Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reading Update: I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla

This book is at the top of my resource list as a parent in a transracial family. Written as a guide for parents and teachers by a senior clinical and research psychologist who herself is African American, this book carries the reader through the developmental stages of a child's life and provides specific examples of how children understand race at each stage and age of their lives. In her opening statements, the author writes:
... in this book, I argue that children who are loved, cared for, and shielded as much as possible from early experiences with racism grow up with a high sense of self-worth regardless of their race.
Reassuring yet firm, Wright's book emphasizes that adults are often responsible for the racial biases (positive and negative) that children eventually embrace. Through her research she demonstrates that children begin life with a "racial innocence" and are "predisposed to be friendly to anyone who acts positively toward them." She dedicates a good portion of the book to detailing the "magical" pre-school years during which children are naturally inclined to see people as individuals rather than stereotypes, and encourages parents and educators to nurture that inclination and shield children from a premature knowledge of racism. Wright states:
The pre-school years are a time of innocence and wonder when every child's possibilities seem limitless. It is important to seize the opportunity this stage of a child's life presents and lay a strong foundation for the years ahead, when there is a high likelihood that personal and societal forces will assail the black person's very sense of being.
As a transracial adoptive parent, I appreciated that in chapter three the author specifically addresses the issue of "racial matching" in adoption and roundly rejects this "cruel race-obsessed trend that snatches children away from families or stops them from ever finding families who, although racially different, love them." I am thankful that it would appear that in the twelve years since this book was published positive changes have indeed taken place in this regard.

If the chapters on early childhood are encouraging as they stress the importance of shielding our children from racism, then later chapters are sobering as they describe the waning of racial innocence and eventual, seemingly unavoidable racial conflicts. Yet Wright provides excellent practical insights to prepare parents and educators to handle racism constructively and to teach children to do the same.

In closing, she writes:
We need to work for comprehensive cultural change so that a person's worth is not determined by skin color or race. We need to redefine what it means to be black or African American in a way that allows our children to grow up free to be their true selves, rather than be pressured to conform to some stereotype. We must reject the racist notion that being black means having certain inherent abilities, preferences, lifestyles - and limitations ... It is high time for all of us, Americans of all races, to work for a climate of racial healing so that our children will have the chance to grow up in a society that is committed to living up to its ideal of racial equality.

No comments: