Just in time for MLK day and following the Fall 2011 release of the new children’s book, Chocolate Me, I had the opportunity to participate in a bloggers’ panel with actor and author Taye Diggs. Diggs, along with childhood friend Shane Evans, created this autobiographical story about a black boy who feels out of place in a class full of white children. He is preoccupied with his looks until his mother reassures him by telling him that he has “cotton candy hair” and “skin like velvet fudge frosting.”
At SpanglishBaby, we discuss linguistic difference and the beauty of cultural mixing often, but sometimes we forget to discuss how race plays a part in the way that our culturally enlightened niños interact with their peers. Because Latinos can be members of various races, it is important to share stories like Chocolate Me with our kids, whether they will have to confront racial identity issues themselves or simply be understanding of others who must do so.
I asked Taye how the lessons his book teaches apply to diversity unrelated to race, such as linguistic and cultural diversity. Here is his answer:
“…I think it goes back to the strength that we need to have as a family unit at home and to just provide as much of a positive perspective, including all of the races and cultures that your child possesses, so that when it comes to that point when he or she is kind of forced to make a decision, the child either doesn’t and just says ‘I’m including all of this,’ or depending on however he’s been guided, can make a choice.”
I then shared with him that I am conscious of the fact that I overcompensate with my son’s minority language and culture, though it is not my native background. In other words, I flood my son with Spanish books and music, and Caribbean food, yet never emphasize his whiteness. I was encouraged by his response:
“…when we were coming up, my mother went overboard with the blackness because she figured anything white I would get as soon as I left my door. Depending on your neighborhood and where you grew up, but the United States, just as far as what we see in the media is still predominantly white and male outside of sports and music. So with me personally, I’m alright with going overboard on the emphasis as long as you’re not discouraging of any other races, because I just think the more positive the better. No one is ever going to have an issue finding a white role model, ever. Not for a while. So I’m all cool with pumping up the positivity of ethnic diversity.”
Martin Luther King Day 2012 has passed, but as we all know, maintaining the balance between inclusion and exclusion is a year-round, lifelong crusade. Having books like Chocolate Me, and resources like the corresponding website and Facebook page, gives us daily support as parents raising children in a country that is still (unfortunately) focused on white culture.