Many of us hear the word diversity and do not think it directly applies to our children. However, the sickening video of the college students at the University of Oklahoma chanting racial slurs and ideas of killing people because of their race, shows the need for all of us to raise our children, regardless the color of their skin, to value diversity and stand up in the face of bigotry and hate.
As a mother of a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, I want to do all I can to assure it will not be them on a fraternity bus one day, instigating or passively permitting such events to transpire. Surely parenting is the riskiest role anyone can take on and there are no guarantees our children will be the citizens we want them to be. Yet that must not stop us from doing everything we can to instill values in our children that prompt them to be upstanders who take action to end hatred and injustice.
That is why all parents should take advantage of Día! Diversity In Action day observed on April 30, but also year round. Día! is celebrated in conjunction with the international Day of the Child which is supported by libraries and community organizations across the world to connect children to books that reflect their language and culture.
Although my children are white, English-speakers of non-immigrant communities, I think celebrating Día! is crucial. Día's website contains booklists and activities, but below are three titles that I would recommend reading to your children to teach them to appreciate (and the importance of standing up for) linguistic, cultural, and gender diversity.
When children view written languages other than English as "weird," they miss the purpose and beauty behind those seemingly random strokes. At the Beach by Huy Voun Lee beautifully explains the meaning behind common Chinese characters as a mother describes her heritage language to her young son while spending time at the beach. At the end, the mother explains the character for good combines those for mother and child, speaking great meaning into their relationship. Children can learn that the unknown can become beautiful if we are willing to learn culturally-embedded meanings within language.
Books can also promote cultural diversity and acceptance. I recently read The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter to my children to show them someone from the Middle East being portrayed in a positive manner. This book tells the true story of a brave woman from Iraq and the people that helped her save thousands of books from being destroyed in the war. Because stereotypes abound, children and adults alike need to remember that Arab people, those of Muslim and other faiths, contribute greatly to our world. Children also need to see women in head coverings in literature to accept, affirm, and appreciate others' cultural traditions.
Some children's books address issues surrounding pervasive gender stereotypes of men as leaders and women as participants, as well. When my then-kindergartner son noted that only "boys" were on money, I explained that there was no reason his sister couldn't be president and appear on money herself one day, too. As children see pictures of men on money, read history books of primarily male leaders, and repeatedly see women unable to fully participate in various places in their communities, it's important we teach boys and girls alike that girls can be leaders. Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio acknowledges gender inequality yet shows how a young African-American girl desires to change the status quo in her quest to be president. The book offers an empowering message that one day Grace might very well achieve her goal.
Yet, it's just kiddie lit, right? And diversity doesn't apply to my kids, does it? Every story we share and those we don't share with our children sends a message to them -- a message they internalize that guides their thoughts and actions for decades.
Perhaps we inadvertently further reify language, culture, and gender stereotypes and misunderstandings through some of the seemingly innocuous books we read to our kids. By doing so, we do very little to assure our children are not on that fraternity bus, perpetuating sentiments that mirror the ignorance of genocide.
Alternatively, we can choose to celebrate Día! Diversity In Action year round. Indeed, in is incumbent on all parents to raise upstanders for a better tomorrow and that just might begin with our bedtime stories.