© by Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen
We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we’re all one human race. Kofi Annan
We can’t think of changing our skin color. Change the world – that’s how we gotta think. Sue Monk Kidd
Never trust anyone who says they do not see color. This means to them, you are invisible. Nayyirah Waheed
Story: Marvelous Maravilloso by Carrie Lara, pictures by Christine Battuz
Video: “Being 12: The Year Everything Changes” by WNYC Public Radio, https://www.wnyc.org/series/being-12
The age of 12 or 13 is special in many religious traditions because coming of age rites are common, including our own. Reflecting increased maturity, many kids at this age experience a bit more independence, such as attending a movie with a friend and not parents. At school they learn to juggle different classes, teachers, and multiple assignments. Hormones rage and bodies take on more adult characteristics.
New York City’s public radio station created a video series exploring issues facing kids in this critical time. We’re showing you one of these because it reveals the very real concerns they have about race, racism, and the challenges of their particular identity. These youth have much to share in this 4-minute video. … (Show video)
Hearing directly from youth is pretty powerful. It certainly makes me reflect on the world they are inheriting from us.
Skin color is just one of the many ways we identify ourselves or are identified by others. Sometimes others label us incorrectly—one reason we’re adding preferred pronouns, such as he, her, or they, to UUFA nametags. Gender, race, and other identities cannot be assumed by outward appearance.
For the next 10 minutes or so, we’re going to share some of our identities with each other.
Kids, we’d like you to come to the outer tables to draw a picture of yourself that shows something about yourself, what you look like, or what you like best about yourself.
While kids are drawing, Adults, please talk with a neighbor, preferably someone you don’t know well, and share some of your own identities with each other. Three questions are on the screen and in your OOS. Who are you, what matters most to you, and why might race matter more to some than others. Feel free to move to a new seat to find someone new to speak with.
We’ll start to play some music when it’s time to come back together. Talk…
Closing Words (an approximation of what was said)
Many adults don’t realize how young children are when they notice differences in skin color. Unless they are kept in a homogeneous racial bubble, kids notice. Research shows that infants as young as 3 – 6 months old respond differently to faces of a skin color they rarely see. Difference stands out.
Two and three-year-olds not only notice, they may say something aloud when they see a person with a skin tone they have not seen before. If we shush them, they’ll learn not to talk about skin color. If we tell them there’s no difference, everyone’s alike, and they shouldn’t notice, we deny what is clearly a fact before them, that skin color is different. We also deny that race differently influences our life experiences. Any person of color who has had “the talk” about walking while black or brown, knows this. Being color-blind does not eliminate racism—it refuses to see it.
By the time kids are 8 or 9, they’ve picked up messages about race and racism from school, family, movies, the news, and elsewhere. And they may not be the messages we want them to have, or that we think they’re getting. By the time they’re 12, as you saw in the video, they are well-aware of racism. We cannot pretend childhood is a time of innocence, or that if we don’t teach them to be bigots, they won’t be.
We can move the racist needle towards greater equality by helping our kids, as well as ourselves, counter racist and negative messages. We can make sure our kids, whether white, brown, black, or biracial, not just know people of racial identities other than their own, but become friends across races. We must be willing to talk about color and celebrate difference. For example, whites can affirm that black is beautiful. We can be sure everyone sees positive role models in all racial identities.
Since we know adolescents feel racism’s affects, we must engage our teens in understanding the various causes of racism. And we adults who are committed to dismantling racism, must also understand its causes, and we who identify as white must learn when we perpetuate racism without meaning to so that we can stop doing so.
Marching in the streets in protest is not the only way to end racism. Exercising our hard-won right to vote is not the only way to end racism. We can do both, but we can also help end racism by teaching ourselves and the children and youth in our lives that we must talk about difference, race, and racism.
The author of the book Kelli read earlier, Marvelous, includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers which outlines developmental stages and racial awareness. Several copies are at the back. I’ll also share some resources about teaching children about race and racism. And, as the year progresses, we’ll offer some adult education opportunities, too.
The world is too full of hate. Let’s show our love by working hard to understand racism and what we can do to end it. I believe understanding our identities and challenging our assumptions is deeply personal and spiritual work. Let’s do this tough work together.
Questions for Reflection or Discussion:
- When did you become aware of your particular skin color or racial identity? What impact did
that have on you or your sense of self? Share your story.
- Can you name up to three internal or unconscious biases that you hold, or once held, about
people of different color than yourself? What made you aware of these?
- Are you aware of the presence or absence of character diversity in cartoons, movies or books?
Share how its absence may/may not reflect your world. How does a lack of diversity affect your