Guiding Question: Who is Present? Who is Missing?

An opportunity to:

  • think about difference and sameness as it relates to our own experiences and environments
  • develop a dialogue about whom we see in our daily lives and who we don’t
  • take time to notice what has become automatic in our lives and how that shapes what may seem “normal” 
  • analyze our own “normal” as it relates to space, place, media, entertainment, and news

When Segregation Becomes “Normal”, It Hurts Us All

St. Louis is one of the most residentially segregated cities in the US. Most St. Louisians know about “the Delmar Divide,” shorthand for the segregated reality of our city. (Residents south of Delmar are 73% White, while residents north of Delmar are 98% black.) This kind of residential segregation has been caused and maintained by more than 100 years of intentional, deliberate housing and financial policies. Yet the truth is that Americans all over the country (even in more integrated cities) experience a daily multi-faceted segregation of their friends, news, media, and commercial and public spaces. These divisions and distinctions drive White and Black Americans in particular to have radically different experiences and realities, and these different experiences often lead to very different understandings and perspectives. This explains why public opinion is so divided after events such as Ferguson.

The insidious thing about segregation is that it’s self-perpetuating. The more segregated we are, the more segregated we tend to stay. Patterned and habitual behavior reinforces separations amongst us, compounding the residual impact of historical racist policies and practices. Yes, where you choose to buy a house matters, but so does where you choose to shop, dine, travel, and explore, as do the media that you hear, see, and share, and the people who are part of your daily life. We are not focusing on segregation in order to highlight individual choices that are better or worse than others. Even folks who live in relatively diverse neighborhoods can have a surprisingly segregated existence supported by decisions and patterns both big and small. We instead want to highlight how we are ALL limited and constrained by the forces of historical and systemic segregation. When we recognize the impact of those constraints we then have the choice to push against what has become automatic and reconsider what’s available for all.

Inquiring Together About Our World and Experiences

Consider the complexion of your books (children’s and adult’s), media, entertainment, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community leaders, political representatives, fellow shoppers at the grocery store, etc. Try to push on some monolithic representations or stereotypes by presenting diverse representations of common characters: The recent Annie movie featuring a young Black Annie, Black princess stories by Rachel Isadora, (and if you celebrate) consider introducing Black Santa or the Black nativity.

Also, talk with your children on the sameness or diversity you see. “Did you notice that when we are at this playground we see lots of people who look different from each other and from you?” “I just noticed that all the teachers at your school are women. There isn’t one man.” “It looks like most of the books that we read all have characters that look like you. I want to make sure you learn about everyone who lives in our world.”

Questions To Consider For Yourself:

  • Who fills your spaces and places? 
  • When you think about your neighborhood, workplace, school settings, community spaces, frequent stories and shopping experiences, what do they look like? Feel like? 
  • How does the complexion of these places reflect the complexion of your friends and community as well as your online social network? (White Americans tend to have social networks that are 91% white.
  • How does what you see and what you experience differ from what your children see and experience? 

Questions to Consider Together with Your Children:

  • Who do we see in our neighborhoods and schools? Who is missing from our neighborhoods and schools? Why?
  • What patterns of the past do we still see today? (Even after rules and laws have changed.)
  • What happens when we live in spaces where not everyone is present or welcome?
  • What experiences do we as a family or as individuals of being in the minority? How does it feel?
  • How do we know that we are welcome in spaces? How do we show others that they are welcome?

"Stories About Neighborhoods" Stories

“Around Our Way on Neighbors Day”

by Tameka Fryer Brown

“Something Beautiful” 

by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

“Last Stop on Market Street”

by Matt de la Pena

“Tar Beach”

by Faith Ringgold

Click here for the complete printable and downloadable list of "Going Deeper" book bundles