The classic story The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss weaves the fable of critters whose opportunities and social status was determined by appearance. This beloved story can relate to concepts of race and racism.
Now the star bellies sneetches had bellies with stars
The plain bellied sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But because they had stars all the star bellied sneetches would brag,
“We’re the best sneetches on the beaches!”
Throughout this tale, opportunities for success were dependent on what the “social norm” was at the moment. Who held the power to make this decision of who qualified as the haves, or have-nots? The villain of the story, Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He took money from the Sneetches to have their stars either added or removed.
So how does this relate to a conversation about racism? Think of it this way. The Sneetches with the power had both white privilege and Implicit bias (media, news, conversations at home, education form associations that lead to biases) which led them to view those different than themselves as “lesser than.”) Those who were not “in” were marginalized through use of hurtful words, or “microaggressions”, and were left out, or segregated.
In true Dr. Seuss fashion, the Sneetches have their “ah-ha” moment of clarity. They realize that differences in appearance can be celebrated and appreciated, which results in Sneetch Unity and understanding.
…I’m quite happy to say
That the sneetches were really quite smart on that day.
The day they decided that sneetches are sneetches
And no kind of sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the sneetches forgot all about stars, and whether they had one or not upon thars.
In real life, the process of coming to this realization and joining together is not so easy. Throughout the social unrest of 2020, many Americans are having our own “Ah-ha moments” and recognizing that change towards equity begins with self-awareness, education and communication. We know that it is not helpful to view the world as “Color Blind”. We all see the world through our own lens, based on family values and what we have experienced in life. Instead of drawing lines between each other based on our differences, can we use perspective-taking and empathy to celebrate who we are, and build bridges to connect with others different than ourselves?
What is important for our children to know about race – both their own and others?
- Racial Literacy – Understanding myself and others. Exploring the question of “Who Am I?” and identifying the ways we are the same and ways we are unique or different. This includes having pride in your race.
- Respectful communication – How can I ask questions to learn more about others different than myself a in a kind way? Using a social filter (Thinking before speaking – Is what I am saying kind? Helpful. necessary) to speak respectfully when I am curious about others.
- Understanding Microaggressions – “Little” hurts that occur every day are called microaggressions. This includes when we are – sometimes unintentionally – mean or disrespectful in small says. When we feel hurt by another’s words or actions we can refer to it as an “Ouch Moment”
- Being an Upstander – What can we say or do to fix an Ouch Moment? How can we speak up and let someone know that they are being hurtful? What can I do if I cause an ouch moment? How can I maintain a growth mindset to learn from my mistake?
Ideas for Sparking Conversations about Race
Books are a wonderful way to spark and continue conversation about Race and racism with your children. “Read-Aloud” versions of the books can tie in current events with the concepts about being a kind, helpful person in their family, school and community.
Recommended Books/Resources on Understanding & Celebrating Diversity:
- Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw – Read-Aloud
- I am Enough by Grace Byers – Read-Aloud
- Ouch Moments – When Words are Used in Hurtful Ways by Michael Genhart – Read-Aloud
Middle and High Schoolers
NOTE: We recommend that you preview these resources first before sharing with your tween/teen
- What is Implicit Bias? Video Clip
- Conversation starters for talking to kids/teens about racism and implicit bias
- Watch Video Clip: Social Justice
Tips for Guiding Tweens and Teens
Parents can help tweens and teens focus on self-awareness and self-monitoring when interacting with people different than yourself using these social tools:
- Social Prediction – If ___ then ____ (If I say or do ____ then this can be the social consequence)
- Using a Social Filter (Thinking before saying or doing)
- Reading and responding to social cues (monitoring facial expression, tone of voice, body language to know if you are making a social misstep)
- Assertiveness tools (Sharing ideas and opinions in a respectful way)
- Empathetic responses (Listening deeply and showing caring in your words and actions)
Finally. In their article Racism and Violence: How to Help Kids Handle the News, The Child Mind Institute makes these four suggestions for engaging in conversations about race with your child. They are helpful when discussing any marginalized population.
- Be clear, direct, and factual about current events and history. Emphasize that racial violence is wrong.
- Encourage questions even if you can’t answer them. It’s okay to acknowledge that this is a difficult topic and that you are uncomfortable, but it’s not a reason to stop talking.
- Don’t hide your emotions. Letting your child know you’re sad and angry about injustice is good modeling of human behavior that can assure them that it’s okay to express their feelings.
- Keep the conversation open. Racism and violence are important topics that require ongoing dialogue. Let your kids know that you’re always available to talk, and be sure to keep checking in on them, too.
Written by Carol Miller, LCSW
Edited by Danielle Bentz, MA