Now that it’s back to-school time, I invite you to think about JEDI warriors. Not the Star Wars heroes we grew up loving. I mean the folk who stand up for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Why is this so important? Because we are far from an inclusive society. We’re all different based on skin and hair color, the food we eat, the languages we speak, and the cultural groups of which we are a part. These traits make us who we are; they make us human. Yet racism has an insidious way of using our differences against us and dividing us along identity lines – both as individuals and groups of people.
Imagine the impact this has on children learning about themselves and their place in the world.
If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that we’re not doing a good job of teaching our children racial literacy, defined by Sesame Street in Communities as “the skills needed to talk thoughtfully about race and to identify and respond to racism.” By (in)voluntarily avoiding the topic of racism and racial justice, we are raising colorblind children incapable of flexing JEDI
muscles and seeing all humans as equal. Since racial awareness begins during infancy, we have the opportunity to discuss race with our children even before they walk or talk.
Where to start on the JEDI Journey
As a JEDI designer for parents and children, and mother of two beautiful multiracial children, I believe Sesame Workshop is getting it right. Sesame Street was founded in 1969 to promote at-home learning for children via the use of television. In 2019, they launched a new program, called Coming Together to share resources and tools to help children learn about race, racial justice, and racism, as well as celebrate their unique identities (watch the trailer here).
The new program introduces audiences to two Black Muppets named Elijah and Wes. This father-son duo thoughtfully unpacks issues of racial identity and models how parents can engage in conversations about race and ethnicity with their kids. I highly recommend Explaining Race – in which Elmo asks Wes why his skin is brown and Breathe, Feel, Share – in which Abby shows up as an ally in response to Wes telling his dad about a painful incident when someone made fun of his lunch.
How to step up as parents to promote an inclusive society
Promoting racial literacy is easier said than done. And many parents don’t know where to start. So, in addition to exploring the amazing resources offered by Sesame Workshop’s Coming Together, here are three steps you can take to begin or deepen conversations about race and racism with your children:
Step 1: Read books and watch movies with a diverse cast, set of characters, and storylines. When children are exposed to a variety of different people and circumstances, the more racially literate they will become.
Step 2: If your child comes to you with a question about race or a racial incident, don’t shy away from the conversation. Acknowledge what they saw or experienced, validate their feelings, and ask questions. By doing so, you are signaling to your child that it is okay to have these conversations.
Step 3: Model the behavior you want your child(ren) to adopt. If you rely on stereotypes or act differently around People of Color, your child will notice and equate different with negative. Children are keen observers and will pick up on even the subtlest of social and physical cues. If you care about living in an inclusive society, it is your job to make sure they equate difference with positive.
It’s also worth mentioning that race and racism are not issues exclusive to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. White people must also engage in these conversations, otherwise, whiteness will remain the norm. Whiteness should be at the center of conversations about race and White families should also practice Steps 1, 2 and 3 with their kids.
After all, as Elijah says to Wes when standing under a tree in the full bloom of fall: “When people of all colors stand together, we stand strong, like this tree.” Thank you, Sesame Workshop, for guiding us towards better racial literacy. Together, let’s raise the next generation of racial empaths.
About Julie Savaria
Julie Savaria is the founder of Bindia Savaria consulting and JEDI Kids. Both Senegalese and Canadian, she defines herself as a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion designer, an Equity facilitator, and a global citizen at heart. Julie founded Bindia Savaria Consulting to help organizations start, deepen or establish their JEDI strategy or programming, and JEDI Kids (IG: @JEDI_KID), a platform dedicated to help caregivers and anyone raise the next generation of inclusive and (racially) mindful children.
PS Join the Purposeful Empathy community. Together, let’s spread more empathy in the world.
For more than a decade, I have been singularly focused on leveraging empathy for personal and social transformation. I teach Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation at McGill University and co-founder of PVM-Studio, a global advisory firm that supports purpose-driven people and organizations. Learn more about my work here.