Elementary School Parents Supporting the Early Discussion of Race

Jennifer Kelly remembers, as a half-Korean and half-American 6-year-old girl in Korea, the unmistakable scowling of onlookers as she and her mother walked down the street. Kelly would ask her mother why people stared with such anger.

She would respond, “They’ve never seen a little girl so beautiful,” Kelly remembers.

This was her mother’s way of transforming a horrible situation into an endurable one.

Today, Kelly has two children of her own: a 12-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. Her youngest attends Matheia School in Ballard, an independent K-5 school that launches into fresh curriculum every few months. The last was a focus on American Indian Studies.

This month, classes will begin a unit on race — including a fieldtrip to the Pacific Science Center’s exhibit, “RACE: Are we So Different?”

Kelly is strongly in support of this scholastic focus. She acknowledges that race is a difficult topic to address, an issue easily swept aside, “But to actually pull it out of the drawer and look at it and analyze it, that’s great,” she said. “I like that it incites dialogue at home. If kids start talking about it now, they’ll be that much further along as they grow into junior high, high school. They’ll just have a better foundation.”

Children are arguably colorblind, Kelly said. Instead of noticing differences, most children seek commonalities with their peers. Kelly’s daughter returns home from school with a list of traits she shares with new friends: Are they funny, are they fun?

“Colorblindness,” however, is not one that Kelly hopes to instill in her children. Denying others of their identified race is, Kelly said, “denying something of who they are.” Instead, she will teach her children to embrace others, race and all, as they grow into their own respective identity.

Light hair, blue eyes and fair skin, her son and daughter — whose father is Australian — have a Caucasian phenotype.

“But I don’t want to just pass them off as white,” Kelly explained. “I want them to choose their own identity.”

This could include exploring their Australian roots or embracing their Korean heritage. Korean food is occasionally cooked at home, and Kelly’s son has begun pestering his mother to study the language. Kelly’s daughter, meanwhile, is learning: People come in all shapes and sizes and colors.

As her children grow, Kelly continues her search for a positive role model in the media. The male Asian stereotype: The Jackie Chan “I’ll kick-your-ass”, or the studious A+ scholar.

“The stereotype of the Asian female, it’s overtly sexualized, demure and cute,” Kelly said. She added that some mistake this stereotype as flattering.

“You just become a caricature,” she said. Many wrongly view Asian women through a filter constructed by society’s stereotypes.

After Kelly moved to the United States at the age of 10, she faced racism once again. Racial discrimination is not solely perpetuated by one race. “It’s a human affliction,” she said.

Remembering the words Kelly loved her mother for, the assurances meant to mask the ugliness of discrimination — “they’re just really jealous, honey” — Kelly shakes her head.

“But was it the truth? It wasn’t the truth. It was beyond her control. It was an endemic, insurmountable at the time,” she said.

This month Kelly’s young daughter prepares to continue her exploration of the topic of race at school with a generation whose parents await at home, ready to tackle the issue of race.

“I get to define me,” Kelly said. “My identity is my own.”














Exhibit Rehashes Memories of RACE


Beverly and Bill Lake, who are from a close-knit community “bubble” in Michigan, flew into Seattle to visit their grandchildren. During their week-long stay in the Emerald City, the couple decided to visit the “RACE: Are we so Different?” exhibit at the Pacific Science Center.

Asked if they wouldn’t mind answering a few questions, Beverly glanced over at Bill. He shrugged.

“Warum nicht,” he said.

Beverly shook her head and smiled. “It means, ‘why not?’ in German,” she said. 

“He’s not German.”

The duo agreed to meet me at the end of their tour and, for about half an hour, they slowly made their way from station to station together.

After finishing, both agreed that neither had been shocked by the information. Nothing they had seen had generated strong emotions: No surprise, anger or delight.

“To be honest, it’s a rehash of stuff we already know,” said Bill, 75. “It’s just pulling it all together in one place.”  

Although the couple agreed that the exhibit did not have the desired “shock factor” to effectively influence someone’s opinion about race, it became clear that details in the displays were jogging Lake’s memories.

It was the display in which exhibit-goers were asked to guess the race of an individual by listening to their voice. Lake’s eyes lit up.

“You can’t!” he said, “You really can’t.” And he began to recount a tale.

Lake had been head of a security outfit in Houston. While sitting inside the guard’s kiosk, he became aware of an electrical repairman who Lake could hear but not see.

“This fellah was talking and he had a very thick Texas twang,” Lake said. “But when he stood up, he was oriental, he was Chinese, and he blew me away!” He stopped to laugh. “I never expected that face and that sound put together.”

The same station featured a factual blurb. Many landlords and employers choose not to lease their property to or hire certain individuals based on their ethnicity.

Lake grinned. A second recollection.

Fresh out of high school, he and a few friends were searching for an apartment in Brooklyn. They found a perfect three-bedroom place, he said, and “One of the guys met with the landlord to arrange everything. He came back and said, ‘They won’t rent to us.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Well his name was ‘Matarazzo’, it’s an Italian name. And he says, ‘The guy wouldn’t rent to Italians’.” 

With 75 years of life experience, the New York native said he does not pretend to be a stranger to the temptation to label by race. During 22 years working as a firefighter, Lake had the opportunity to travel all over the city, and work with people of many different ethnic backgrounds. Categorizing these individuals, he said, became an instinctual reaction.

“When you’re bumping your head up against them all the time, you start to, I guess you kind of get to a point where you’re saying, ‘Oh, those people, they’re like that,’” he said.

As Lake grew older and reflected, “From a peaceful place, where I could really think about it,” he said he’s come to truly understand “That it’s true. We all come from the same place.”

“We all came from one woman” added Beverly, and she pointed behind her at a RACE exhibit station. “It says that, it says that right over there.”












Lessons on Interviewing from War Reporter Alex Quade

A freelance war reporter, Alex Quade covers countries at their most dangerous. To tell the stories of war from a soldier’s perspective, she goes where they go, sees what they see. Yet, she says, she is not overwhelmed with fear overseas.

“I was never scared because I’m so focused on my job and getting what I need to: the interviews, the details,” Quade said.

Her focus is solely capturing interviews that grasp at the realities of war today. While talking to a University of Washington communication class, Quade stressed a few key points about interviewing in the center of chaos.

  1. The reporter should carry no preconceived notion of what he or she want or “need” to hear during an interview. No one wants to divulge information to a reporter with a closed, narrow mind. Instead, the journalist should be open to the paths of stories or information the subject may incidentally lead you down.
  2.  Focus on the person. Reporters do not have superpowers. Capturing the perfect video, sound and answers may not be plausible. The most important element is the answers. Establish a relationship, Quade said, a rapport. Viewers at home would rather an interview have depth, emotion and significance, than watch a soldier speak from the perfect angle with the best lighting.
  3. Finally, Quade drilled the fact that reputations of reporters get around.  Inappropriately fitting an individual’s quotes into the storyline you need is only closing doors on yourself in this career.

Integrity and objectivity are essential to a good reporter, no matter if they are interviewing in the United States or Afghanistan.

Conversations Everywhere – We’re Ready to Talk About Race

Let’s examine some recent discussions about race.

The Smithsonian Museum, according to an ABCNews article published this August, was hoping to acquire Treyvon Martin’s hoodie for a race-related exhibit. Although Smithsonian later said they are not currently seeking to add Trayvon Martin’s hoodie to their collection due to the trickiness to obtain it, they recognize its real value—

Not its value due to the stir of media and public caused by the shooting. But the value in the hoodie’s undeniable ability to, now and in the future, spur even more talk than it already has about race.

“We recognize that certain items related to the Trayvon Martin trial could one day have historical value and provide a way to study and discuss race in America,” a spokeswoman for The Smithsonian told Orlando Sentinel reporters. 

Locally, during the last week of September, the Northwest African American Museum provided a space for people to gather to discuss the case. According to The Stranger’s “Slog”, a mixed group of all ages attended the event. Two individuals were in charge of moderating the discussion, but the open dialogue was considered a success.

An article of clothing from a recent event is already considered to have “historical value”— this is new to me.

And an effective, public discussion concerning racism in my city. People want to talk. Whether it’s due to the widespread reach of the chattering media, or the transparent nature of this relatively-new internet— there are conversations happening like never before. Trayvon Martin’s case provides only one example.

Conversations: a powerful tool to aid in the changing of mindsets. Our generation will be known for its ability to shape the opinions of a nation not by force, but by word. 

Questioning human headers – should we label by race

I remember when my father explained to me that my Cousin Jake had been adopted. You’d think, due to Jake’s dark skin tone, I would have questioned the ability of my pale aunt and uncle to produce such a baby. But Jake had always been “Cousin Jake”, his chemistry with his relatives, his sarcastic humor and playful personality made it hard to believe that he could belong to any family but our own.

His “race” wasn’t a factor deterring his ability to fill a role as son and cousin — so what is the importance of race? This is the influence the exhibit had on my perception; I began to question the need for this categorization’s existence.

One station of the Race exhibit surprised me, explaining: if babies are placed with families of a different cultural background — for example, a baby boy is adopted from Africa and brought to the United States — this newborn will construct the cultural framework of this new culture; he will adapt the same ethics, morals, social normalcies of those around him. Again, I question, what is the need to classify him by Race, if this native heredity has become largely foreign to him?

Before visiting the exhibit, I believed discrimination was rapidly diminishing — becoming more a sense of pride within communities than a product of prejudice. But as one station pointed out: the tone of Jake’s voice may roadblock him from procuring opportunities. The strong, deep tremor of his tone will ward off landlords and managers seeking fresh employees; a few words and they often know he is African American by descent and his likelihood for the job could vanish.

Today, so many grow-up surrounded by a society of a different native descent, a culture they come to identify with and call their own. “Race”, now, equates to me as a somewhat prehistoric, dated term.

While the census can deter discrimination by maintaining businesses to a standard of anti-prejudice based on race, it seems to continue to do more harm by impressing the point that separation of race is important. The census is clearly confused, switching between terms to classify and separate. This is a clear indicator: there is no “correct” manner of division. Especially in this era, as cultures continue to mesh—and people, to move.

Why press importance on difference? Why not be considered as one Race. Jake, it is only important to know as you begin to know him, is of one race, similar to yours: homo sapien, human.

But now there are two evils to be fought. How can we hold the world accountable for its discrimination without classifying and counting—but how can we, in good faith, continue this separation?