© Sharon Chang and MultiAsian Families Blog, Dec 8 2012.
I can't even begin to tell you what a hard time I had finding a preschool for my child. One that was not only diverse but included a foundation for anti-bias learning. One that put into effect daily a practice of inclusivity and strategies for resisting racism. One where my child would feel supported in the development of his multiracial identity. One where he would see himself reflected in the classroom and in the faces of his peers. One where he would feel celebrated. Not strange or different. One where he would feel invited to talk about race openly. Not a need to discover it secretly behind adult's backs. As the director of his current school said to me, "It's not enough for us to just be diverse. If we aren't talking about it - doing something about it - nothing changes." Amen.
I taught young children for over 6 years before I became a mother myself. I believe passionately in the importance of anti-bias curriculum in early learning. Particularly the approach pioneered by Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force in their book Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. That is, exploring race and racism, and teaching strategies for resistance during the formative years. Considering these are the years that set the stage for who we are to become later in life, I consider race learning at this time very critical early intervention work. Indeed research over the last decade increasingly shows this to be true.
Despite the fact that I live in one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation however, I was dismayed to find that many preschools professing an anti-bias approach were not practicing what they preached. Attempts on my part to raise awareness or effect change were either moderately successful or completely dismissed. At one supposed "anti-bias" preschool I taught, I noticed only light beige, "flesh colored" bandaids. How would a dark-skinned child feel putting such a thing on? Seeing it scream out like a flashing neon sign against their beautiful brownness. It's one of the many ways people of color, every day, are made to feel outside, unimportant, or different in our society. I pointed out to the White director that the light beige bandaids were not a good idea and that we should remove them. They do make flesh-colored bandaids of varying skin tones now (in response to backlash provoked by the monoracial ones) - though you would be hard pressed to find them. I suggested we buy those. Or at the very least offer alternatives. Non-brown colors. Or cartoon characters.
His response? He told me it wasn't a big deal.
Then I had my son. I started looking at preschools in a different way, and struggled again. I know the preschool culture in this city well and myself am trained in early childhood education. I knew where to look and what to look for, and still felt like I was swimming upstream. When my son was about 15 mo I looked at a program down the street. It was walking distance. Had a good reputation. Beautiful classroom. Highly educated teachers who'd been there for years. It was affordable. Everything about it seemed promising. But when I went on a tour, I noticed very few families of color. I mentioned this to our White tour guide, a school parent and board member. "I know!" she exclaimed. "We've noticed that too, and want to do something about it." Comforted, I submitted our application. The school is popular. It receives more applicants than it can accommodate. To be fair, new students are selected by lottery. But consider this. The predominant number of applicants are White. It's simple math. A lottery inherently favors those White applicants. Indeed, we did not get in. I knew two other Asian families who applied. They also did not get in. A few months later, walking by the space, I looked in the window and saw the new class. Almost all White. I was livid. I emailed the registrar. Suggested to her that if the school really cared about diversifying their student body, perhaps a lottery system was not serving them well.
Though she had always been prompt about responding to my other emails, she ignored this one. I didn't get any response other than the sound of my protest echoing against an indifferent silence. In the years since, I have heard many disparaging remarks about this particular school by families of color. It is notorious for being White. I have heard it called "White-bred." In the most diverse zip code in the nation - it is not only embarrassing, but shameful.
I will say at last we did find a school that was almost everything we were looking for. But it was very hard. And it seems to be one of very few. Sometimes we feel alone in the the race education we are attempting to give our son. We don't know other multiethnic Asian families who are comfortably discussing race with their young children every day. Others seem surprised or even disapproving when they find out we do. Statistics show that multiracial is one of the fastest growing demographics in our nation. If I live in a major urban area that is "liberal and progressive," and still can't find much support for the blended cultures of my multiethnic Asian family - what is it like for other parents trying to raise multiethnic Asian children in this nation?