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09 July 2013

EveryDay Diversity

from Cleveland Heights, OH, USA

Welcome to the July 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning About Diversity
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they teach their children to embrace and respect the variety of people and cultures that surround us. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
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Growing up, I lived in abundantly homogeneous surroundings. I went to Catholic school, populated by few hundred of the some of the whitest kids I've ever met. We were mostly all Catholic - not much religious diversity, save a generic Christian or non-practicing, non-religious student here and there. At any given point, I can't recall more than two African-American students or really much of any non-Latino-Caucasian diversity.

Like good children in a religious setting, we were taught that we are all children of God, and our differences make us stronger, although we are all equally deserving of God's love, each others' respect, and equal civil rights under the Constitution of our fine United States.

Black history month was relished, as Mrs. Cooper (the mother to the only Black boy, a few grades older than me), a special educator in the school, would come in and read us Southern-y fairy tales, fables, and historical, grade-appropriate recounts, preparing us year by year to understand a little further the struggle of the African-American, past and present, in the world and particularly in America; sordid accounts were, of course, glossed over, until middle school, when we were introduced to the cruel ways of the world, again, past and present, and we were taught of the horrors of slavery, watching Roots and Amistad, learning that men and women, people!, were traded for things like tea and scissors. A sense of pity was instilled - be kind to other races, particularly African-Americans, because they've had it hard.

This is ineffective, although basic, tutelage.

In Eighth Grade, we participated in a program through our Diocese - We were partnered with an inner-city(-ish) school in Cleveland, an hour from our rural paradise. We were able to interact with people we had only read about - racially and more ethnically diverse people! You know what I realized? That we're all just people. We lamented over homework assignments and basketball practice. We engaged in activities that let students from our school know that people like us live in the city, and to those students, that people from way out in the boondocks aren't a bunch of county bumpkins. Success!

Now that I am a parent, I realize that it is much more practical to take a different approach. Diversity is part of our everyday life. My son is biracial - half of me, a Heinz-mix, myself, as they say - Half Croatian, Half Everything my Dad is - German, Polish, generic White Bread of English surname; he is also half of his father, primarily African-American, with a hint of Caucasian in his lineage. It's a topic of conversation that biracial children must "choose" a heritage - they identify as "white" or "black," not always settling as a mixture.

I would prefer Niko to decide to be a person, an amalgamation of the rich and occasionally morbid history of America, his ethnicity and race, and respect for all persons.
At Cleveland's West Side Market with our BFFs.

I don't want him to be color-blind, as some call the inability or desire to not classify people by race - No, I want him to see the rainbow, but I don't want the rainbow to define others for him. It's a little obtuse, I know, and somewhat contraindicatory, but bear with me.

I feel like my own life had been compartmentalized for a very long time. I had my Catholic friends, my Christian friends, my Smart friends, my Hippie friends, eventually my Black friends, who were kept discretely away from my White friends.

Now, I just have friends, and they come with many a diverse history.
This is how we foster appreciation for diversity - by making diversity a normal part of life and attempting to not make statements, assumptions, or examples of racially or ethnically diverse brethren.

We flow just as easily between our white, more rural friends as our other biracial family friends. They are all part of our life, and we love them all the same. We live in a religiously, culturally, ethnically, socioeconomic, racially diverse neighborhood and city. We see many, many people of many, many hues, religious traditions, and backgrounds. We celebrate a number of holidays, striving to keep alive some of the European culture that my family has kept up, and talk about holidays others are openly celebrating that we do not partake in (like Hanukkah and Purim - we live in a very Orthodox Jewish neighborhood).

Niko is still young - his questions about those apparently dissimilar to us now are basic - about skin color, about clothes, about tattoos and piercings, about who people are with and what they might be buying or doing. He happily says hello to nearly everyone we come across, often asking them how or what they are doing. He's a precocious three-year-old. It's normal, but I feel good that he sees it normal to act similarly with everyone, and I really think that sometimes it makes people's day to have him focus his attention on them, if only for a moment, to ask them how they are doing. It's sweet, and if someone doesn't get a sugar spike from that, well, they must just be in a funk or dislike children. Thankfully, we've gotten 99.8% positive responses, which I know makes Niko feel good, too.

In the infinite wisdom of Yo Gabba Gabba, it's important to remember that, "All our friends are different, but we love them all the same," no matter their color, socioeconomic status, racial identity, gender, religion or non-religion, personal choices, or preferences. 
Another set of BFFs, apparently getting ready for Prom Pics

I strive to foster sympathy, empathy, and compassion for all people in myself and my son, and to this point, admittedly early in the game, he seems to be insatiably curious about everything and everyone, and I believe that to be a good sign.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama
Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

  • A gift for my daugther — Amanda, a special education teacher for students with multiple exceptionalities, discusses at My Life in a Nutshell how she will enrich her daughter's life by educating her the amazing gifts her students will bring to the world.
  • The Beauty in Our Differences — Meegs at A New Day writes about her discussions with her daughter about how accepting ourselves and those around us, with all our beautiful differences and similarities, makes the world a better place.
  • Differencessustainablemum discusses what she feels to be the important skills for embracing diversity in her family home.
  • Turning Japanese — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different shares how she teaches her kiddos about Japanese culture, and offers ideas about "semi immersion" language learning.
  • People. PEOPLE! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is trying to teach her children to use language that reflects respect for others, even when their language doesn't seem to them to be disrespectful.
  • Just Call me Clarice Thomas — Lisa at The Squishable Baby knows that learning to understand others produces empathetic children and empathetic families.
  • Diversity of Families — Family can be much more then a blood relation. Jana at Jananas on why friends are so important for her little family of three.
  • Diverse Thoughts Tamed by Mutual Respect — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work thinks that diversity is indispensable to our vitality, but that all of our many differences require a different sort of perspective, one led by compassion and mutual respect.
  • Just Shut Up! — At Old New Legacy, Becky gives a few poignant examples in her life when listening, communication and friendship have helped her become more accepting of diversity.
  • The World is our Oyster — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot is thankful for the experiences that an expat lifestyle will provide for herself as well as for her children.
  • Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World — Leanna at All Done Monkey offers her two cents on how to raise white children to be self-confident, contributing members of a colorful world. Unity in diversity, anyone?
  • Ramadan Star and Moon Craft — Celebrate Ramadan with this star and moon craft from Stephanie at InCultureParent, made out of recycled materials, including your kid's art!
  • The Difference is Me - Living as the Rainbow Generation — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is used to being the odd-one-out but walking an alternative path with children means digging deeper, answering lots of questions and opening to more love.
  • EveryDay Diversity — Ana at Panda & Ananaso makes diversity a part of everyday living, focusing on raising of compassionate and respectful child.
  • Diversity as Part of Life — Even though Laura at Authentic Parenting thought she had diversity covered, she found out that some things are hard to control.
  • Inequity and Privilege — Jona is unpacking questions raised by a summit addressing inequity in breastfeeding support at Life, Intertwined.
  • 30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While Traveling — Traveling with kids can bring any subject alive. Dionna at Code Name: Mama has come up with a variety of ways you can incorporate diversity education into your family travels (regardless of whether you homeschool). From couch surfing to transformative reading, celebrate diversity on your next trip!
  • Diversity, huh? — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn't do anything BIG to teach about diversity; it's more about the little things.
  • Chosen and Loved — From Laura at Pug in the Kitchen: Color doesn't matter. Ethnicity doesn't matter. Love matters.


Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon July 9 with all the carnival links.)

7 comments:

  1. I really like your philosophy on deciding to be a person and not being defined by where you fall on the rainbow.

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  2. That sounds about like my educational upbringing, too, and I agree — having diversity just be the everyday now makes so much more sense. I really love your perspective!

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  3. I agree that the education I received was largely ineffective, so I struggle with how to do it differently with my kids. I'm making sure that we discuss differences, and that we promote the idea of differences being a wonderful thing. I just wish we had more opportunities to get out of the our predominantly white/hetero/middle class social group.

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  4. (or maybe that I *took advantage* of more opportunities. I know they exist.)

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  5. What a fascinating experience you had with your catholic school. I grew up in a very white small mid-western town and there were some very antiquated attitudes held by our elders in regards to race, religion and the Joneses. I'm grateful to have not had that passed onto me by my mother, who was a loving and compassionate women when it came to embracing diversity.

    Living among people of varied races allows my children to learn just what you're saying: appreciate the backgrounds and heritage of all people - honor and respect needs to be given for what others have gone through. But to also know how to look beyond what's on the skin to see the heart of the person beneath.

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  6. We recently moved from a racially diverse area to a much more homogenous one, and I'm really struggling with how to expose my kids to more diversity without making it MORE of an issue. Thank you for sharing this!

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  7. It sounds like we had a very similar upbringing!

    It also sounds like you are raising Nico beautifully. I love how you described your wishes for him.

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