Not just Black and White (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

 

As an early childhood professor, one of the courses I teach focuses on families, collaboration, and community engagement. As I go through the process of teaching and preparing, I also bring in my personal experience. As a mother of a biracial son, I understand the importance of conversations in early childhood classrooms focused on multicultural topics.

Conversations with children are important, especially when considering implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. It is important to recognize that everyone has implicit biases and that implicit biases often result in individuals favoring their own “group” (i.e. race, gender, religion, ability, etc.) and conversely having negative perceptions about other groups. While biases are often seen as an internal negative characteristic, implicit biases are malleable through interactions and conversations.

The importance reflecting on personal implicit biases became evident in a research study conducted by Gilliam, et al. (2016), who published a study with the Yale Child Study Center.  “What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” the lead research Gilliam stated to NPR in an interview (Turner, 2016). “Teachers looked more at the black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.” This was evident with both black and white teachers. Therefore, reflection, conversations, and acknowledgement of implicit and explicit biases are concepts that will continue to grow as more research is conducted and presented.

But now, stepping out of my researcher and professor position and into my position as a mother, I also understand the importance of conversations focused on many topics that impact children in the diversifying nation. As stated several times in research, our nation is becoming a majority minority in the next few decades. As a mother of a biracial son and educator, I know that some voices are not yet in the conversation. Therefore I wrote a book depicting my vulnerable reflections as an educator and mother.

Not Just Black and White, (www.notjustblackandwhitebook.com) is a book that discusses my own journey through the process of racial discussions in my life and the wider conversation. It is a book that is meant to spark conversation, influence reflection, and maybe add one more voice to the dialogue.

While I have written many pieces about the book, I think this review is a better summary than I could ever provide:

This is a different kind of memoir. Many memoirs are glossy overviews of the author’s life, with the high points highlighted, glory days re-lived, and the low points touched on only when they have a greater message or meaning. People generally do not write a memoir that blatantly exposes their own weaknesses, failings, or ignorance, but Dr. Reinking does just that in this book. She makes no excuses for her actions, and uses her experience to educate the reader about interracial relations in and out of the family setting.

Her details the first 30-odd years of her life, focusing mostly on the years between 15 and 30-something, and her interactions with people outside her own racial background, in the United States and in Kenya, where she served as a missionary. After returning to the US, Dr. Reinking, a white woman, married a black man and gave birth to a biracial child. While married, she had to navigate as a dual-minority (a white person and a woman) in a mostly African-American community in Chicago. When her marriage ended, she found herself a single mother, trying to raise a child of color without access to any of the cultural heritage found within the African-American community. Her struggles to recognize and respect her son’s racial heritage, while raising him as the only member of color in a supportive extended family, are touching and poignant. She makes no excuses for her ignorance and begs forgiveness for any unintended offenses in her quest to educate herself and her son.

In relating her experiences, Dr. Reinking exposes her own vulnerability. She has no direct cultural knowledge to impart to her son regarding how to be a person of color in the racially-charged dynamic that pervades the United States today. She reaches out to friends and acquaintances within the African-American community for answers, praying that even the act of questioning does not cause offense. She shares the choices that she makes, the victories and the defeats, the three-steps-forward-two-steps-back dance that she does while trying to straddle a racial divide that some still feel should be enforced. Her overwhelming desire to be a “good” parent – to raise a child prepared for the world, armed to defend themselves against any challenges the world may present – is palpable within her volume. The fact that she must do all of this AND deal with any racial onslaughts her son may face, as well, makes her learning curve as a parent that much greater.

The dilemmas posed within these pages are ones that should be discerned and contemplated, as no one is immune to how they interact and react to people outside their own racial circle. Dr. Reinking’s experiences can be taken to heart by the reader, and the lessons she has learned can easily be incorporated into one’s own zeitgeist.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has interaction with a multicultural person, whether that person is a friend, relative, loved one, co-worker, neighbor, or cashier at the store. How we recognize and respect our differences while celebrating our greater, global community is more important now than ever. Dr. Reinking’s book establishes a discussion platform for just this in a racially-charged, divided atmosphere.

Overall, as early childhood educators, it is important to keep the conversation going in our classrooms, in our organizations, and with our children. Race is a difficult topic to talk about for many people, but it is also a reality that needs to be acknowledged.


Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.