My 4-year-old daughter Sophia was confused. She looked to me for an answer. “Greyson's not black,” she said. “Her skin is brown.” This was the first time I had heard my daughter bring up the issue of race or skin color.
We had done our best to help her develop an appreciation for different ethnicities. We made sure that her dolls and the characters in her picture books included many skin tones. We chose her children's Bible because it did not have a blonde, Caucasian Jesus.
In her library she had one book in Arabic, several volumes from the Dora the Explorer series which taught Spanish and other books with Native American folk tales. Trips to the public library filled in what was missing—stories from Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.
Her preschool curriculum embraced multiple holiday traditions—Kwanzaa, Christmas and Hanukkah. At age 3, she identified Martin Luther King Jr. and knew how he changed the world for better. She was surrounded by words and images that taught her of a color-rich world, but now she began to notice her own color and that of her friends.
I discovered that it is normal for preschoolers to start noticing differences in others. And it is at this point that differences can be enjoyed and celebrated or become a reason for exclusion, cliques and division.
Today, I am so grateful for my daughter's preschool and primary school teachers. It is at the preschool age a child's identity and how she views others begins to solidify. Research indicates that after age 9 a child's racial attitude stays the basically the same. This is not to say that one's attitude cannot change and prejudice cannot be erased. It's just that it's a lot harder. At that age, thoughts of and beliefs about other races becomes strongly embedded into who one is.
In just over a year, my little one will be 9. I watch as she continues to grow and her identity and character is shaped. This January she came home excited about Martin Luther King and a mini-book about him she made in class. She planned to read it to the family so that we all, including her brother and sister, would know about him. Afterwards, my husband showed her a video of MLK's “I Have a Dream” speech. When the video came to a close, my daughter looked up thoughtfully and said, “Papa, I would have been one of the white people who joined him.”
Wipe away misconceptions that preschool is just fun and games, colors and shapes. Erase the notion that primary school could be taught by anyone because it is simplistic learning. These teachers help to shape children’s world views and create future visionaries and leaders.
Thank you for all that you have done for my child, for all our children.
Sansbury is a middle and high school teacher in Georgia.