Reading about Race

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This summer, I decided it was time to introduce Maya to some of my favorite books. There is probably no coincidence in the fact that I come from the South, was always drawn to books that deal with racial inequality in the South, and grew up to study race and gender stereotypes. So my favorite books seem to have a common theme, although that was never purposeful. But this recent group of readings has led to some difficult conversations that I just hope aren’t too depressing for a 9 year old.

First, we read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I loved that book as a kid. It is always interesting to re-read books you loved as a kid, as an adult. We are now reading To Kill a Mockingbird. That book may be a little too old for her, but we are wading into it anyway. Last night we watched the movie (one of the few times the movie is as good as the book). She is really into them.

One thing I noticed, in my adult-brain reread of these, is that both are told from the perspective of a girl. I obviously couldn’t articulate that as a kid, but I wonder how much that influenced me. It is a very different reading experience when you can more easily place yourself into the narrator’s shoes, and imagine what you would feel like if you were transported into that time and that place. Maya picked up on it. It definitely makes her more engaged. It makes me want to seek out more stories told from the perspective of a girl (beyond the Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume category). Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

These books have also forced me to talk about the ugliness of racial inequality. Kids at school are taught that Martin Luther King came, everyone marched to Washington, and then racism was gone forever. But I know that is not the case. It isn’t 1950, lunch counters don’t even exist anymore, but it still happens. (If you disagree, check this out). This is especially tough because her best friend is African American, and so anything negative has a very personal feel for her. I don’t even tell her about my own research which shows how biased teachers are in her own school district against the Latino kids in their classes. I did talk about the unfairness of bans on same-sex marriage (which she knows about from the court issues) and how I see the parallels between that and the taboos of interracial relationships in Mockingbird.

What my take home message ended up being: Don’t be sad about it, get mad. Get mad when you see people being treated unfairly. And then do something about it. The only way times have changed is when good people speak up (Atticus Finch included). It is definitely a challenge for me as a parent to talk about bad things in the world, past and present, and end on a message of hope and activism.  I am a real ball of fun as a mom. The summer of social inequality. What every little kid dreams of!   

      

        

Gender Differences: The Science versus the Stereotypes

Here is my talk I gave as part of a series at UK called “What’s New in Science.” It was geared toward middle and high school students and students, as well as parents. The punch line is that most of what we think are innate gender differences are really not. I decided my goal in life is to help people learn the difference between good science and crap.