Approaching Awareness of Bias in the Elementary Classroom

“Unconscious bias” has become a heightened and sensitive term in recent years through the movements of #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #NoBanNoWall to name a few.  Many companies and institutions, education not excluded, have undergone and provided extensive training to help their employees unearth various levels and areas of bias that reside within each of us.  As we have become increasingly aware of the ways in which we view the world from a prejudiced stance, we are often left to wonder what impact this is having on our youth.  Are they old enough to be aware?  Are the subconsciously inheriting our biases by being connected to us?  Have they already started developing biases of their own through popular culture and the social circles in which they belong?

It’s difficult to truly know and negotiate the answers to these questions.  If you were to ask them, they’d likely say, “No.”  After all, these are unconscious biases.  At a more humane level, even if we do know bias exists within us, we don’t want to admit it to others.  Children are no different.  Yet, knowing the subtle and subconscious messages voiced through the media and relationships in every facet of our lives, we would be irresponsible to ignore this deeply rooted truth or pass it along as irrelevant to our youth.  While are children may not be aware, WE ARE!  And if prejudice is to be eradicated it must first start with awareness that moves into to action.

As this project works to raise that awareness in communities and ignite ways in which each child can take action to rectify a prejudice mentality, the texts Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! serve as a perfect conduit into the conversation.  Written by Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane Evans, a Kansas City resident, these texts serve as an age-appropriate and important entry point for students to begin thinking about slurs, stereotypes, and casual comments made that play into the perpetuation of African American and mixed race children as other.

Each story is told from the vantage point of a youth representing said racial demographic, and the words and actions imposed on them daily due to the color of their skin.  As you read, it easy to identify places in which you, too, have likely made racially inappropriate or insensitive comments that for too long have been accepted as the “norm” or a funny joke punchline.  We can all learn important lessons from Taye’s words in knowing how to enter the world with more empathy and a broader understanding of the ways in which we should celebrate humanity.

The links below will take you to an interview with him on the Today Show talking about the writing of Mixed Me and read alouds of each text (click on the book covers to be taken to the site).


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