December 7, 2017 — Belmont Citizen-Herald
The data is staggering. Racial biases begin at a very young age. “By age three,” Story Starters Boston reports, “children have already absorbed the climate of our society in which ‘middle-class white culture is presented as a norm or standard. . .in terms of appearance, beauty, language, cultural practices, food and so on.’” Black and white children tend to favor their own race at age three, one researcher finds, but by the time they are five, black children also show a pro-white bias.
Not talking about race doesn’t make these racial biases go away. Rather, family conversations help. A new program soon to begin here in Belmont, Story Starters Boston, is designed to facilitate these conversations. According to Joslyne Decker, founder of Story Starters, the program “uses children’s literature to give families the tools and support to talk about race and racism and to engage in family-centered social justice conversations.” The program, to be held at the First Church Belmont, is funded through a grant from Belmont Against Racism and is sponsored in part by Belmont Books.
“Many of us have been taught not to see color,” Decker says. “We’ve been told that to see race is wrong and shameful. We’ve been told that somehow seeing race is, in fact, racist.” She disputes that notion. “Although these lessons may have been borne from good intentions,” Decker says, “not seeing race is harmful to all of us, people of color and white people alike. If we can’t see race, we can’t see racism.”
The research supports the message advanced by Decker. “Silence about race does not keep children from noticing race and developing racial biases and prejudices, it just keeps them from talking about it,” one researcher reported in 2009. Quite to the contrary, a different researcher said, exposure to people of other races in books, on TV, or in real life must coincide with “explicit conversation” about race to have an impact. “Without making specific references to the topic of race,” they found, “it is unlikely that children will understand that. . .they should not discriminate against others based on their skin color.”
The use of children’s books is one essential element to stem the tide of racism, according to Decker. Books represent both “windows and mirrors,” she says. “They are the mirrors that reflect how we see ourselves. They are the windows through which we can see others.” Reading books, Decker says, helps children develop social empathy. Through books, she says, “children can place themselves in someone else’s shoes.” Through books, she says, “children can learn about different kinds of families, different people, different cultures.” Through books, she says, children expand their “moral imagination,” the ability to imagine both different people and different situations.
Story Starters seeks to help parents use children’s books to have family conversations about race. Parents are provided weekly newsletters to help guide them in talking with their kids about the books they are reading. Parents often face two problems, Decker says, both of which Story Starters tries to address. First, parents don’t generally have an opportunity to “practice” the conversations they want to have with their kids. Second, they don’t have a support group when things don’t go well. Story Starters strives, Decker says, to assure parents that conversations about race “don’t have to happen in isolation. We celebrate our successes and we talk about our challenges.”
Story Starters delivers a wonderful service to our community. It is a ten week program directed toward families with children in Pre-k through Grade 4. The program begins in January 2018. The registration deadline is December 11, 2017. Families can register at: https://www.storystartersboston.com/register.