BAR HARBOR — How does your environment reflect the values you would like your children to learn about the world?
Anti-racism educator Catherine Anderson asked the 30 or so participants of the Raising Anti-Racist Children in Maine workshop on Saturday to close their eyes, put themselves in the shoes of a child and walk through their home, classroom or other influential space and think about what or who is represented. Does it accurately reflect the makeup of the worlds’ people with appropriate representation of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)? More importantly, do BIPOC children in a community see reflections of themselves that are positive portrayals and create an environment of inclusiveness, rather than other?
“What clues are around them that you have intentionally included to help them understand your values?” Anderson, who is white, asked, sharing a story about her own family’s struggle to accept the Black child she adopted. “Where are my students, my children, seeing existence that the world is made up of people who look a lot of different ways?”
Mount Desert Island Racial Equity Working Group and YWCA co-hosted the event, which took place virtually. Anderson is a public school teacher and works with other schools and institutions to talk about the deep-seeded racism that is present and often goes unspoken. She asked participants to be vulnerable in the conversations of the workshop.
“Because in order to do this work together, that’s part of what we need to do,” said Anderson. “I was where you guys are and I wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
A former resident of Maine, Anderson now lives in a Black neighborhood in Providence, R.I., with her two children. She shared a story about visiting an elementary school in Maine to do her work.
“They wanted me to come in and help teachers talk to kids about race,” said Anderson, explaining that the school wanted the one student of color at the school to have a more positive experience.
After touring the school, Anderson told the social worker there that the school had more than a dozen students of color. The social worker was astonished and confused, telling Anderson that wasn’t how they identified themselves. She explained to the social worker that the children had learned or internalized the message, “there’s no place to not be white here.”
By not having conversations that value all people and creating spaces that include people of all colors and walks of life, a message is being sent whether intentional or not, she explained.
“You may not realize you’ve got kids who truly, deeply, clearly want to embrace and feel that they are mixed and have heritage but they don’t know how because it’s not safe to do so,” said Anderson to the group. “I want you to really look through their eyes when you do this.”
Workshop attendees included teachers and other school district employees, parents, aspiring teachers and a local college student who said she had never received any education on the subject of racism from her parents.
“I’m a teacher and that’s the main reason I’m here,” said one participant. “My ambition is to be part of the conversation and help personally with leveling the playing field.”
Anderson asked people to identify themselves in smaller groups, citing race, ethnicity and their reason for participating. Once smaller groups had convened and shared, Anderson asked for those who were identifying themselves by race for the first time publicly to signal the group, noting that for white people this is a new concept.
After reading and reflecting on two articles, one focused on talking to children about race and another about a study showing racial bias in preschool, participants watched a snippet from the movie “Rio.” Anderson explained that the movie made her wildly uncomfortable. In the movie, the main characters are affluent white people whose bird is stolen by a group of men of color stereotypically portrayed as bad guys.
“This is about things you see that are making you uncomfortable,” she said to the group, adding that it is important to name it and talk about it with children.
Anderson talked about her children, shared stories of her journey as a transracial parent and offered one of her formative experiences to the group. When she was looking to adopt a child, she was told she had few options as a single mother, but one option was to adopt internationally. That was not the avenue Anderson wanted to take.
“Well, if you’re willing to adopt a Black child, it’s discounted, several thousand dollars less,” the woman at the agency said to her. “Let that sink in,” Anderson said, who added that she felt in her body how wrong the whole idea of valuing one life over another was, but she had yet to begin her journey of how to be an anti-racist.
“When you are modeling to your kids what’s making you uncomfortable,” she said to the group, “you are giving them permission to air, to voice their discomfort. And, until you can get comfortable doing that, they’re not going to be comfortable.”
Go to rewg.org to find more resources for talking about racism.