We’ve been in the process of renovating our home and so, trips to tile shops and bathroom showrooms have kept us occupied. Just last weekend, we were browsing a place looking for a new sink, and walked by a little girl no older than 4 years, who stared for a moment and then proudly exclaimed “What a stink!” as my son walked by her. Given his hearing loss, he doesn’t pick up incidental conversations, and so he smiled at her, waved and walked on. We looked at the Mother who couldn’t make eye contact and who chose to remain silent. We did too.
These micro-aggressions occur so frequently that we learn to ignore them. But our own silence becomes part of the problem. How does a four year-old think of calling out “What a stink” to a person she does not even know?
When considering Heritage Months in the past as a teacher, I’d always cringed at the thought a little because celebrating a particular community or identity for one month of the year seemed like tokenism. I felt like stories reflecting my students’ lives and beyond had to be part of my classroom all year long to make any impact.
It has only been through real life experiences like the one mentioned at the beginning, that I’ve come to realize that Heritage Months are actually powerful tools in the fight for lifting diverse voices.
If marginalized communities never see themselves reflected authentically in the media, or in the books they see and hear, how does that affect self-identity?
If they never see allies standing beside them to speak out about their oppression, what will change? Recent marches across the U.S. of young people raising their voices about Gun control has certainly garnered attention but young people have been active in these social justice issues for a long while – from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock – these conversations have been taking place.
What we need to reflect upon is who is actually listening and when does it matter enough?
If schools focus on the teaching of anti-bias curriculum and social justice issues occurring in our world today for even one month of the school year, our children could grow to be free thinkers, dream chasers and warriors of change.
If we place books that offer windows into tiny hands and let little ones experience new worlds that they may never have known, for a whole month each year, imagine the possibility of tomorrow.
If children’s books offered diverse voices within the writing of the stories and authentically represented illustrations, all children could grow up feeling empowered and with a passion to achieve any dream.
If Authors from the community being celebrated could be offered a space in schools and classrooms for even one month of the school year, children could see mirrors and be inspired. But don’t dismiss these ideas just because your classroom may not look diverse. Every child is an individual, their needs are already diverse and you never know which experience could resonate with them and open their mindsets to learning something new.
A four-year-old then, would not grow up thinking that brown people stink. This is our work. It is our collective responsibility to create change. Celebrating Heritage Months are one tool along that journey. Be a #changemaker