Most early childhood educators are aware of anti-bias work and many use an anti-bias curriculum in their classrooms. But how many of you are aware of anti-blackness and actively work with young children to recognize it and resist engaging in it? You may think that if you are engaging in an anti-bias curriculum then you are addressing racial discrimination which includes anti-blackness. However, dispelling anti-blackness requires more than addressing bias and racism. To counter anti-blackness, we must embrace and affirm blackness, and we must do this with very young children.
The goals of anti-bias education is to make sure all children develop a positive social identity, embrace diversity, recognize unfairness, and feel empowered. Typically, when we address anti-racism with young children, we focus on how discrimination is bad, all people should be treated equally, and skin color does not make you better or worse than other people. These are great things to teach young children, but they alone do not address anti-blackness. Young children learn at an early age that black is bad and white is good. From fairy tales to super heroes, we have normalized the purity of whiteness and the evils of blackness. This often results in black children being marginalized in the classroom. We know that black boys are often viewed as troublemakers which leads to an increase in suspension and expulsion in preschool. And we know that black girls are viewed as needing less comfort, protection, and support as white girls. At the base of these implicit and explicit biases is the unacknowledged pervasiveness of anti-blackness.
So, how do we embrace and affirm blackness in the early childhood? I recently read an article in Rethinking Schools by Kara Hinderlie that demonstrates how to address and affirm blackness in a kindergarten classroom. She intentionally spent a few days discussing the theme, Black is Beautiful with her students. Using an old children’s books with pictures of black objects and poems from Langston Hughes, she worked with the students in her class to recognize the inherent beauty in black things and black people. Not only did the children have an opportunity to embrace and affirm blackness, they wrote poetry to express their understanding of black is beautiful. Of course, she faced resistance from parents and some students, but she did not let that deter her from addressing anti-blackness in a developmentally appropriate context.
As we prepare for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Black History month, I hope you will take the time to really address anti-blackness with young children. And the easiest way to do that is to help all young children see the beauty in all that is black, especially black people. Remember, affirming black is beautiful is not the same thing as stating only black is beautiful. Pushing back against the narrative that black is bad and ugly does not mean that other colors are being excluded. All colors are beautiful, but most children do not associate other colors as inherently bad and evil. If we are truly committed to an anti-bias curriculum, that must include dispelling anti-blackness.