Discovery Place, a local science museum here in Charlotte, just opened a special exhibit on Race. I was pretty excited to bring the kids but ended up being a bit disappointed. The exhibit was aimed at an older age group, high school, and the few things that were geared towards younger children just didn't work. There were some women sitting around with puppets and books but they didn't engage with my children at all. In fact, they pretty much ignored us. Not that puppets were going to be a big hit.
I had hope when I saw a display set up which appeared to be a segregated store front but it wasn't interactive. It was just a decoration. There wasn't much at all to actually engage my children in thinking about race. I read some of the things to the beasties but so much of it was just over their heads and they were bored.
After an attempt, I let them run about the rest of the museum to do the familiar well loved activities (touching sea animals, learning about pulleys, etc). But I was thinking about race while I watched them. H and I don't make a big deal about race. We made a conscious decision not to focus on this aspect of our lives. We believe firmly that Race is a cultural category and that our children are members of the human race. Period. But we also have talked about discrimination. We've told them about slavery. We've talked about injustice and inequality but in connection to things like gender and class as well as to people's perceived notions about race. We just didn't want them to think about themselves as humans caught between two racial worlds.
In our home, skin color is just a matter of fact difference. We don't deny that we are all different colors, we just don't make a big deal of it. Sometimes we joke about it. We never define ourselves by it.
Of course we also don't make a big deal about nationalities. The kids know that H is from Mexico, and that I am from the United States. We have learned the histories of both countries, and we study culture in both countries. BUT we don't teach them any kind of ideas about belonging or frankly even ideas of patriotism. I am not fond of nationalism and I have no intention of creating children who are nationalistic.
And I started to wonder how do you teach kids this about race? Is it a disservice to them? Am I neglecting something by not focusing on race? Do I deprive them of an identity when I don't focus on them being Hispanic or on them being half-Mexican? Are they going to get older and feel forced to choose and then resentful that I didn't give them enough information to make a choice? How do you teach kids about race? And what should you teach?
My biggest worry is that I don't want my children to go into the world navie. I try to make it clear to them that people will judge them based on their skin color. They know this already as it has happened to them. But I don't want race to be the only or even the biggest definer of who they are. However I can't help but wonder if this "white" me talking.