I’m blogging and other indicators, I’m white. As a White person I’ve been blind to a lot of these issues. Now that I know, it’s incredibly important that I talk to Cam about it, point it out, and name it. And for those of you that are unconvinced that knowing requires action, research points to the importance of talking to children as young as possible in age appropriate ways about these issues.

I am using diversity here as short hand for about 12 major categories including race, religion, SES and orientation to name a few. While it is imperative I talk to her about diversity and name it and make sure she isn’t internalizing the wrong messages about it (those tacit ones we’re fed by American culture, politics, media, white privilege and other avenues), I won’t be getting it perfect or even right. But I’m trying and I want to encourage you to as well. We need to get it wrong to get it right and we need to listen to people who tell us when we get it wrong.

My daughter has one completely white friend. Admittedly she doesn’t have the widest of social circles and she’s not in school, but out of the ten or so kids she interacts and plays with on a regular basis only one is white. I think that’s wonderful and am relieved that it happened organically. We would be having a very different conversation, probably about moving neighborhoods, if this wasn’t the case.

The other day her one white friend brought over a new doll she had gotten. A doll with a purple outfit. Cam totally wanted that purple outfit, so she asked me if we could get another, new doll. I’ve looked recently at her dolls and she has several dolls with darker brown skin, but there are several clearly white dolls. (If you aren’t familiar with the doll experiment look it up. It’s incredibly disheartening and eye-opening.) So when faced with buying her another doll I decided to talk to her about the color of her dolls.

I pointed out that she has a fair number of dolls with skin that looks like ours and only a couple with light or dark brown skin. She agreed. Next I told her to think about her friends and named several of them. I asked her what color skin they had. She, correctly, answered that they had various shades of brown skin. Then I explained to her that I wanted her doll collection to reflect her friends and her world. I told her I would be happy to look for either 

Sadly, Target didn’t have either a purple outfit or any color doll with a purple outfit. Damn. They also changed their dolls a bit so they have these much bigger eyes and less realistic faces. Cam wasn’t much of a fan of those either. She had her heart set on a new doll and after crying over not liking the new look of the dolls she cried over not getting any doll. *Sigh* Being five is tough. 

In the end what did she take away from this? Well, she did finagle my mom into buying her a doll with a play potty (using the potty is a BIG deal for her). Unfortunately it came with a white doll, but in their defense my mom didn’t know about the conversation we had had nor was there an option for any other color of doll in the store. This is another issue for another day. I’m not really sure how much she took away from this one conversation, but we are continuing to have many more so we’ll see what the cumulative effect will be. Ultimately it will be positive. I know that, but it’s hard when your kid is sobbing in Target over all her non-options. I am worried that experience will be what sticks out to her, so I need to be sure we have lots of positive conversations. 

I will say Target seems to be introducing other dolls into their store brand line which is a good thing. There is one listed as Latina and one listed as Asian. They do all have different skin tones and facial features, but with those big googly eyes they still bear a striking resemblance to one another. However, none of the dolls besides the white ones and a tiny handful of the black ones are available in the stores. Many aren’t even available yet online. Do better Target. Get those dolls out there.