Reading About Race


July 19, 2007 by multiracialsky

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a parent considering domestic transracial adoption. All four of my kiddos fell asleep for their afternoon nap sooner than I had expected (that was a first), and I had a leisurely hour-long phone conversation with this soon-to-be parent. She really wanted book recommendations, my top two or three, for White parents about to become a multiracial family through transracial adoption. I laughed and said I recommend my favorite books to everyone I know, whether they are in a multiracial or a monoracial family; and these days my most-read books all relate to race.

She had already begun my top recommendation, A People’s History of The United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn. My first read of this book eight years ago was eye-opening for me, especially because my history knowledge (national and world) is spotty at best. A People’s History covers the significant portion of U.S. history missing from traditional textbooks and classes. It is the U.S. history of women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants of all nationalities, the working class and the poor. It should be a required co-text in any highschool or college “American History” class.

The second book I recommended was Everyday Acts Against Racism: Raising Children in a Multiracial World, edited by Maureen T. Reddy. This is a collection of 20 essays by parents (mostly mothers) raising children of color. My two favorite essays, the ones I read over and over, are Trial and Error by Daryl LaRoche (an amazingly-written piece about privilege, institutionalized racism, and raising a multiracial daughter) and Bringing It On Home: Teaching/Mothering Antiracism by Lynda Marin (a grippingly self-exploratory piece about being multiracial, parenting, racism, and college-level teaching).

I lent the book Everyday Acts to a relative last summer, made sure she read the essay by LaRoche and left the rest of the browsing up to her. I told her it was my favorite book. When she returned the book, her only comment (accompanied by a bewildered look) was, “Some of these mothers seem angry.” I think she was worried I was becoming one of those mothers. Not purposelessly angry, I wanted to say, just working hard to do the right thing and fighting for their children’s rights. (I had lent her the book because I didn’t feel able to clearly explain to her where I am these days as a mother of multiracial children of color, and she obviously still didn’t understand.)

The third book I recommend to everyone these days is Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships, edited by Emily Bernard. You have to take this book slow (or read it twice in a row like I did, because I read it so fast the first time I couldn’t keep all the stories straight). This book contains deep, well-crafted essays about platonic interracial relationships from 16 writers. My favorite essay here is ‘Cartilage’ by Susan Straight, a White mother of multiracial daughters who has lived in an African American neighborhood for 25 years.

Here you can also find my favorite children’s books about skin color and race, and ideas for how to start the conversation about ancestry, heritage, race and ethnicity with the children in your family or the children in your class.

Happy Reading!


6 thoughts on “Reading About Race

  1. freddie says:

    Have you considered: I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla. The author’s name escapes at the moment, but it’s by an African American women who talks frankly about how children process racism and focuses mainly on schools and helping children of color deal with raciam in educational settings.

    I didn’t recommend “I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla” because I do not agree with some of the author’s basic premises. Most prominently, all of my children have deomonstated awareness of race (African American/Black, Native American, European American/White, Asian)–not just skin-tone varieties–at two and a half to three years of age. Wright (the author) asserts that children cannot understand the concept of “race” until at least the age of six, more often eight or older. In my experience, her baseline assumption is not true. I know several transracially adopting parents who have taken this “expert opinion” to mean that they do not need to worry about their child’s racial self-concept until the child is at least six (a little late, in my opinion).
    We work really hard in our family to continuously point out multiracial families and people, to make sure that our children’s toys represent not only the range of skin-tones in our family, but other as well. I DO believe (as opposed to Wright’s belief) that some of the ways in which our children play, and the dolls they choose, are indicative of the enviroment they grow up in and the values that enviroment is presenting to them.

  2. cloudscome says:

    Thanks for these suggestions. I will look for those books.

  3. Psychobabbler says:

    Natasha, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and website. I too appreciate the book recommendations!
    BTW, my son also demonstrated race awareness at the age of 3 (and it definitely differed from his awareness of skin colors at age 2). I wonder if kids who are part of a multiracial family tend to develop race awareness on a different timeline than kids who are not.

  4. Miriam says:

    I am so glad to find this site!! Thanks for blogging. Also, I am even more happy to read the comment about chocolate and vanilla. My husband (white) and I (black) are struggling through speaking to our children about color. He wants to use the food bit. I would rather not. Anyway, I must show him these comments LOL

    take care.

  5. Miriam says:

    oh! and my kids are almost three and yes, they do have an idea about race already.

  6. Janine says:

    thanks for the reading referrals! in your response above, you mention your kids developing raced awareness as toddlers. my daughter {now almost 3} has begun to do so, and despite our efforts from jump to provider her with positive presentations of non-white folks, she just this morning told me, “white babies are better.” if you could share any insights that served you in helping your kids counter this kind of thinking, i’d sure love to hear them.

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