[EDIT: Just saw this. Babysitter's Club! I always wanted to start my own club. I can't think of any other Asian-American/Canadian women in pop culture from my childhood other than the ones the author mentioned.]
I remember finally watching Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, all excited since everyone raves about how great it is, only to be disgusted at the incredibly insulting Asian character who was basically a walking, talking stereotype (played by a white actor). Ruined the movie for me.
When I finally got around to reading the Harry Potter series (which I like a lot!), I noticed that any (presumably) white character is written about, she doesn’t really specify how the character looks. However, if it is a character who isn’t white, she would specify this by describing the skin colour or hair type. It wasn’t very overt and of course an author is supposed to describe the characters for the reader, but I think it was just the presumption that unless otherwise indicated, the character was assumed to be white. The White Default.
And there was that whole ugly controversy over the casting of Hunger Games characters.
It made me think of Freestyle’s doll, “Baby.” When we saw how much she loved her friend’s Cabbage Patch doll, we decided to get her one of her own.
We got to the store and saw the row upon row of white girl dolls. Hmm. So I rummaged through the shelves and chose two dolls with darker skin and then showed them to Freestyle to let her choose (interestingly, the only two non-white dolls in the collection were the baby -sized ones that were both boys. There were only one of each and both were shoved to the back of the shelf.).
I know, despite little advancements here and there, that the thin, conventionally pretty, able-bodied, white girl will be the standard that Freestyle will face in the media/pop culture. So I wanted to make a conscious effort to surround her with images of the beautifully different types of people that make up our world.
I believe that as a parent, I need to be conscious of the images to which my children are exposed. I feel that I need to make a more concerted effort because, as I joked to one of my midwifes during our initial interview, Biker and I are a “boring couple: hetero, married by law, and both from the same cultural background!” That, plus living in the ‘burbs doesn’t exactly give Freestyle as many opportunities to interact with people from different socio-economical groups.
There will be obvious examples in her life (predominately white casts of books and movies, token “minorities” and stereotypes, etc.) and there will be subtle, more subconscious examples (“neutral” or “skin-tone” meaning a fair complexion, “ethnic” or “minority” being used to describe her culture, stock photography labelling a photo of a white child “child smiling” and a photo of an Asian child as “Asian child smiling,” etc.).
A big part of Montessori education is Going Out. Going Out into the community allows children to have opportunities to explore new environments, make discoveries, and meet and interact with different people (as opposed to a couple of adult teachers and a class of kids close to her age all day). They build independence and practice their Grace and Courtesy.
This is why I try to take Freestyle out to different places (and even out of the suburbs and into downtown when possible).
In my editing, I sometimes have to create content for the children. We make sure that through the lesson wording, activity pages, and pictures we give the children a wider worldview. I make a conscious effort to use inclusive language. For example, on Mother’s Day, our crafts do not say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” because everyone’s family situation is different. Instead we will talk about different types of families and how they are all wonderful. The craft will more likely say “I love you” and we will encourage the children to give it to whoever cares for them.
If I need to include pictures of people to go with a story, I’ll try to include people of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and abilities. If we show the children a picture of “people,” we want them to see that there are many types of people: elderly, children in wheelchairs, people with Down Syndrome, people wearing glasses… People are people!
So, when people comment or ask about why Freestyle is clutching onto a doll with dark skin (though I don’t know if they would ask if it was a white doll…), I do my spiel and say that even though this specific doll doesn’t look exactly like her (she is Chinese), I still would like to surround Freestyle with different cultures, period.
So, long story short, Freestyle ended up choosing Baby and they have been inseparable since!
How do you ensure that your children have opportunities to interact and have positive experiences with people who may be different from her?