I'm only halfway through this book, but it is so outstanding that I wanted to share it. It's now on my must-read list for all parents, teachers, and care-givers.
The book is I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World, by Marguerite A. Wright. Of course, I am not raising a black or biracial child -- but because Anya Rashi has very brown skin, she will look different than 85% of her classmates at school, and already is the focus of many questions and comments in public settings. (The conversation in the grocery store a few posts back also reinforced to me that bigots don't care what your cultural heritage is, they just see the color of your skin.)
Truthfully, though, I'd recommend this book to every parent, even those who are Caucasian parents raising Caucasian children. There was a great Newsweek article (Sept. 2009) called "See Baby Discriminate" that mentioned that Caucasian parents do the worst job of talking openly about racial differences or discrimination, operating under the altruistic but dead wrong idea that children are color blind. The article detailed a variety of fascinating studies that show young children do notice differences in skin color -- they just don't attach any negative meanings to them, unless they've been taught to do so.
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla is actually fun to read, because in addition to the interesting and readable scholarly writing Wright does, she also cites many conversations with real children. Their answers are humorous, poignant and uncensored. She also includes memories of adults, some famous and some ordinary people, that shaped their racial identities and ideas about the world.
One of the most valuable elements of the book, though, is that it's broken down by ages and developmental stages. I was totally enthralled by her chapters on pre-schoolers, because it so closely mirrored our experiences and some of Anya Rashi's conversation. Just yesterday, Anya Rashi was building a play fort, and happily said, "I wish my skin looked like yours, Mama."
Many of us adoptive parents would be cringing and thinking, "What have I done to make her think white skin is better than brown skin?! I must tell her she's wrong, that brown skin is gorgeous, etc. etc. etc." Instead of unleashing all that, I asked her, "Why is that, sweetie?"
Her answer? "Because I love to eat vanilla wafers because they're so good, and your skin looks like a vanilla wafer." All with a beautiful smile. So I answered, "Your skin looks delicious to me because it reminds me of chocolate, and you know that's one of my favorite things." This isn't the first conversation we've had -- she usually tells me I look like a peach -- but I found it funny that she used vanilla (as so many pre-schoolers do) while I'm reading this book.
One of the book's main points (so far!) is that adults misread what children are saying at different developmental stages, and often ignore obvious differences in appearance that children are aware of, or overemphasize racism and instill fear and mistrust that outweigh what the child might actually experience in life.
Practically speaking, some of the most useful parts of the book are the quizzes, exercises and suggestions for parents and teachers. I love that the author doesn't just throw a bunch of theories and research on the table, but actually shows how to live out better ways of handling charged racial situations.
I hope you get as much out of this book as I am!