Every single word of this piece is worth reading – nay, needs to be read. I am now contemplating how realistic it would be to hand it (as a link or print out, I suppose) to every single person who comes at me with some ill-advised color-blindness mantra.
The objections to young children having any racial awareness were extremely interesting to me. I clearly recall being called “Chinese Rice” at my first elementary school and getting into physical altercations over other racial slurs, a school I only attended through half of the second grade. I don’t know if kids still do it today, but in the early 90s, one of the most popular schoolyard rhymes was “Chinese, Japanese, oh wow look at these!”, with eyes being pulled up and down and then chests grabbed.
At the next school, we wrote, illustrated, and bound our own books as third grade projects, which I always thought was really cool. I re-encountered them at my dad’s house a few years ago, and one particular page from the many self-published books stood out to me. The plot was a bad day I’d had, and one of the scenes depicted me sitting sadly on a playground with the text that “Nobody wanted to play with me because I’m Chinese-American.” Everybody has different experiences, but please excuse me while I personally roll my eyes at your suggestion that children don’t know anything about race. Then go read this.
White parents who objected to the program felt discomfited, fearful that if they voiced their concerns, they would be tagged as racists. They wanted their kids to talk about race, they insisted. But, as with most white liberals, they seemed to prefer to conduct the conversation on an intellectual level, considering it as a problem of history, policy, or justice — the kind of conversation unfolding already in Fieldston’s mandatory ethics classes. The much more intimate, idiosyncratic, lived experience of race — that is a harder discussion to have, especially when it probes reflexive reactions to difference (fear, disgust, mistrust, anxiety, curiosity, eagerness, attraction, admiration) that are sometimes heated, irrational, and not always pleasant. These are feelings the average white Fieldston parent was raised not to mention. This same parent who sends her children to Lower because she values diversity tends not to dwell on the fact that she has few close friends of color; that her neighborhood is almost entirely white; that her nanny or housecleaner or doorman has brown skin. The program at Lower was designed, and is supported in large part, by people who have spent their lives on the other side of that well-meaning silence and can testify that it’s no way to thrive.