In this episode, Risha discusses speaking to kids about race with Mikeale Campbel, an educator in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
All of this and more in this episode of Risha Talks.
As the world grapples with protests around racism and social justice reform, parents are trying to understand how to talk to their kids about all the -isms and phobias– racism, sexism, classism, ageism, or homophobia and xenophobia. Join us as we have a conversation on what you can say to your kids.
So I have Mikeale here with me today. Mikeale, please introduce yourself to our audience.
My name is Michael Campbell. I’m a Tulsa native. Grew up, and born and raised here in Tulsa– the traditional North Tulsa schools. I went to Burroughs for elementary school, Carver for middle school, Booker T. for high school, and then the University of Tulsa for undergrad. So I’m a Tulsa native, and excited to be here.
Awesome. So let’s get to it. OK, we both work in DNI, and we know how difficult it is to help parents understand racism, sexism, classism, ageism. And then we have the phobias like homophobia and xenophobia. If it’s that difficult to help the parents understand it, how is it that we’re going to help kids to understand it?
Yeah, it’s complicated. I think for me, I get a passion from knowing that the benefit of kids– or students, as I like to think of all of them– is that they’ve had less years here being socialized. And a lot of the same ideas that for adults, we’ve just known to be true for years. So students don’t struggle the same way when introduced with concepts, because they don’t have 50 years telling them the opposite information of what we’re trying to share with them.
So I think that’s a place where, for me, like, why a passion for students and for kids, because they really are wanting to learn about the world. And at that stage where they’re so formative, it’s important that we are exposing them to multiple perspectives that may or may not align with their personal experience.
Right, so that kind of brings me to the next question. If the parents don’t value it– they don’t value diversity and inclusion– how do you talk to those children, because they’re going home and they’re hearing all kinds of things. Those things may be hateful. They just– it could be something– it could be biased, whatever it is. So how do you get to those kids, knowing that they’re hearing something totally different?
Yeah, that’s a real thing. I can name dozens of students where often that’s their experience. And I, personally, really center on the four walls of a classroom, or the four walls of the school building. [INAUDIBLE] of safety in the world is something that’s hard to control. But I can say that in these four walls, the way we will treat each other, the same way you opt-in when you go to work, the same way you opt-in when you join any community, is that we have a different level of expectation when you’re in this space.
And so, particularly for students, that is the place where we come from. It’s this idea that while we are here, we will treat everyone with this level of respect. We will lean in to these things that we believe are true, which is that all people, regardless of their differences can coincide and work together. And we make that as an expectation for in these walls.
And so knowing that they’re going to go back and experience different things at home, is the world that we all experience. Work is different than home and different than school. But we really focus on the importance of now, and in the moment, and the people we’re doing the work with today.
Well, that sounds great for the kids that you are working with, and that people in your school are working with. But I’ve done training at the middle school level, DNI training– diversity and inclusion, for our viewers. I’ve done emergency training at the high school level. I’ve been at the middle school level, and even junior high. And so people tell me a lot that they’re excited for our kids, because their kids are doing so much better than the previous generations. And it’s just not true. Because when you go in the schools, and you hear the level of the things that they’re experiencing, how is it that parents can begin to have these conversations with their kids at home?
Yeah, so I think it’s a twofold issue, at least what I typically tell people. Like, what should we do? Well, one is, as a parent, you should be learning yourself. I, as a cisgender Black man, I still have learnings to do that I will continue to do, that I’ll need to do, in order to actually talk to my child about things that I’ve personally not experienced. So it’s valuing your learning as a first piece.
The second is finding helpful resources that support that, because no one is the holder of all knowledge. And so a great tool that I often ask parents to utilize, there’s a resource called Teaching Tolerance, at tolerance.org. And it has everything from pre-K three-year-olds– what should these conversations about difference be– to graduate level in college, like, how these conversations can be productive. So I like that resource because I think it helps parents and families, just regardless of what age range they’re working with, have a framework to be able to talk to kids with.
Well, do you think there is such thing as talking to kids too young about -isms and phobias? Do you think we need to start later or earlier?
Yeah, I think if it comes to using the terms, like the -isms and the phobias, I think there is an age where that becomes appropriate. Talking about our difference, and talking about how people judge based off difference, that starts at three or four. Kids notice, and are aware of race, at a very young age. So I think that’s the places.
I may not be able to explain to a child using the academic language of institutional and internalized racism, but I can talk to a student about how Black people have had a different experience. And that starts at a very young age. So I think that’s where some discretion often comes at, is we can talk about the content, and we can be real with our kids, and you can make sure that you are using appropriate language when you do that.
So one question I have is, I hear you talk about the schools. One of the biggest issues in the school regarding race is use of the n-word. Do you have any thoughts about that, because teachers tell me they hear it in the halls all day. They really don’t know how to deal with it. And kids– when I’ve talked to kids, some kids feel like it’s a term of endearment. Other kids see it as something that is hurtful and harmful. But what should we be doing in schools to curb the use of that word, or to deal with the students who are using it?
Yeah. Well, there’s no straight answer. A strategy that I have used– and this is as someone who– I taught third grade and I’ve taught juniors and seniors in high school. And I had a thing that I used that was called a dead word wall. And it was a picture of a little tombstone. And on that little tombstone, I put words that we are not going to use, regardless of who you are.
When you get to third grade, that word was on there. Because as a third grader, I was like, it is a lot to process the meaning behind how you’re using it and why you’re using it, and are you just modeling behavior you see. That’s not a discussion. When I taught 17- and 18-year-olds, it’s a conversation. And what we also focus on is the safety of the room. So if people in this room don’t want us using it, and there’s a reason for that, then our orientation should be, how are we making sure that the environment that everyone is participating in is safe for all of us? And knowing that in my personal free time, that’s something that folks can choose how they do.
Well, how do you think the school should handle it though? If they’re at odds, do I suspend the kid? What are your thoughts about that?
I think we have to balance very clear language around what is acceptable or not. So if you’re in an elementary school, that’s a word that shouldn’t be used. It should be a word in which, I don’t know if it’s a punitive consequence that it happens after it, but there’s definitely an understanding that that’s not something we do, and not something that will be tolerated on our campus.
And I think that goes for the middle school cliques too. I think that as kids get older, it becomes more nuanced. It becomes a school choice. Maybe a great choice. And I think that’s where– those things can only happen if it’s pre-done by a conversation with students. There’s an understanding of why. But I’d very much lean on, if we don’t have the capacity to have that conversation, then we shouldn’t allow behaviors that could be taken out of context to happen in classrooms.
Right. So thank you for that. I know I kind of threw that it at you, but I know it’s something that schools are grappling with, trying to understand and figure out the best way to handle it. But obviously, all parents aren’t on board with DNI in the classroom curriculum. So how are educators handling that?
Yeah. I’ve seen a wide range of how educators have handled this. So I think of an example that was happening in Tulsa last year, where a school chose that they were going to spend a week, and they were going to teach about LGBTQ heroes throughout history. So what they’re doing is teaching about Americans who lived here, and their history, and they happen to be queer individuals.
And that was met with a lot of response from some community members and families that said, hey, I don’t know if I want my kid having this discussion, or think that school is the place for this. I think in those situations, schools have been said things like, well students can opt in or opt out of a conversation. I’ve seen that being offered, where parents can sign something saying I don’t wish my child to take part in this conversation, unless they do some other type of work during that conversation. So I’ve seen that.
I’ve also seen schools that very much take a stand on it, and say, like, our job is to educate students in an accurate depiction of history. And for too long, unfortunately, our accurate depictions haven’t actually been accurate of all people that are Americans.
So what they are doing is holding on to the fact that they are doing their job, which is educating students about what is happening in our nation’s past, in order to support them to be the productive citizens that we want all kids to grow up to be. But I think that’s a big choice point. And then depending on the pushback your campus gets, and the leader behind that, determines a lot about how people operate.
Exactly, because is it fair that they get to opt out of that. Because for so many kids– especially Black kids and people of color– we haven’t been able to opt out of how we’ve been taught history. And to your point, it has not been taught correctly, I mean, forever. So given a choice to opt out of it seems like a cop out.
Yeah, and I think that’s the place where that’s a real thing. My belief is that should not be a thing, where people have that choice. It happened. I’m just explaining what happened. What’d you say?
I said, you’re like, it’s not me. I’m just telling you what happened.
It’s not a choice I would make. And I think that’s also the trickiness. If you want parents involved in a school, you want parents to be there and support the choices you make, then you often give parents choices. And I think that as schools grow, and there’s more of these conversations happening– in 2020, there is a lot more that happened than there was in 2016, just here in Tulsa.
So it’s even the idea that as we have more of these, and they’re more normalized, maybe that’s an option that we don’t offer. The same way that it would be incomprehensible to say well, my kid doesn’t have to come to school in all of February because they’re going to teach Black History Month. We wouldn’t–
I’m just thinking, opting out of reading literature with the n-word in it. Can I opt out of learning about slavery, because the whole story is not told. I see so many issues with that. I won’t get on my soapbox, so I’ll move on.
I’ll be up there with you.
OK, cool. I won’t be by myself. So we’ve had a lot of discussion. What is it that you think that people can take away from this discussion, that’s going to be most important for them?
I think the one thing is, what is our role, often, as parents? Or what is our role as educators? And it is, oftentimes, to protect and steward that student, or that kid, along through their life, until they’re at the place in which they are beginning to make a lot of choices by themselves.
And I believe that the only way to actually do that is to expose our children to the realities of all people. And I don’t think that that should be confrontational, or something that is tentious between people. So if I say, what should people focus on– it’s the idea that there is nothing wrong with being exposed to multiple experiences that people are having. And if that is something that folks struggle with, I think that’s a helpful place for you to reflect on, what is the fear behind my kid learning about someone different than them?
Right, Because shouldn’t that be normal? When you look at the world, you look at how diverse the world is, we know it’s going to be minority-majority by 2042. At least that’s the prediction. So for people to still be thinking that I don’t want my kid proximate to kids that are different seems way off-base.
Yeah, and I think off-base and un-American. We are– at least we claim to be– a society that really focuses and prides ourselves on multiple people living together. And you can’t live with folks you don’t know about. And you can’t learn about people if you’re not around them. So you have start somewhere.
Right. And it continues to perpetuate all the -isms and phobias, because we don’t know each other at all. We’re living in silos.
So Mikeale, this has been great. Can you please tell people where they can find you, where they can connect with you, learn more about your work.
Feel free to follow me on any social media account. So I go under Mr. Mikeale. That’s on Instagram and Twitter. And then if anyone wanted to reach out with questions or anything like that, they can reach me at my email. So firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll send that to you also, and that can be shared with your viewers.
Thank you. And it’s so great to be able to talk to a Black male teacher. You guys are rare.
We’re a rarity.
Well, thanks for the work that you’re doing. Really appreciate it.
Thank you. And thank you for the work that you all do in elevating the stories of so many. It is a true appreciation.
You’re so welcome.
I hope that you heard a lot of great information and tips for how to talk to your kids about all the -isms and phobias. Also, consider your own friendship base. Is it diverse? Do you consume diverse media? Because whatever you do, your kids will follow suit. This is Risha Grant, with 2 Works for You.