Yes, I see all your first day of school pictures but I am still 13 days from our first day of school! So today I am having the third of my Must Have Back to School Chats with my kids. Today’s chat is about race. I write often here about talking with my kids about race and how to talk age appropriately. As a bio-adoptive multiracial family the issue of race comes up often. Some have asked me why I continue to talk with my kids about race if I already have done so. I think its like any other subject we talk with our kids about – one talk doesn’t cover everything – and as they are learning and growing as human beings they continue to process the world around them. Proactive parenting about race on a regular basis gives them space to ask questions, wonder aloud and process with guidance.
You can read a few different key posts about race in this space – an interview I did with a biracial young adult author about growing up biracial, a post about growing up ‘ambiguous’ racially in America, what I would say to you about choosing Transracial Adoption and becoming a multiracial family, and a recent post encouraging the Blended community to talk with our children about race now. But today I wanted to give you a tangible hands-on easy conversation starter with your kids as they head back into the classroom and face kids who look, dress, and perhaps eat differently than they do. Its a beautiful children’s book called Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Stephanie Jorisch. My children are obsessed with Japanese culture so this book was an easy ‘like’ for them. And while this book demonstrates a child who isn’t afraid to be herself (also a great conversation to have as our children return to school), Suki isn’t afraid to be herself racially. It is for this reason that I chose this book to talk with my kids about race this week.
In the book, Suki decides to wear her kimono and geta on the first day of school despite her sister’s embarrassment as they wouldn’t be caught dead dressed in anything but the coolest clothes and shoes of the day. As the first day of school progresses she incurs many different responses because of the way she is dressed (and later acts) from the children at school. Some responses are inquisitive, some quite negative. Now here is where the conversation begins! You must decide who your child is at school – do they often play the role of Suki? Or do they more often play the role of the child watching and wondering about Suki? We can encourage them to have right responses in both categories; either affirming their ethnic or racial heritage and the freedom and confidence to be who they are, or on the other hand explaining that different doesn’t mean bad and their role is to approach, ask appropriate questions, befriend and show kindness to those who are different. My child and your child each fall into one of those categories. Having a conversation about affirming their racial identity or how to affirm someone else’s is key to them growing in a healthy way.
Our neighborhood school is diverse. We celebrate that diversity often at school, culminating in a multicultural festival at the end of the year that rivals most community festivals. My husband and I have even joked that our children attend an International School because of all the different cultures represented – and many of the kids live out their culture at school creating a beautiful cultural tapestry. It is not uncommon to see someone traditionally dressed, and believe it or not, lunch time is a key moment for my children to see and smell the diversity of their school. Do they go “Ewwwww” or do they say, “What are you eating? Tell me about it.” Either response elicits a reaction in kind. Helping them process even these small differences makes a huge difference to those around them.
Suki’s Kimono is a win-win for us as parents talking to our children about race. As a side note, because we often talk about race in terms of black and white in our house I do look for opportunities to talk about race using other visuals and Suki’s Kimono fits the bill. May this book serve you and your family well as you proactively talk to your children about race.