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Race matters, it is a problem, so deal with it honestly

March 19, 2017
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

Editor's Note: This article ran in The Davis Enterprise in January of 2003. Sandy Holman continues to educate and inspire people in California and beyond on what it means to deal with racial issues.

Sandy Lynne Holman of Davis, children's book writer and national lecturer, had some concrete advice for the 67 parents, teachers, and care-givers who came to a Saturday morning conference at Emerson Junior High School to learn to talk to children about race.

First, be honest. Don't try to pretend that race isn't a problem.

Holman said that more than once she has been approached by a well-meaning teacher who insists: "Miss Holman, we just don't have that problem here in my classroom."

"I'll bet you do," Holman replies. "Because we don't talk about our differences, what we like and don't like about ourselves and others. Race is a taboo subject. We all have stereotypes enforced by media images."

Holman is the author of an award-winning children's book, "Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?" that has become a classic in only four years because it addresses this taboo.

Holman also stressed that educators and parents can't effectively talk about who a child is unless they have a clear identity themselves. You have to love and accept yourself before you can do the same with others.

"I needed a strong idea of myself, which my family instilled," she said.

Then, she suggested, take time to prepare your children to live in a diverse world.

"Talk, explore, experience the differences we know of as 'race,' " Holman said. "If you don't have friends from different cultures you are missing out on life."

Many of the people attending the conference came from Davis Joint Unified School District, including two members of the board of trustees. Others who came to the workshop included Leona Billings, whose daughter adopted a Chinese orphan. Another woman, Regina Rosenzweig, teaches in Vacaville and has two children of her own. She was looking for ways to deal with subtle forms of racism she sees at her school.

Holman had a question for all teachers present.

"If I go into your classroom, will I see a variety of books?" Holman asked.

She spoke of the power teachers wield in elementary schools. Teachers can't change society overnight, of course, but they can help at the beginning of a student's career by infusing the curriculum with flexibility and choices.

For instance, Holman said, many teachers like to show Walt Disney videos to their students.

"I call them 'White Disney' videos," she said, laughing at the idea that the entertainment giant could make a video set in Africa ("The Lion King") that featured no black people.

"We're not equipping good hard-working teachers with the materials they need," she said.

Holman also advised the audience to expect conflict. Hot-button issues can meet with hot-button reactions.

And let's say your efforts to make a new friend in a different culture doesn't work out. Try again.

"I've put my foot in my mouth so many times trying to get to know people. I just get up and dust myself off," she said. "It may feel like work at first, but it will pay off. Stretch your cultural comfort zone. The depth of connection will change your world."

Later, when members of the audience broke into smaller groups for discussion, one of the members of the organizing committee, Davis Blacks for Effective Community Action, spoke about children's development.

"Racial awareness has to be integrated cognitively and emotionally," said Aladrian Mack of the department of early childhood education at American River College.

That isn't always easy to do.

"We choose not to deal with issues of race in this community," said Mary Helen Young of the Center for Child and Family Studies, UC Davis.

They encouraged parents to instill in children an appreciation of similarities and differences among other people. And they encouraged parents to be willing to talk to their children even about issues that make adults uncomfortable, like race.

Answer questions about race with simple, honest, accurate information, they said.

"Davis schools do not do a good job of acknowledging diversity," observed one woman, who identified herself as Jewish.

A spokeswoman from North Davis Elementary School said 28 different languages are spoken at her school. And the library bookshelves, she added, are full of books that reflect diversity.

Near the conclusion of the workshop, the new president of BECA, Jann Murray-Garcia, said she was very happy with the turnout. "It's the beginning of a dialog," she said. "We need to figure out ongoing activities for the community," she added. "This is not a one-time event." She invited people to phone her at (530) 753-7443 [This article written in January 2003.].

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

For More Information, Visit These Links:

  • "Sandy Lynne Holman receives UCDavis Chancellor's Award for Diversity and Community"
  • "By Sandy Lynne Holman Purchase Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?"

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