Let’s start the conversation about race early on with our kids.
Adelaide Lancaster is the Co-Founder of We Stories: Raising Big-Hearted Kids. We Stories provides books for children, resources for parents, community for all means a new story for St. Louis.
Van Buren: How did We Stories come to be?
Lancaster: Laura Horwitz and I met in the spring of 2015, having both recently moved to St. Louis. We found ourselves feeling lonely and stuck as white parents of white children who cared about race and racism in St. Louis’ post-Ferguson.
We wanted to do something, but what? We wanted to connect more, but with who? We both felt struck by the disconnect between the noise in our region about racism and the relative silence in the communities that we lived.
We had a deep sense that if we wanted to experience a different reality we were going to have to make some changes about the way our own families showed up and handled the topic of racism.
We had both found ourselves turning to kids books to open up new conversations with our then very small children. And wondered if this tool could be helpful in getting more people to start and strengthen their family conversations about racism too.
We built upon our own practice and began talking about it with some more people. Some interest and intrigue from friends led to us holding focus groups to dig into this.
We began with using children’s books to start family conversations and change family habits about racism together, as a group. Focus groups led to a pilot program of 80 families and an immediate wait list of hundreds more. In less than two years 550 families have joined our efforts.
Van Buren: What is the goal of We Stories?
Lancaster: The goal of We Stories is to engage a critical mass of white families in the St. Louis region in racial equity work. We believe that changing family conversations influence the family habits you form both in and out of the home.
We also believe that with new awareness, deeper understanding about regional inequities and changes in family behavior are held within the context of a larger supportive community; that community could be aggregated and leveraged in important ways that shift the status quo and push against the system as it is.
We want to do our part to bring our community to regional change efforts and contribute to the creation of more equitable systems and policies in St. Louis, Mo.
Van Buren: Why do you think it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about race?
Lancaster: The short answer is because race has an overwhelming impact on life outcomes for people in America, and in St. Louis in particular. It’s too important not to talk about. But we know that white people have often been socialized not to talk about race.
In fact the vast majority of white families never or almost never talk about race. When they do, it’s often in a negative context – headline news, difficult history, an ugly interpersonal incident, historical oppression, etc.
In contrast the majority of families of color talk about race regularly and with ease. Race is often given fuller context in these conversations, and discussed as an important component of identity, history and lived experience.
I believe that this conversation gap, which starts so young, significantly contributes to the differential levels of comfort, competence and understanding about the significance of race among adults today.
Van Buren: What is your response to people that say they don’t see color?
Lancaster: I would say that we know that’s not true. White folks are often not socialized to acknowledge race but that doesn’t mean we don’t see it. There is loads of research on implicit bias and how we are all guilty of carrying race-based scripted in our minds. It’s impossible not to absorb messages that are racist in our society.
I think the idea of “not seeing color” often comes from a very well intended place. I think it comes from a place of desiring to see people as individual people and “just like me.” As a society we tend to really struggle with what racism is and isn’t.
For a few decades now, white folks have confused noticing race with racism. It’s not the noticing that’s the problem. It’s the assumptions, stereotypes, and differential treatment that come along with the noticing that’s the problem.
We often tell our kids that all people are the same and that they should treat all people the same. But the truth is they likely observe that not all people are treated the same. When we can’t acknowledge that our other messages about equality are probably dampened as well.
I would also add that when we fail to acknowledge color and race we are refusing to acknowledge and respect important parts of other people’s identities, experiences and realities. What’s more, we are left with few tools to deal with the very different life outcomes that people experience as a result of race and solve our very prevalent patterns of racial inequities.
Van Buren: What age should parents start the conversation about race?
Lancaster: It’s never too early! Research suggests that babies notice race as early as 6 months, kids start categorizing by race as early as 3 and that evidence of biased messages start showing up regularly by 5.
Recently at a We Stories workshop a little white girl was looking in a mirror and discussing what color she thought her skin might be. She said “I don’t know what color this is, I’ve only learned rainbow colors and this isn’t one of those.” I thought it was such a powerful reflection on what we are trying to do and why.
As parents we tend to go out of our way to give our children all the tools they need to be competent and compassionate citizens of our communities and the world. Why skip over the beauty of human diversity – especially when it comes to skin shade?!
One resource that I absolutely love and we use all the time is this blog by Brazilian artist Angelica Dass. http://humanae.tumblr.com/. Our shades are gorgeous!
We tend to encourage parents to start between 0-2 years of age, talking about colors, skin shades, and practicing noticing difference. We begin to use books and resources to talk about unfair treatment starting at age 3 and going deeper from there.
Van Buren: Is this an ongoing conversation? or One and your done?
Lancaster: It needs to be a regular part of family life! Kids notice everything. We need to help provide the context and language so that they can make sense of it. When my daughter and I first read “A Case for Loving” about the Loving family she immediately listed all the multi-racial families in her school and our friend network. We had never talked about it before, but she had noticed.
Once I gave her some context and an opening she could bring that observation and wondering into our family conversations and awareness. We talk very regularly about what we notice, the way things are, how they got that way, and what we’d like for them to be like instead.
Van Buren: How active are you in the community?
Lancaster: I am very active. Racial equity work in infused into how I show up personally, as a family, as a citizen, as a parent, as a professional. But it took me some time to get there.
I think sometimes people hesitate to get involved because they assume that they will have to change everything or that there’s no end. What I want people to take away is that engagement takes all shapes and sometimes it just starts by speaking up a little bit more, or asking an additional question such as “Who is missing from this conversation? Who else should be here?”
For more information contact- Adelaide Lancaster, Co-founder of We Stories: Raising Big-Hearted Kids. books for children + resources for parents + community for all = a new story for St. Louis, Mo.