Finding Great Books

I know from my own life experiences that reading can be an excellent way to expand your worldview. Books provide limitless opportunities for children and adults to explore windows and mirrors. As a parent, I am grateful that my kids enjoy reading. I view each new book as a gift and an opportunity to learn. However, sometimes it can be challenging to find great books with positive messages.

Luckily, there are many resources available to help navigate the endless choices of books. Today, I want to share three websites that will help you find amazing books for your children and youth.

    1. Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media “is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.” If you visit their book review page, you can select topics such as: activism, great boy roles models, great girl roles models, and misfits and underdogs. Once you select a certain topic, the website will provide a list of books. Each suggestion includes the book title, a picture of the book cover, an age recommendation, a rating, and a synopsis of the book. For example, I selected “activism” on the topic checklist and 75 books were suggested. I used the book suggestions and sent multiple requests to our public library. I can’t wait to pick them up. I know the books have positive messages and I also know my kids will enjoy reading them. What a terrific resource!
    1. Scholastic. The mission of Scholastic is “to encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children, beginning with literacy.” The resource, “How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books,”  highlights books that relate to 5 cultural groups, including Native American, Latino, African American, Jewish, and Asian American. The book selections range form pre-K to 8th grade. This helpful resource includes a short introductory paragraph about each cultural group, as well as a list of 10 great children’s books, including the title, author and a brief summary. In addition, there are 3 additional sections for each group:
      • A short interview with an author of that specific cultural group.
      • A “keep in mind” section that provides some additional tips for readers.
      • A list of additional authors that represent that particular cultural group.
    1. Teaching Tolerance. The mission of Teaching Tolerance is “to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.” They have a great resource called “What We’re Reading” that is published quarterly. Their book recommendations include the cover page, title, author, summary, and genre of each book (professional development, elementary school, middle school, or high school).  You can find their latest book recommendations here. If you want to see more of their book recommendations, you can type “What We’re Reading” in the search box and you’ll find an archived list of their recommendations.

I hope the next time you and your family head to the library or bookstore, you will utilize these resources to find great multicultural books. Enjoy!

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The Importance of Role Models

Social learning and modeling helps us understand that our children are constantly observing and imitating the values, beliefs, and behaviors they witness around them. Modeling occurs whether our actions are positive or negative, intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious.

In addition to the behavior of parents, it’s important to consider the other people who can serve as role models for our children. It’s important to realize that the possibilities are endless. Role models can be extended family members, siblings, teachers, coaches, peers, neighbors, television and movie characters, celebrities, professional athletes, and characters from a book (fiction and non-fiction).

Because role models can have a significant impact in the lives of children, researchers have tried to better understand why children imitate the behavior of certain role models. Social scientists have tried to understand if there are certain people that children are more likely to model? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes. Researchers have found that children are more likely to imitate the behavior of a role model who:

  • is nurturing, rewarding, and affectionate toward the child [1]
  • controls resources [2]
  • has prestige, power, and intelligence [3]
  • is like the observing child, particularly regarding sex [4]
  • is reinforced for his/her behavior in front of the child [5]

These characteristics point to the incredibly powerful role parents play in the lives of their children. Parents tend to be nurturing and affectionate, they control resources, have power, and tend to be viewed as intelligent (at least until the tween years). So, parents who model cultural competence tend to plant seeds of cultural competence, while parents who model prejudice, bias, and hate plant the seeds of cultural incompetence.

It is also important to point out the influence of the media. Children are increasingly exposed to models through the internet, television, movies, and social media. Most characters in the media are perceived as powerful, prestigious, and intelligent. In addition, television, movies, and social media often depict behaviors that are rewarded and praised.

As the media, and especially social media, continue to have an increasing impact on the lives of our children, parents and other traditional role models may be in danger of becoming less influential. Paying attention to the influence other role models have on our children is an important aspect of parenting.

In addition, we need to be mindful that our current President often voices opinions that are bigoted and fuel cultural intolerance. There is no question that the President of the United States fits the criteria for being a role model. He has prestige, power, and controls resources. But what happens when a role model behaves in a way that clashes with our values and beliefs? This is when we need to take an even more active role in the lives of our children and make a deliberate decision to not only model cultural competence, but also actively encourage it.

We will continually explore ways to actively promote cultural competence, but for now, what are some things you can do to make sure your children are being exposed to the values and beliefs that you hold dear?


[1] Bandura, A & Huston, A. (1961). Identification as a process of incidental learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 311-318.

[2] Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S.A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3-11.

[3] Bandura, A. (1969). Social-learning theory of identificatory processes.  In D.A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 213-262). Chicago: Rand McNally.

[4] Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S.A. (1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 3-11.

[5] Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models’ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589-595.

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Making A Commitment

Happy New Year! Although I am not one who makes many New Year’s Resolutions, I did commit to write at least one article every month in 2019. One of the reasons I want to write more is due to the current climate in our country. It seems to me that we are living in difficult and dangerous times. Our responses to cultural differences are deeply dividing our nation. Since the presidential election, our country is witnessing a dramatic rise in hate crimes (Click here to read more) and teachers are reporting an increase in bullying (Click here to read more). It seems that overt prejudice is becoming more normative and socially acceptable with each passing day. I am deeply troubled and heartbroken by these trends. I want to help ease the tensions and increase the amount of respect we have for each other. In short, I believe that we need to talk about culture more than ever.

In the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, let’s talk about concrete actions you can take in 2019 that will help bring more understanding, respect, and love into the world. I encourage you to commit to doing at least one activity that will increase your cultural competence every month, if not every week. If you want to think about it another way, make a commitment to look out new windows in the New Year.

Below is a list of small steps you can take that will, hopefully, push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to expand your understanding of your own culture, as well as other cultures. If you need a reminder, read Dimensions of Culture and Additional Cultural Dimensions to help you think about culture in a more inclusive and expansive way.

Action Steps to Begin or Continue on Your Cultural Competence Journey

  1. Read literature about and written by different cultural groups.
  2. Shop at ethnic stores and dine at ethnic restaurants.
  3. Watch foreign language movies or watch a movie with no sound and only use closed captions.
  4. Find a way to be in the minority. If you have the resources and opportunities, travel to areas where you can immerse yourself in another culture.
  5. Attend festivals and events that celebrate specific cultural groups, such as art galleries, theaters, dance companies, museums, libraries, music groups, and places of worship.
  6. Volunteer at a non-profit organization that serves a diverse population.
  7. Read newspapers, magazines, websites, and other educational resources that are dedicated to specific cultural groups.
  8. Get involved with an organization that works for social justice.
  9. Reach out to someone from a different cultural group.

It is better to think of these steps as a journey, rather than a destination. Doing any (or all) of these activities will not help you arrive at a fully-developed sense of cultural competence. Becoming culturally competent takes a lifetime. However, these action steps can get you started or help keep you moving.

As Lao Tzu wisely stated, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I look forward to embarking on this journey together and hearing how these activities helped change the way you see the world and others around you.

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It’s Okay to Be Different and Other Important Lessons Our Children Need to Learn

I was asked to give a sermon at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati and it was recorded. You can watch the video or read the full transcript below.

TRANSCRIPT: Good morning. My name is Laura Stanton and I have been a member of First Church for 3 years. I am part of the “Stuff Family” that is made up of my husband, Steve Duff, and my 2 kids. I need to thank them for being patient with me while I worked on this last week (and last night). I also want to thank my parents and my in-laws for coming this morning to root me on!

When you are on this side of the podium you get a much better appreciation for all the working pieces that come together every week to make a service happen. I appreciate the Worship Committee giving me this opportunity. I also want to thank June for her guidance preparing the service and Jera for incorporating my music requests! Thank you to everyone who made today happen.

Before I dive in, I want to tell you a little bit about my background and upbringing. I am a native Cincinnatian and not surprisingly my favorite restaurants are Skyline, LaRosa’s and Frisch’s. I love watching the Reds play but I have never been to a Bengals game, nor do I desire to do so.

I am from the Eastside and I graduated from Turpin HS. If I were trying to tell someone about my background, the best analogy I have is The Wizard of Oz. Growing up in Anderson Township was a bit like living in Kansas. My world was black, white, and shades of gray. I did not see much diversity. If there was diversity, it wasn’t something we talked about. In fact, like many of you, it was considered somewhat impolite to notice differences. It just wasn’t something you were supposed to do, so I never thought about diversity because I never needed to. Most people were just like me.

After I graduated from HS, I went to Gettysburg College, a small, liberal arts school in PA. For the first time in my life, I realized I was different. I became aware of my Midwestern upbringing, as well as my social economic background. To say it a different way, I become a minority. I was surrounded by people from the East Coast and people that were from a much higher income bracket than my family. For the first time, I didn’t fit in with the people around me. I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore….

I transferred to Cornell University in NY my sophomore year. When I moved into my dorm room, I found myself in the minority again. This time, I was the only white woman on my wing. It was uncomfortable and exciting all at the same time.

During my 3 years at Cornell, I felt like Dorothy living in Oz. I was living in technicolor. I felt energized and engaged. Even now, those 3 years stand out as some of the best years of my life.

Based on my experiences, I have spent most of my adult life trying to better understand how children learn about the world around them. I have studied and researched the role parents, teachers, and other adults play in shaping children’s views about diversity. And today, I want to share with you some of the insights I have learned.

To help structure my message, I will answer 5 basic questions: What? Why? How? When? and Who?

1. What Differences Are We Supposed to Talk About?

When I talk about differences, I am using one word to describe many things. In the book I read earlier, It’s Okay to Be Different, Todd Parr uses many valuable and fun ways to think about differences. With that in mind, I encourage you to reflect and think about how you would describe yourself. If you need help, think about how someone who knows you well would describe you? Think about what makes you unique?

REFLECT: Take just a few moments to think about this……….

I have found that when we talk about diversity, we often do 2 things. First, we start thinking about everyone else and skip the self-reflection. But it’s important for us to recognize who we are and what we bring to the table.

Second, we often think about the demographic differences that divide us: skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class, age, ability, etc. But sometimes we forget to think about the more personal and smaller differences, like whether or not you’re a dog or a cat person, if you prefer Marvel or DC Comics, if you’re an introvert or extrovert, or whether you will be cheering for the Eagles or Patriots. Or maybe you could care less! ;-).

It’s also important to mention the many layers of diversity. Really, we should think of differences like an onion. There are layers of things that make us different. At the very core are individual differences, shaped by our biology, personality, and individual quirks. The next layer is about our relationships with others including our partner, spouse, friends, co-workers, etc. The next layer is about family, which is also complicated because that includes the family we grew up in, as well as the family we create. We can keep going, we recognize that every single layer is unique to us. While my focus today is on the individual layer, I want to acknowledge the diversity that exists beyond ourselves.

2. Why Talk About Differences?

If you haven’t noticed, or if you haven’t seen the statistics, our country is changing rapidly. There have been all sorts of Census reports about our demographics, but it’s safe to say that the country you grew up in is not the country your kids and grandkids will experience. The increase in people of color, religious diversity, family composition, and openly gay and transgender individuals are just a few of the ways our country is changing.

To better understand these trends, I encourage you and your family to read a book titled, If America Were a Village by David Smith. In the book, Smith shrinks down the population of America to an imaginary village of 100 people. The metaphor helps children and adults easily understand our country’s differences in terms that are easy to understand.

Another reason to talk about differences is because our UU faith compels us to do so. Remember the 1st and 2nd principles:

1st Principle: We believe that each and every person is important.

2nd Principle: We believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly.

In order to honor these principles, we need to talk to our kids and grandkids about differences. We now know that telling kids not to notice differences (often called the “colorblind” approach) sends the wrong message. It minimizes differences and suggests that they aren’t important.

Another reason to talk about differences is to send a clear message that there is more than one way of being. Personally, one of my biggest frustrations with traditional religions is the underlying belief structure that declares there is only one way. Only one god. Only one path. This narrow line of thinking is the underlying principle of so many different forms of prejudice, bias, and hatred. Sophia Lyon Fahs, a pioneer of UU Religious Education, said in It Matters What We Believe, “Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.”

Compare that to the belief that differences are okay. This idea provides a worldview that has room for everyone. There are multiple paths and journeys. And all paths are equally good and valid. As Fahs says, these beliefs “nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.”

3. How to Talk About Differences?

To talk about differences, we have to feel comfortable as individuals. We have to be grounded in our own experiences and perspectives. We also need to create an environment where it is safe and comfortable to talk about differences.

One way to make sure we have opportunities to talk about differences with our children is to consider an important educational framework that was created by Emily Style. Her “windows and mirrors” framework is based on the idea that mirrors provide the opportunity to see ourselves and our reality, and therefore, provide a sense of personal validation. Windows, on the other hand, provide us with the opportunity to see differences and learn about other people’s experiences.

As parents and teachers, we should strive to balance the windows and mirrors in our children’s lives. Doing so provides children with an equal understanding of themselves, as well as others. This will help our children understand themselves and their place in the diverse world around them.

This framework helps me make sense of my educational upbringing. I realize I spent 18 years of my life surrounded by mirrors! But fortunately for me, my college experience gave me the opportunity to gaze out many, many windows. Without a doubt, looking out windows and learning about diversity were the most meaningful aspects of my college experience.

This is a good time to think about your home. I have no doubt that you have mirrors around your home. But it’s important to think about windows. Do your kids’ have the opportunity to gaze out windows and learn about someone else’s reality. Take a moment and think about ways you could provide more windows. Some hints are books, toys, movies, music, and invited guests…….

In addition to providing mirrors and windows, we also need some a specific set of tools when we talk about differences. In the late 80s, a progressive group of educators developed an anti-bias approach to cultural diversity. They wanted to do more than simply acknowledge diversity. They wanted to help children learn to embrace, respect, and celebrate differences.

Their anti-bias approach tells us that we need to do 3 things when we talk to our children about differences. We need to:

  1. Acknowledge cultural differences.
  2. Find similarities in spite of the differences.
  3. Respect the difference, without judgment.

These elements have to be part of the conversations we have with our children. Let me give you an example. Let’s imagine your child notices that the eyes of her Asian friend are a different shape than her eyes. She asks you, “Why does Mai have funny-looking eyes?”

An anti-bias response may be:

Element 1: “I don’t think Mai has funny-looking eyes. She has eyes that are a different shape than yours.” (Acknowledge the difference)

Element 2: “Mai’s eyes are almond-shaped just like her parents’ eyes. Your eyes are round, just like your parents’ eyes.” (Find a similarity)

Element 3: “Both you and Mai have beautiful eyes, even though they are different shapes.” (Respect the difference)

REFLECT: Consider a time your child asked a question about a difference that you didn’t know how to answer or you think you didn’t answer well. Take a moment and see if you can create an anti-bias response to their question. Remember it needs to include all 3 elements.

One other footnote about how to talk about differences comes from disability studies.  Their important advice: use people-first language. What does that mean? When you are describing someone, focus on the person before the label. Say “a man is Jewish” rather than “a Jewish man”. “The girl who is blind” rather than saying “the blind girl”. It’s an easy and important way to be respectful. Focus on the person first!

Knowing how to talk about differences will help prepare your children to understand a world that is increasingly diverse. When you include the anti-bias approach in your conversations, you send healthy messages about differences to your child. In doing so, you will help them develop cultural competence, a beneficial and necessary asset to have in today’s world.

4. When Should You Talk About Differences?

Every chance you get! If you need help tackling an especially difficult issue, my best advice is to head to the library. I am a firm believer that no one is too old for children’s books. You can find a children’s book about all sorts of diversity topics, including adoption, growing up with 2 moms, having a parent in jail, getting around in a wheelchair, and talking about different skin colors.

There is even research that suggests that children’s books about cultural diversity facilitate a personal connection between the reader and the story, which leads to more empathetic behavior.

So find books that help you feel comfortable. Read them over a few times and when you’re ready, share them with your kids or grandkids. Be ready for a discussion and incorporate the anti-bias approach, but also realize there might not be a discussion. The truth is that kids accept differences a lot easier than adults to. Sometimes when I tackle a topic I think may be difficult, my kids totally surprise me with their understanding, sensitivity, and empathy.

I also want to give you permission to stall for time. If you are caught off guard and don’t know what to say, that’s okay. But if your child says something that makes you or someone else feel uncomfortable, you need to address it. You can decide the best time to do so but letting insensitive or hurtful comments “slide” teaches your child the wrong message. No matter what, we want our children and grandchildren to see that it is okay to ask questions, that it’s normal to talk about differences, and it’s important to be respectful.

5. Who Should Talk About Differences?

All of us need to talk about differences. As I stand here today, I am aware that my perspective has to do with my life journey and experiences. I am just one person and I know others in this room have different perspectives to share.

It’s also important to remember that we need to be responsible for our own learning. If you have questions about a cultural group or a difference, educate yourself. Do not expect someone to do the work for you. Use the resources around you to enlighten yourself and find opportunities to learn.

Finally, I want to mention the resources we have right here in this community. We have so many advocates, allies, and activists in our congregation. While I have kept my remarks very general, there are more specific tips and pointers that can be helpful when talking about specific cultural groups. Remember the people who are on the front lines and be sure to ask them for their insights. It would be a shame if we didn’t take advantage of the amazing people in this room who devote their time and energy advocating for LGBTQ individuals and families, immigrants, impoverished neighborhoods, people experiencing homelessness, public school students, fair wages, equal access, and many, many other social justice issues.

In Summary

If you believe that we our country is unjust and unequal, then you cannot be silent. These are trying times, my friends, and many of the cultural differences we have discussed today are seen as threats by our current President and his administration. More than ever, we need to speak up. We can no longer remain quiet. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Our faith compels us to fight injustice. Talking about our differences is an important first step on the journey towards acceptance and equality. Realize that your journey will include missteps. If you get stuck, ask for help. If you make a mistake, apologize. Embrace any discomfort you experience, for it is a sure sign of growth.

I love the title of Todd Parr’s book because it’s a wonderful mantra, “it’s okay to be different.” This phrase reminds all of us, and kids especially, that the differences they see around them are normal, safe, and fun.

But the mantra, “It’s okay to be different” also implies that every kid and adult should celebrate their own differences. We should be proud of the things that make us unique and special.

Last year, the movie Wonder came out and was based on the popular children’s book by the same name (written by R.J. Palacio). One of my favorite quotes from the book is between Auggie, a young boy, and his older sister, Via. Auggie has facial abnormalities and often tries to hide his face from other people. His sister Via tells him, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

We all need the reminder that our differences are what make us special, unique, and make us stand out from the crowd. Embrace those differences and celebrate them, whether they are yours or someone else’s.

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Describing the Water

When you are part of the ingroup or the majority, it can be difficult to answer the question, what is culture? I recently talked about right handed people not having to think about being right handed. It is like asking a fish to describe water. When the water is all around you and it’s all you see and all you know, it can be difficult to even notice the water. Let alone describe it.

The times I have been most aware of the water around me is when I have experienced what it is like to be in the outgroup or part of the minority. These moments have brought a range of emotions; from discomfort, frustration, confusion, disbelief, and anger. They have been unforgettable teaching moments that have stayed with me for decades. For now, I will highlight a few of the times that I became very aware of the water based on three different dimensions of culture:

  • I can remember a wonderful night spent with a bunch of friends. All of them were native Spanish-speakers. Even though I knew some Spanish, I was not fully engaged and involved. It was a super fun evening with lots of laughter and everyone did their best to make sure I felt included. Although I enjoyed the people, the music, and the food, I still felt just the slightest bit detached and isolated. I wasn’t part of something that I wanted to be a part of. It made me think about people who are constantly surrounded by people who don’t share their native language and what that must feel like day after day.
  • I’ll never forget a rainy day that I spent with a friend who uses a motorized wheelchair. I drove her accessible van to a music concert that was held in a historic building that was not accessible. To get to our seats, we had to enter the concert hall from the back of the building and go through the kitchen. After the concert, someone parked too close to the van and we couldn’t use the ramps. After that experience, I try to remember the challenges that my friend faces every day when she leaves her home and I also watch the lines when I park near an accessible space.
  • I vividly recall a meal shared with an African-American friend at Cornell. After going through the cafeteria line together, I could tell he was upset about something. When I asked, he shared his frustration with the racist cashier. We talked and I told him the cashier was always super disrespectful to me too. We eventually came to the conclusion that she was just a nasty person. But I suddenly realized that my friend interpreted negative interactions based on his skin color and the possibility of racism, while I had never once had that thought occur to me.

Have there been times in your life that you noticed the water? How did it make you feel? Did it have a lasting impact?

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Ingroups and Outgroups

In my last post, I used the words majority and minority. As we examine different dimensions of culture, there are also different majority and minority groups. These terms refer to the number of people who fit into a certain demographic group, but these terms may not always be accurate. For example, although men are considered the majority gender group in the United States, women slightly outnumber men (51% to 49%). Another example is Christians; while they are the religious majority in our country, they are a minority religion across the globe.

Rather than use the terms majority and minority, I prefer the terms ingroup and outgroup. Outgroups are cultural groups that are disenfranchised, exploited, and victimized in a variety of ways by the social structure. Ingroups are dominant cultural groups that are privileged by birth or acquisition, who knowingly or unknowingly, reap an unfair advantage over members of the outgroup.

To put this in an apolitical context, we can look at handedness. If you are right handed, you can go day to day without ever considering your dominant hand. It’s something that you probably don’t think about often, if at all. However, people who are left handed are forced to think about it more than you may realize.

For example, most public computer stations are set up for people to mouse with their right hand. Many pens and scissors work better if you are right handed. Sports equipment such as ball gloves and golf clubs are usually designed with right handers in mind. In large college lecture halls, the flip up desks are made for right handed students. Cameras and some power tools are easier to use if you are right handed.

As a right handed person, I was unaware of the challenges that left handed people faced. Simply put, left handed people are put at a disadvantage and right handed people have no idea. If you are right handed, you are part of the numerical majority (90%) and the ingroup.

Exploited and victimized? These are strong words to describe an outgroup and they might make you cringe. While being left handed carries little social stigma today, historically it did. I know someone who was born left handed and she told many stories of being smacked on the hands and even having her left hand tied behind her back while she was in public school during the 1950s. All of this was due to the social stigma attached to being left handed. Today, the idea of punishing a child for being left handed seems pretty ridiculous.

The change in attitude about handedness reiterates a point from an earlier post: culture is fluid and it can change. We cannot imagine such things happening today simply for being left handed. I wonder what other aspects of culture will also change with time. Have you noticed certain cultural dimensions becoming more accepted in your lifetime? What changes have you observed? Do you think these changes are for the better? Why or why not?

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Happy Loving Day

Fifty years ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional. The landmark decision was based on the case Loving vs. Virginia, named after Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving. The two fell in love and got married but since he was white and she was part Native American and part black, their marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. In fact, they were both arrested and jailed for breaking the law.

In 1967, the Lovings won the right to be legally married and the Supreme Court decision overturned the law in the 16 states that had banned interracial marriage. Since then, June 12th has become known as Loving Day, an annual celebration to honor this historic ruling.

Fast forward to today and statistics show that mixed marriages have increased dramatically. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 out of every 6 newlyweds today marries someone from a different ethnic group or with different skin color. If you also include families who have adopted internationally and/or across ethnic and color lines, you see great diversity not only between families but also within families.

I have mentioned both family of origin and family structure as two important dimensions of culture. In honor of Loving Day, I encourage you to focus on increasing the number of mirrors around your home if your family is mixed. If your family is similar in terms of ethnic background and skin color, then I encourage you to increase the number of windows your children have to discover and learn about mixed families.

How can you get started? First, visit your local library and request books that describe families that have different ethnic backgrounds and different skin colors. I recommend:

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko

black is brown is tan by Arnold Adoff

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin

Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus

I Am Tan by Michele Rose

Before you share these books with your children, read them yourself and make sure you’re comfortable with each book. When you’re ready, sit down and read them together. As you start conversations about families that are mixed, remember these important tips:

  • Don’t make any assumptions. Don’t assume that two people who look alike are family members and don’t assume that two people who look different are not family members.
  • Talk to your children about the mixed families you know. Identifying and talking about differences is a great starting point and it’s a healthy thing to do as long as there is no judgement. There is no right or wrong way to be a family.

I hope this information is helpful and encourages you to think about different families. Now that you know about Loving Day, what will you and your family do to celebrate this special day?

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Dimensions of Culture

Let’s continue exploring the question: What is culture? I hope you have spent time thinking about this important question and writing down those cultural dimensions of your life that have shaped and guided your worldview.

You’ll find that there are many different ways to teach about culture. One popular approach is to think of culture like an iceberg. The main idea is to remind people that the visible aspects of culture (food, clothing, language, skin color, etc.) often make up a small part of a person’s culture. There are also invisible aspects of culture that are below the surface and invisible to an observer. These dimensions of culture are more numerous and contain more depth. The key is to remember that people are more complex and complicated than we often realize. Assumptions based on the visible dimensions of culture often end up missing the depth and richness that culture bestows upon all of us. The iceberg may not be a perfect model, but it is another helpful way to think about culture.

Years ago, I developed a graphic to help illustrate 14 different dimensions of culture. Over the course of time and through many enlightening conversations, my list has grown and it continues to grow. I am aware that this old graphic is not all-inclusive. It does, however, provide a good starting point for our discussion about the dimensions of culture. Let’s start at the top and continue clockwise. As you consider each of these dimensions, be sure to ask yourself these questions:

Graphic with dimensions of culture

  • Ability: Do you have any physical, mental, developmental, or psychological limitations or disabilities?
  • Sexual Orientation: Do you identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning?
  • Time of Arrival in the U.S.: How long have you and/or your family lived in the U.S.?
  • Age/Cohort: How old are you? What world events have occurred in your lifetime that help define the way you view the world?
  • Education: How much formal and/or informal education do you have?
  • Religiosity/Spirituality: Do you have any religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical beliefs?
  • Family of Origin: What roles and rules did you learn from your family while you were growing up?
  • Skin Color: How would you describe your skin color?
  • Gender: Do you identify as female, male, transgender, non-conforming, or something else?
  • Social Class: How would you define your socioeconomic background?
  • Migration Experience: Did you or your family migrate to the U.S.? Why? Was it forced or was it a choice?
  • Language: What language or languages do you speak?
  • Family Structure: Who is in your family?
  • Ethnicity: What ethnic group(s) do you identify with?

I wonder how this compares to the list you wrote down. I learn something new each time I do this exercise and am truly interested in your answers. Remember, you can’t be wrong. We’ll continue to talk about the dimensions of culture in the next post. Until then, here is my question: did you write anything down that isn’t included in this graphic?

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What is Culture?

If a stranger came up to you and asked about your culture, what would you say? If you don’t have an immediate response, think about this academic (i.e., long) definition of culture, “the behavior, values, beliefs, language, traits, and products shared by and associated with a group of people, which are passed from one generation to the next.”[1] A simpler definition of culture is a “framework that guides and binds your life practices.”[2]

I like to think of culture as a pair of glasses. These glasses influence the way you see the world but they don’t come off. They frame your perspective, impact the way you interact with others, and they were given to you from your parents and possibly your grandparents.

Depending on your cultural background, this may be the first time you have thought about your culture. Congratulations! Thinking about and becoming aware of your own culture is a very important first step in developing cultural awareness and cultural competence. It is often an overlooked and ignored step, but it is important not to rush it.

In my experience, when I ask people to describe their culture, I often see a lot of blank stares. I recognize that the question makes some people feel uncomfortable. Some people are confused. Eventually, a brave soul will say, “I don’t think I have any culture.”

Is this what you are thinking? This is a pretty common response, especially if you are white, male, straight, and/or middle class. It tends to be more difficult for people to see their culture if they are part of the majority culture. It’s like asking a fish to describe water. It’s perfectly okay if you have trouble identifying your culture. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have culture.

To help get you started, I will share five cultural factors that shape the way I see the world: my skin color, social class, gender, sexual orientation, and age. There are many other cultural factors and I challenge you to think beyond the obvious ones I listed. This is only a starting point.

Take a moment and jot down the cultural dimensions or experiences that come to mind. Ask yourself how other people might describe your culture. Take time to reflect and eventually come back to your list. There are no wrong answers. Remember, we are talking about the things that have influenced the way you see the world; those factors that have helped direct and guide your life choices.

In my next post, I will share a list of different dimensions of culture that people have identified over the years. I would love to see your list. Until then, keep asking yourself, what is your culture?


[1] York, S. (2016). Roots and wings. Affirming culture in early childhood programs. St. Paul: Redleaf Press.

[2] Lynch, E.W., & Hanson, M.J. (2011). Developing cross-cultural competence: A guide for working with young children and their families, Fourth Edition. Baltimore, MD: P.H. Brookes.

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