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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Lessons From Nature

For the past month or so, I have been actively seeking out and enjoying the stunning wildflowers that are in bloom throughout Southwestern Ohio. I have always enjoyed hiking and nature, but this year, I have made it a point to learn more about native wildflowers.

This Spring, I have spent hours walking along trails and creeks, throughout six different counties, learning about each wildflower that I happen to encounter. I have taken hundreds of photos and am slowly gaining more knowledge about these beautiful miracles that grow along the highway, in pastures and meadows, as well as in deep, cool woodlands.

Overall, I have to say that the whole experience encourages me to reflect on diversity in general. There are so many different wildflowers just in my little corner of the world. The diversity I have been experiencing with wildflowers doesn’t even take into account the wide variety of trees, butterflies, insects, fish, birds, and mammals that are occupying the same land. It is truly awe-inspiring to take time and reflect on the incredibly diverse nature world that surrounds us.

While I take in the rich diversity of the wildflowers I have encountered, I struggle to understand how anyone can believe that there is just one way to do anything. So much bigotry, prejudice, and hate are based on the idea that there is one, absolute, and right way to exist in the world. Only one way to look. Only one way to love. Only one way to worship. Only one way to believe. Only one way to live.

If you will humor me, I would like to share what I have learned from the official wildflower of Ohio, called the trillium. I have always known how to identify trillium because they are a unique, three-leaved plant with a single white flower found in the woods where I grew up. At least, that is what I have always thought. What I have learned recently, is that there are eight different types of trillium, just in Ohio. While some have white flowers, other have red flowers. Some are tall and some are short. Some have flowers that are upright, some are drooping. Some have solid leaves and some have speckles. Yet despite their differences, they are all trillium. (Click here to read more and see pictures of each kind).

The Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said, “In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” This sums up the belief I have, to the very core of my being, that diversity enriches our world and our lives. I believe that the same diversity that is reflected all around us in the natural world is a model or road map for what the human world should look like, as well. Despite our differences, we are all human.


P.S. Hate and violence have been in the national and international headlines, seemingly on a daily basis. I encourage you to read some blogs from our archives, such as After Darkness, There Will Be Light and Look For The Helpers.

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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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Starting the Conversation

In my last post, I encouraged parents to break their silence and be proactive in the teaching of tolerance and respect. I use the word “tolerance” with reservation because I am looking for more than tolerance. I think we tolerate tooth aches and tolerate loud music. To me, being tolerant means you are just barely able to deal with something unpleasant. I want to push you to move way beyond tolerance. I want to push you to embrace and respect differences. Don’t just tolerate them. Value the differences and teach your children to value them too.

How do you do this? Many people, especially those who find themselves in the majority or ingroup, have very little experience talking about these issues. It’s one of the advantages you may have if you were born with light skin, straight, male, cisgender, or are part of a majority cultural or religious group.

When I first started learning about cultural differences, I was working in an international preschool on the campus of Cornell University. We had children in our program from across the globe. It was a fascinating and deeply enriching experience. I was working with children and their parents across language barriers, cultural differences, and religious beliefs. How do you make everyone in such a diverse environment feel respected and honored?

What I have learned over the years is that being respectful of differences involves the ability to adopt a worldview that is comprised of three separate, yet related, elements. These three elements include the ability to:

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

These elements also need to be an integral part of the conversations you have with your children about diversity. For 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 Shuji have funny-looking eyes?”

A culturally competent response needs to include all three elements described above. For example, your response may be:

“I don’t think Shuji has funny-looking eyes. He has eyes that are a different shape than yours (Element 1). Shuji’s eyes are almond-shaped just like his parents’ eyes. Your eyes are round, just like your parents’ eyes (Element 2). Both you and Shuji have beautiful eyes, even though they are different shapes (Element 3).”

Preparing your children to understand and respect differences is one of the best gifts you can give them as they enter a world that is increasingly diverse. It starts with the ability to talk about cultural differences in a healthy and respectful way. As long as you include all three elements in your conversations, you will send a healthy message about differences to your child. In doing so, you will help your children develop cultural competence, a beneficial and necessary asset to have in today’s world.

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Teach Your Children Well

This afternoon I attended a seminar called Hate Groups in the Wake of Charlottesville: A Community Leadership Briefing. The meeting was held at a local Jewish synagogue and attracted a fairly diverse crowd. The audience gathered to listen to a distinguished panel of speakers that included Joseph Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Oren Segal, the Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Joseph and Oren were joined by two local FBI agents, Kevin Fisk and Ben Egan, each with expertise in the areas of counter terrorism and civil rights respectively.

The seminar started with questions posed to the panelists. Several questions were about the “alt-right” (short for alternative right) movement. The consensus of the panelists was that the alt-right is a re-branding of white supremacy with slightly different tactics. The alt-right is specifically targeting younger people and is trying to mainstream their message. They rely heavily on social media as a recruitment tool and are boldly making their presence known on college campuses across the United States.

It was pointed out that the use of social media by extremist groups has the ability to unite individuals who are often isolated. In the past, extremist groups needed a charismatic leader to bring a group together, but social media provides a forum to connect isolated individuals and a platform to cheer each other on. For the first time, people in different geographical locations can unite and connect in their extremism.

After listening to the panelists, the audience asked questions. The question on everyone’s mind was, “What can we do to fight these extremist hate groups?” The panelists gave two answers:

First, we need to build communities that embrace differences. We need to support and encourage each other regardless of our ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender expression, ability, class, or other differences. When one community is targeted by hate, we need to surround that community with love and support. We unite and stay strong. We speak out against the hate.

Second, we need to talk to children and youth about these issues. The panelist pointed out that kids who are not well-informed about cultural diversity, or are not taught the importance of respect, are the ones who fall victim to the extremist groups. As parents and grandparents, we need to teach our children about the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Our voice needs to be louder and stronger than the extremist voices they might encounter in school, on the playground, on campus, or on social media.

Have you talked to your kids about the importance of diversity, equality, inclusion, love, and respect? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Make a promise to end the silence. Talk to your children. Read to them. Give them the tools they need to stand up to hate and fear. Model love and respect. Value equality, inclusion, and diversity. Show them that love conquers hate.

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Where Should My Children Go to School?

A friend of mine asked a few questions in the comment section after my last post. He also cited a June 2016 article published in the New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City” and was written by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

I decided to share my response and open the topic up to further discussion. I want to thank Brandon for bringing up a tricky issue: where to live and where to send your children to school. These are difficult questions for me, and maybe for you too. First, I want to share a bit of personal history.

When my husband and I returned to Cincinnati after college, we moved to a diverse suburban neighborhood we loved. We lived there for 2 years and then moved out of state, only to return to Cincinnati 3 years later. The neighborhood we loved had started to decline so we moved to a different suburban school district that was known for its diversity.

But over time, we started to hear about problems in the district and we witnessed several neighborhood kids falling through the cracks at the high school. At this time, we had our first child and moved once again. This time, we opted for great schools and a safe community. Unfortunately, this decision landed us in an extremely homogeneous community with little to no racial, ethnic, religious, or income diversity. It’s exactly like the childhood community where I grew up. My kids are living in the bubble I was hell-bent on avoiding.

I tell myself my kids’ experience is different because they are exposed to diversity outside our neighborhood and we talk about differences all the time. My children know about aspects of diversity I didn’t even know existed until college. As a family, we routinely acknowledge that our neighborhood does not represent the “real world.”

However, I cannot escape the guilt I feel. I think about moving or sending my kids to different schools on a regular basis. I check the real estate listings constantly. I weigh the pros and cons of living where we are now vs. a different neighborhood or school. We are trying to do what is best for our kids while also recognizing that our decisions have unintended and problematic consequences.

I also recognize that our decision to live in our current neighborhood is possible because of the privilege that comes with our skin color and economic class. The New York Times Magazine article is fantastic and I encourage everyone to read it. The author addresses the challenging issues related to selecting schools and echoes the struggles many parents face.

It also describes how the education system is built on racism, classism, and housing discrimination (which was legal until 1968). The system is wholly imperfect, unfair, and biased against people of color and the economically disadvantaged.

What choices have you made regarding where you live and where you send your children to school? How do those decisions make you feel?

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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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Additional Cultural Dimensions

As I mentioned in my last post, there is an endless list of things that help determine how we see the world around us. I have been fortunate enough to discuss this topic with a diverse group of people and with their help, I have added these additional dimensions of culture:

  • Geographic Region: If you were raised in the U.S., what part of the country do you call home?
  • Military Experience: Have you been actively involved in the military?
  • Time Orientation: Do you place more value on the past, present, or future?
  • Personality: Are you an introvert, extrovert, or a combination of both?
  • Community Type: Is home in a rural, suburban, or urban community?
  • Body Shape and Size: Does your body fall within the cultural “norms” of society or do you find yourself not fitting in?
  • Incarceration: Have you ever been incarcerated?
  • Tragedy: Have you ever experienced a personal tragedy, such as an accident, unexpected illness, or death?
  • Birth Order: Where do you fall in terms of birth order and how has that impacted you?
  • Food: What do you consider comfort food? What role does food play in your life?

I still don’t believe my list is all-inclusive. I’m waiting to hear from you. What do you want to add to the list? Remember, there are no wrong answers. We all experience life in a deeply personal and unique way. Yet, we are also greatly impacted by our families and the important people around us. Amazingly, these dimensions of culture don’t have to directly impact your life. Your culture can be impacted indirectly through relationships.

I want to share a personal story to help illustrate this point. I have never been incarcerated and have little knowledge of the criminal justice system. However, for the past 13 years, I have been a pen pal with someone who is incarcerated. He has taught me many things about life behind bars and all the challenges that come with it. I have learned what daily life is like, how parole works, and what kind of things you can and can’t send to someone who is incarcerated. Once, I sent him a care package that included gum. It turns out that gum can be used to ruin locks, so it is a big no-no in prison. I had no idea. Without stepping foot inside a prison, I have learned a lot about the prison system and its culture.

Another important and tricky aspect of culture is related to time. Culture can change! For example, I was raised Catholic. Many of my favorite childhood memories revolved around the religious rituals and traditions that I shared with my siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. However, as an adult, I drifted away from the church and no longer identify as Catholic. Did my culture change as a result? You bet.

Now it’s your turn. What dimensions of your cultural identity have changed over time and how has that impacted your worldview?

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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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