Earlier this week, I represented GCP on a panel at a fascinating conference called Children and Authenticity. Held at Teacher’s College in NYC, it was convened by the Children’s Art Guild, which helps children discover the joy and excitement of learning through creativity education (which includes visual arts, storytelling, woodworking, and expressive movement). The conference looked at how children could be supported in developing the tools necessary to understand and value who they are throughout their lifetimes. What a great and valuable concept!!
I was there to talk about gender based social concepts that could limit a child’s ability to be his or her authentic self. I focused on limitations on black boys. All little boys were adorable, I noted, but studies show that society’s perception of little black boys changes when they reach a certain age—studies show as early as five—at which point young black boys can be perceived as potentially dangerous or troublemakers.
I mentioned a University of Iowa study in which participants (white college students) were quickly shown pictures of 5-year-old boys –black and white—followed immediately by a picture of either a gun or a toy. The students were quicker to misidentify a toy as a weapon when it followed a black boy’s face. I also mentioned the Yale study (detailed in an earlier blog here) in which teachers were more focused on the black boys in a preschool class when they were told to watch for troublemakers. These kind of biases make it tougher for young black boys to connect with their authentic selves. Having to battle all these biases makes it tougher to know who they really are.
How can we parents help our sons with this? I offered a few suggestions:
*Talk with your boys about these biases and about the importance of authenticity.
*Encourage your boys to do things that bring them joy and are what they really want to do. Practice this yourself.
*Talk with other parents and teachers about the importance of authenticity.. Look for schools that encourage/nurture it. Many single sex schools do a good job of encouraging students to value their uniqueness (because the students are not trying to impress/please the opposite sex).
Happy to have GCP participate in this important discussion. Check out the Children’s Art Guild at www.childrensartguild.com to learn more.