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Are “racist" kids necessarily raised by “racist” parents? (Part 1 - Children's Media)
Episode 511th March 2024 • The Embrace Race Podcast • EmbraceRace
00:00:00 00:39:19

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(Part 1: A look at what children’s media teaches kids about race)

It’s easy to think that racist behaviors start at home. But the truth is, how a person sees, maneuvers, and behaves in the world is more complicated. On today's episode, hosts Melissa and Andrew speak with Courtney Wong Chin, Senior Director of Research at Nickelodeon’s Noggin, about the role the media plays in shaping the way kids think about and understand race. What do kids learn from media? And how can the adults in their lives guide them to be critical of problematic messages about race and embrace healthy racial attitudes about themselves and about others? Learn more about this episode and find related tools and resources on our website.  

The EmbraceRace Podcast is an extension of the work of EmbraceRace, a community of support for caregivers, parents, educators, and other adults in the lives of kids who strive to be informed, thoughtful and brave about race so that their kids can be too. At EmbraceRace, we create and curate the tools, community spaces, and networks we all need to raise a generation of kids who are resilient, empathetic, critical thinkers on race and who are committed to racial justice.


Melissa Giraud: Hey, Andrew?

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Yeah. Mmhmm?

Melissa Giraud: I have a story for you.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Okay.

Melissa Giraud: A Black mom and her black five-year-old son are on a plane. Okay? They're waiting for it to take off. Her son points to a man and tells her that man looks like daddy. And so she looks at the man and notices. He's black like her son's dad, and he's also the only black man they've seen board the plane.

But he looks nothing like her son's dad. She makes a mental note to talk to him about how, you know, not all Black people look alike, right? But her son continues to track the man with his eyes. And he says something that really shocks her, which is he says, I hope that man doesn't rob the plane. Hmm. Yeah.

And she says, “But you know, Daddy wouldn't rob a plane. Why would you say that about this man?” And her 5-year-old says, “I don't know. I don't know where that came from.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Mmmm.

Melissa: So, Andrew — there’s a myth that if your kid says racist things, then that means they must have racist parents.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I have definitely heard that, Melissa.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, but now I need to tell you that the Black mom in this story is Jennifer Eberhart. And she's told this story publicly a number of times, right? So she's a MacArthur Genius Award winner. She's a preeminent researcher on racial bias at Stanford, and she's super attentive to giving her son healthy racial ideas.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So given who she is, we would not expect her son to be saying that he thinks a Black man is gonna rob a plane.

Melissa Giraud: Correct, but he did. It's fair to ask where might this little boy have absorbed this idea about a Black man robbing a plane, if not from his parents?

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I am rubbing my chin right now, Melissa. Where, indeed?

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Hi, I'm Andrew Grant-Thomas. I’m a Black man, a co-founder of EmbraceRace, with my honey Melissa, and a dad to two kids.

Melissa Giraud: I’m Melissa Giraud, I’m a multiracial woman – Black and white. I’m also co-founder of EmbraceRace and mom to those same two kids.

You're listening to the EmbraceRace Podcast, a show about how to raise kids who are thoughtful, informed and brave about race.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: This season, we are looking at popular misconceptions about race and raising kids. On today’s episode, we’re tackling Myth #5: that kids who express racist ideas necessarily have racist parents or caregivers.

And today, we're gonna counter that myth by talking to Courtney Wong Chin about another place – kids learn about race in the media they watch and consume.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Great to have you, Courtney.

Melissa Giraud: Thanks for being here, Courtney.

Courtney Chin: Thank you so much for having me!

Melissa Giraud: Courtney Wong Chin is Senior Director of Research at Nickelodeon’s interactive learning platform called Noggin.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: At Noggin, Courtney oversees user experience research, content research, and learning impact evaluation. She helped create Big Heart World dot org, which is a resource hub of videos, songs, activities and guidance to help adults support kids’ healthy social and emotional learning – very much including developing healthy attitudes and identities around race.

Melissa Giraud: And Courtney and her colleagues create characters for Big Heart World -- they’re called Big Heart Kids -- that are meant to be authentic portrayals of racially, ethnically, and otherwise diverse kids. And that’s why she’s here! Previously, Courtney served as director of content research and evaluation at Sesame Workshop.

Courtney – can you start by telling us a bit about your personal connection to the work you do?

Courtney Chin: I was a child who grew up watching a lot of TV and without seeing many people who look like me. So, in fact, my brother and I would play a game, like, “Spot the Asian,” where any time we saw an Asian on screen, we'd just call out “Asian!” Like, you'd have to, like, point and go, “Asian!”

And we kind of joked about it, but, you know, we were, we were gamifying our disappointment. We were gamifying our sadness.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: How old were you and your brother when you were doing that?

Courtney Chin: We were young. ‘Cause I remember, I remember doing that while watching like Barney. So early elementary school.

Melissa Giraud: Mmhmm.

Courtney Chin: Maybe I was like 6 or 7.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So it was definitely on your radar.

Courtney Chin: Yeah. ‘Cause I'm Chinese. Most of the Asian folks I saw on screen were just kind of nerdy or awkward or weak or Chinese takeout restaurant workers who were angrily yelling in this toddler level English, or simply in the background with no spoken lines. In contrast, most of the other folks I saw on TV were white and they were strong, beautiful, brave, funny protagonists of the story.

And that shaped how I see and value myself. And this shapes how I felt out of place. And like, I haven't belonged and like, I'm only my worst and most uncomfortable traits or unworthy of having a voice…and unlikely to be that strong, beautiful, brave, like, funny protagonist of my own story.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And Courtney, I'm wondering, you and your brother, right, share this observation and sort of made this game of it. I wonder, did you talk to your parents or sort of older generation aunts, uncles about what you were seeing and, and what that felt like?

Courtney Chin: No, I didn't. We grew up in a very. In other ways emotionally open and, and healthy family. Like it was very important to talk about our emotions and talk about when we were angry and, you know, work through conflict together. But this was something that we kind of just accepted, and really didn't think to, to question it. And it was sort of like, this is just how it is. This is just, like, my lot in life.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that experience.

Courtney Chin: Yeah. I just want to shape media that helps children see and believe that they belong in the world they're entering. And that sense of belonging really sustains us and helps us thrive and it shows us we matter.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, Courtney, when you were growing up, you saw only a few images of Asian Americans on TV. And the ones you saw, those few weren't really representations you grooved with, right, that you identified with. So pulling back from the specifics of your situation, can you tell us what we actually know about whether and how media shapes the way kids think about and understand race?

Courtney Chin: If we look at the, the academic research on how media shapes us, children's understanding children's understanding of race. It is limited. What we do know is that from infancy on, everything kids see and hear helps build their understanding of the world, including people and race.

So I'd like to borrow an analogy that's used in education with curriculum and stories, that stories can be windows or mirrors to educate students about the experiences of others and themselves. And similarly, media can be a window to expand a child's world with someone else's lived experience. And media can also be a mirror to reflect back our own identities, showing us that we belong.

But, you know, we ask ourselves, like, what information has media provided kids through the windows and mirrors? And for me, I ask myself, like, what racial ethnic groups are kids seeing in media? How are they seeing these groups portrayed, and who are they not seeing?

Courtney Chin: So, last year, the Geena Davis Institute released a really comprehensive report on inclusion and representation, and they found the majority of characters in children's programming are white.

Courtney is talking about the:

In the study, when they looked at English-language programming for 2 to 11-year-olds, they found that about 6 in 10 characters were identifiably white - even though the majority of U.S. kids that age are kids of color. On the other hand, programs introduced in the last couple years have had many more characters of color than in previous years.

But that representation was uneven. So, at a time when 26% of U.S. kids are Latine, only 10% of the characters in popular English-only television programming were Latine. Multiracial kids are also super underrepresented, as are disabled kids of color.

So basically... we’ve made good progress, but still have a way to go.

Let’s get back to Courtney.

Courtney Chin: So while there certainly has been an increase in BIPOC characters over the past several years, this suggests that representation of individual BIPOC groups is still quite limited. And when representation is limited in what kids see in the media they consume, we risk reducing people to stereotypes.

So, much of the academic research around race and media effects folks focuses on how BIPOC folks are negatively affected by these stereotypes, the stereotypical portrayals of their groups. So particularly for Black, Latinx, and Native American children.

I – I would say a lot of the studies focus on older children and teens but some for younger as well, really showing that the more they see these stereotypical representations, the lower their self esteem and confidence. And that resonates with me. That's very much how I felt growing up with these mostly stereotypical and very limited Asian representation on TV.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Courtney, I'd like to pick up on something you began to speak to a few minutes ago, which is this idea that representation is about way more than numbers. So when people look at children's media or at any media, really, including media for adults, we tend to think of diversity and representation pretty narrowly, right?

So we talk about how many people of color are there, how many women, how many characters with a visible disability, who are the heroes, the villains, the sidekicks. But in a short essay that you wrote for us just a few months ago, you said something really interesting, which is we need to ask more of the representations that we see, right?

You said we need to aim for cultural specificity. We need to ask whether the characters we see have particular histories, whether they're believable, right? Whether we could imagine them being real. So I wonder if you could say just a little bit more about that in part because, it seems to me that there's real guidance embedded in that about the kinds of stories, the kinds of representations in film, in TV, in media in general, that parents should be looking out for, so we can help our kids see positive reflections of themselves and other people and communities.

Courtney Chin: Right. Yeah. So in certain ways as a researcher. I can appreciate that. When you're telling stories or when you're trying to change minds, numbers are helpful. So we end up reducing things to a checkbox of, okay, how many have, BIPOC characters or, you know, Asian characters or Black characters or native American characters? And it becomes this thing that you just tally, because we need some power in that. But then we lose the, well, how are they represented?

And I think that kids’ media is doing a really great job of having it be beyond an inclusion or represent, like having one of them, one of every color on screen, if I may say that so, so boldly. I think part of what I see them doing really well is having this broader range of representation in terms of race and ethnic groups.

So for example, Asian representation tends to focus on East Asian. So when you hear Asian, there tends to be a focus and a visioning of East Asian culture like Chinese, Japanese, Korean.

But to have something like the host of Blue's Clues is Josh de la Cruz. He's a Filipino American and he's part of this Asian group that's kind of been erased from this East Asian imagery or, or narrative. And there's also like a wide variety of the types of narratives and details that are included.

So, for example, Molly of Denali – great show on PBS about an Alaska Native girl. And there are some entire narratives that are shaped around culture and history, even touching on the Native boarding schools, where children were forcibly removed from their homes and forced into these westernized schools, not allowed to play their instruments, speak their language, all of that.

And like, that show went there and, like, touched on that in a really bold way. But having the breadth of that and having kids who, you know, across shows you can have this mix of like these culturally specific elements and just general \ kid traits that we're mixing it and saying like, “And you can be both.” You can have, you can have the small details of like, “I like using chopsticks to eat dim sum,” and “I can also use chopsticks to eat spaghetti if I want to, or hot dogs, or dare I try pizza?” That's a little bit too daring. That's, that would be a little bit too crazy. But,

Melissa Giraud: [laughs]

Courtney Chin: But I think you get what I'm saying. Like when we're, um, going really, really deep and saying these are the values of my family, of my culture. These are the things that really make my story unique from the stories that I've seen. But there is beauty to also mixing with…for me, I'm Chinese American.

I know not everyone is American in this country, but for me, it was really important to be like, okay, I'm Chinese American. I can do both. Like, please don't question me when I'm eating with chopsticks. Please don't question me when I'm eating with a fork. And I love seeing that in our shows as well.

So for, like, for Noggin, we have these characters called the Big Heart Kids, and they are characters who are featured in all of our social and emotional learning content. And initially we actually had much, like, thinner profiles for them where, you know, the characters, race or ethnicity, their age, and like some of their hobbies.

But we went back and realized like, hey, this is, this is worth investing in a full profile to architect why would we make the decisions around Catherine that we would make, so?

Melissa Giraud: Catherine -- one of your Big Heart Kids, right?

Courtney Chin: Right. We just knew that she was Chinese initially. We didn't know anything else about her background. So we went, um, back to architect these full profiles to say like, okay, Catherine, her family's from Hong Kong. So that means she's going to speak Cantonese. She's not going to speak Mandarin, which I love because at home I speak very, very little Cantonese, but I speak some Cantonese, and I identify with that far more than Mandarin. But Mandarin's the primary Chinese language that people know and will quote. And if I tell people I'm Chinese, they will say things to me in Mandarin, um, whether or not they themselves are in fact Chinese.

Courtney Chin: So for me, like, it made me feel really seen. And we, and we said, okay, well, what about her family? Like, well, okay, her grandparents, they came here from Hong Kong. She lives in San Francisco now. And so they're actually still around. They came when her parents were younger. So, we have this whole familial connection and you have, we have a sense of how much Cantonese is she going to speak?

And that depends generationally. And it takes the time and intention to say, “Hey, it's worth actually figuring this out so that we can make really intentional choices and not just check boxes of things that you Google that Chinese people may or may not do.” So that's the work that I'm really proud of for being at Noggin.

I'm really proud of, of finding Chinese families to sit down with and like, say like, here is Catherine and her family. Here are all the things that she does. And Catherine is this mix of loving hot pot dinners with her mom and dad and aunt and grandparents. And she also just really loves to dance and play football and be crazy and to counter these sort of weak stereotypes around Asian women. She also very specifically loves standing up for her friends. So if she's on the playground and someone's picking on one of her friends, she will stand up for them. A little, little baby Courtney energy in there.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah. I love it.

Melissa Giraud: Courtney, I wanna pull back for a minute. You know, you're clearly motivated to put characters on the screen that represent kids who haven't seen themselves validated that way before. You know, so they see themselves, so kids, unlike them, see them as well. Um, and it's clear that there are pockets of people working on this outside of Noggin, too, and you've named some of those shows. Uh, you also said that children's media in general is doing a good job at better representation.

Um, but I'm wondering how that squares with, you know, recent studies like the Geena Davis Institute study you referred to that, you know, when you get into the details, paint a bit of a different picture – one where some groups really are still severely underrepresented racially in media, in children's media and where there are still, you know, according to parents surveyed, problematic representations of people of color. So I'm wondering how you square those two things – the improvement and, you know, the persistent problems.

Courtney Chin: I mean, across content, like way beyond children's content, we're paying attention, paying a lot more attention to race, to BIPOC creators. And once you have folks who are on staff and creating the content and being able to really speak to their own experience, there is more of that, a boom, and I would say the authenticity of the content and the heart to really wanting to get breadth and depth onto these stories and just having more of it. What children's media is doing well is like the different ways that we are approaching this.

So for example, having explicit description and celebration of differences and similarities in ways that may not have been before, like when I was a kid, if there was an Asian kid on screen like we're not talking about the, the major differences between Asian kids and white kids. But, for example, Sesame Street, there's episodes calling out skin color, talking specifically about melanin. What is melanin? Well, if you have more of it, your skin is darker. Comparing skin tones and in a way that is much more expl – explicitly saying it's okay to talk about the things that make us the same and different.

We are not blind to these differences. We see and celebrate them. So the quality of how we are representing and exploring these similarities and differences, I would say that's where I'm seeing that sort of that win. Also BIPOC folks in very positive and counter-stereotypical roles. So for example, on Noggin we have a show called Noggin Knows.

And our host is Emmanuel Carter, and he's a Black man. And as a host, he's sort of playing the teacher role in a preschool classroom. So how powerful and unfortunately uncommon it is to see a Black man in this classroom setting, leading young children and that space to have such an incredible role model.

And then what we had sort of di – discussed before about the depth of the types of narratives and the little details when, and that could be having a word or two in another language. That could be taking off my shoes before I enter the house like, like many Asian households might do, or it could be in the kind of, like, decor that you have.

So for Catherine, she, her family's Buddhist, so you might find a Buddhist statue near water and with some flowers around it in her home, or a rice cooker in the kitchen. So there are those types of things that there is also power in just having a lot of those and not needing to explain them.

Melissa Giraud: Right, so who's it for?

Courtney Chin: Right. Exactly. Exactly. And that's a mirror moment for a child, right, where it's okay if it goes over another kid's head. But I love that a child can sit there and say, [gasps] “Oh, that's, that’s my home.”

Melissa Giraud: I love that. Mmm hmm. It's important.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So how do you think about how much television specifically, but media in general your son should be exposed to? I'm thinking about, your having said that you watch a lot of television as a little girl. But you also joined the business because clearly you thought it could do some good work, right? So maybe there, you know, we should be distinguishing between television that's more helpful or less helpful. At any rate, how do you think about that?

Courtney Chin: So, while of course I believe in the health benefits of not looking at a screen 24/7, I do like to think of it more on what you're mentioning for the latter. The, the quality and the breadth of content that they engage with the amount. And I do that primarily because I don't want to shame parents.

I think that screen time can be really beneficial. And I think that there are really valid reasons why parents will give their children more, more screen time. For me, it's a way to make sure my son is sitting safely while I cook dinner. Or my husband might do that while he's cooking dinner if, you know, only one of us is home with him.

And, and we see that as really, a really safe way for him to spend his time and watching quality programming. The things that, like, I ask myself are, “Can I watch with my child, and can I talk to him about it during or after?” So for example, like Daniel Tiger. Daniel Tiger is very big in our household.

And it is a great one because Even if I'm not watching every second with him, there's so much that I hear. They have these really great jingles,of different phrases that help with various transitions or things like “It's almost time to go, so choose one more thing to do.” And I'm like, this works!

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Nice voice, Courtney!

Courtney Chin: Thank you! [laughs] When we, when bath time or anything is over, I know to use that jingle. And I just start the first half of it and my son immediately holds up one finger. And he's like, one thing. And I'm like, that's right. You pick one thing and then we got to get out of the bathtub.

So I use that as an example because we know there's so much more that children can learn when. Adults in their lives can extend the learning off of the screen. So if it's something that like, frankly isn't like annoying for me to hear over and over, over and over again, and it's fun and it's, it's helping us grow together as a family, that's one of the main things that I look for as quality content.

I also ask myself, like, does this content model behavior or attitudes that I want my child to have? Does my child see himself? Like, is this a mirror for him or does he see those who are different? Is this a window for him? Because I want him to have both? And how are they being portrayed? Is it positively, is it negatively?

And if it's negatively, is it something that we can, we can talk about it? My son is two, so there's not a whole lot of conversing that, meaningful conversing that we're doing other than using these, these great little ditties to help my child transition. But that's how I see that, like extending into older children as well.

Other ways that I think about this are, like, are we watching content that's made by creators with color? As I mentioned earlier, just knowing there's a whole different lived experience, I know that we have a lens when we create, so I want my child to be exposed to various lenses.

Um, the other thing is a variety of content. Like I know that no single video or series will have everything. He will have things that look super, super educational and maybe it's all animated characters, so there really isn't any reference to, like, a humanoid skin color or, or hair or, or anything like that. But, well, he'll watch a mix of that and live action as well, ‘cause I want him to see real people and real animals and nature and. I think that the variety is key.

And I am thinking, you know, a little bit more on the younger end, 'cause that's my specialty within preschool and that's how old my child is. But I think that as your child gets so bigger and you can have some of these conversations around, like, what are you seeing? Are you seeing yourself? Like who are you seeing there? And like how do you think they're portrayed? I want content that can help create those conversation moments as well.

Melissa Giraud: So your child is two…

Courtney Chin: Mmmhmm.

Melissa Giraud: And you're paying attention to everything that he's taking in. Certainly he's got the right parent to be looking over children's media and, and knowing what to pick there being very aware of the…

Andrew Grant-Thomas: No pressure, Melissa. It's like you'll, be a perfect child.

Melissa Giraud: [laughs] No pressure. But Courtney, I think that parents with slightly older kids than two through, you know, through high school…

Courtney Chin: Yes.

Melissa Giraud: …might think about this a little bit differently, right? We think a lot about how we can prepare our kids for the world, as opposed to protecting them from it. And when they're really little, we get to choose a lot of their media, right? And so we get to kind of stack the deck so that they're getting those windows, they’re getting those mirrors, right? And they're learning a lot. And they feel empowered culturally and in other ways, right? As they get older, you know, there's a lot that creeps in that, sometimes all of it that we don't have control over.

And so we really need to give them the tools again, to look at media and its messages critically. And I'm wondering about how you think about doing this as your child gets older?

Courtney Chin: Yeah. Yeah, it's like how do we build this, this critical media literacy in, in kids? And you know, to me that means really. How do I encourage Anthem to, like, ask questions in a way that helps him understand that what he's seeing is a slice of someone's perspective? Uh, and I want him to be able to recognize that, like, what he sees on screen is not necessarily a hundred percent reality, and I want him to feel empowered to like really filter the rest of what he's watching or doing with an appropriate lens, or decide to turn it off or stop reading or watching or whatever.

In broad strokes, like thinking about this for older kids, I think about how do I encourage them to ask questions like, who is making this? Like who is making this thing that I'm watching or reading? Like is it adults? Is it kids? Are they adults or kids who look like me or are they different from me in some way? And then like, why did they make it? So were they being silly? Were they being serious? Were they trying to, like, persuade me to do something or to believe something? And then the question of who is being represented and who is not being represented, and who is being not represented well?

And then how might someone of a different background react to watching this or playing this content? 'Cause with media, also just like a different experience once you talk about video games and just like how stronger those connections can be when you're interacting and like immersed in a world. Those are the kinds of questions that I would want to encourage my older child to ask and to engage with and to really step back and to be able to make decisions for himself about what he wants to take from this rather than kind of passively just receiving everything as truth.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, you know, so often in our work, certainly, right, as EmbraceRace, working with caregivers and caregivers to children of all ages, right we certainly talk about the need to ideally build a scaffolding that you start with early, you start building early, right, so that each step ideally builds on work that you've done before.

Courtney Chin: Yeah.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And I wonder if and this is an absolutely genuine question, I wonder if with Anthem, the kind of, you know, maybe literacy and the kind of, you know, you refer to questions you would ask when he's older.

Courtney Chin: Mmmhmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: …but would you say that there are ways in which you have begun that already, that you're setting the stage for those questions? And what does that look like if the answer is yes?

Courtney Chin: Yes. Yes, that's a great question. And that is my specialty, even outside of my son really focusing in on, on preschoolers.

So there are these foundational skills leveling up to those deeper questions that I just mentioned. And they really are about pausing to ask, like, what do I notice? Who are the characters? Are any of them like me? How are they like me? How are they different from me? Like, do I wanna be friends with them?

Why or why not? Those are sort of the, the simpler ways, still quite a little bit above my two year old’s, but definitely in, in the preschool realm of questions, because it's really about encouraging them to notice and talk about, again, these similarities and differences. Those are the developmentally appropriate building blocks to discussing race. And that's part of actually what we outline in our Discussing Race With Young Children Guide. We used various pictures of different scenes and even real photos of families to use question prompts and ask them like, what are you noticing?

Like maybe they're, these two kids are, are playing over here and, and one has, like, these really beautiful braids and like, do you, what do you think, what do you notice that's the same or different about them and like, can they still be friends? Oh yeah, they're friends. They're playing together and so, so there are ways that in the same way we have these picture prompt, these questions that go along with picture prompts, but you can very much do that with media as well.

I would say the difference with younger kids is like, there's a lot of power in being able to do it, like, in like right after they watch or like in, in the moment if you can sort of engage. 'Cause sometimes my son does just kind of wanna hang out and like have it on the screen. And he loves it when I'm engaged with him watching.

So sometimes he actually really loves kind of pausing and like, and like, showing me and we're like, oh, what's the same, what's different when we'll run up to the screen and, and point to it. So I definitely want to normalize that. And for parents of young kids, I think, really, we're not assigning a negative value to anything. We can really just notice and say like, that's beautiful, or that's just what that is. They're, here are all the ways these two kids are different. Here are all the ways they same and they're playing together, period.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, you know, I love that. And I also love, um, what you said about this was created. You know, I love the idea also when we, when our kids were pretty young, we, they were allowed to use iPads to make things, to make movies as opposed to watching. And I think just that idea, there's so much potential in, you know, fan fiction or in creating your own stuff that stars you, you know, um, to think about how story is made, how it's created, what's the purpose, what do you want from your audience, you know, what are the different things that can be manipulated. I mean, those lessons can be taught in different ways pretty early.

Courtney Chin: Yeah.

Melissa Giraud: And it's exciting. I love all this advice.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: I think, too, that we, you know, shouldn't understate the importance of just modeling, right? Just modeling, asking questions.

Courtney Chin: Yeah. Mmhmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: You know, we start, those of us who are parents who have been in the lives of small children, we know that we start engaging them and talking with them as soon as they're out of the womb, literally before they're, right, while they're still in the womb, knowing that they're not literally understanding what we're saying, and still we do that, right?

So, you know, the kind of questions that you describe asking of preschoolers, it seems to me, would be really great to ask with your two year old and one year old, not because he understands yet exactly what you mean, but you're modeling, right, asking questions, not only of him, but of the text, the book, the pictures, the movie, whatever. And he, that will become a normal part of interacting with any of these media as he grows up. That's lovely.

Melissa Giraud: Mmhmm.

Courtney Chin: Yeah, exactly. And there's so much you can even ask about, like, even getting at empathy, which I love being able to do like from that sort of practice of saying, like, look at how they're feeling. Like, like, like look at what they're doing. Where are we? Like we're in a doctor's office. What does their face look like?

What do you think they're feeling? And even that is a building block to start noticing and really, like, wanting to help and wanting to comfort. And like my 2-year-old is doing that before he could talk, he would notice when we are sad or like when we were, like, yelling or shouting and he would like come over and just kind of hug and like now he just says, “Big hug.”

And he comes and he comes over. And to your point, it's like the ways that we, we train, you can train them to notice and you can train them to just respond in really empathic ways. And or I hate using the word train. He's not a dog. But you know what it is? It is the modeling. And he's excited to, to do the things that we do and say the things that we say.

Melissa Giraud: Mmmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Well, he sounds like a lovely little boy.

Courtney Chin: Oh, thank you. He is.

Melissa Giraud: Courtney, thank you so much. This has been a fantastic conversation.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: This has been awesome.

Melissa Giraud: Yeah, we're so appreciative.

Courtney Chin: Oh, this was so fun. All of the self reflection as I even just prepared for this chat, it was very humbling to think about like, oh, why do I do this work and, and what does keep me going? So thank you for posing thoughtful questions that gave me space to really think about my purpose and just be grateful for where I am.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Courtney Wong Chin is Senior Director of Research at Nickelodeon’s interactive learning platform, Noggin. Learn more about Courtney and her work in our show notes.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Melissa, a lot of people really do think that kids who spout at least arguably racist ideas must have learned those ideas from their parents. It’s just not true. Right?

Melissa Giraud: It’s just not true!

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So, for sure, as a rule parents play a huge role, we talk about that all the time…

Melissa Giraud: Mmhmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: …in shaping how their kids think about race. But parents’ influence, in that respect is often really indirect and they’re certainly far from kids’ only source of information about race.

Melissa Giraud: Yep. And, you know, as we’ve been talking with Courney about, media is ONE important source of racial messaging for kids. And really, the often subtle messages kids take in about race from the media may help explain why parents like Jennfer Eberhardt, whose story we shared at the top of the show, can be surprised by the stuff that comes out of their kids’ mouths.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Absolutely. You know, I appreciated hearing about Courtney’s experience looking for Asian Americans on television as a kid, but now helping to change those representations as an adult. Things have definitely gotten better since we were kids, and since Courtney was a kid.

But, you know, I'm wondering if our listeners may not be experiencing a little disconnect.

Melissa Giraud: Mmhmm.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Because on one hand, yes, these, um, representations, diverse representations are much better now, but their experience as parents looking for really diverse characters in children's media – you know, ones that aren't animals that aren't trained – can be really frustrating. Uh, and certainly we've had that experience.

re published more recently in:

Andrew Grant-Thomas: So that's a really big important point, right? So I'm thinking about when we go to the kids section, our local public library, and you look at those books, and a lot of those books came out when publishers were paying way less attention to diversity than they do now. So no question, we need to keep banging that diversity drum.

And we need to keep pushing to diversify the creative teams that produce kids’ content. So that's another really key front. It's not just about having more people of color writing the show scripts and getting behind the camera. We need more Black and brown and multiracial, and Asian American and Native people who themselves have a wide range of backgrounds, right?

Because we need people who can tell a wide range of realistic stories about Black people, you know, about Latine people, about indigenous peoples. That is the only way that eventually all our kids will have a chance to see something of themselves in the books they read, on the television screens that they're watching.

Melissa Giraud: Unless we also encourage and support kids to create their own media, right, and their own drawings and their own fan fiction. I think fanfiction is just, creating your own, is a great strategy for helping kids tell other stories from different points of view, right? You might ask, how would the story be different if you were Hermione, you know, or if your brother was Hermione? That helps them understand that. You know, all stories are created. They're constructed by the person or people telling them. And always, when watching media with our kids or reading books, we have to ask them lots of questions as they're consuming it. Uh, we have lots of resources about this at embrace race dot org to help you have these conversations.


Andrew Grant-Thomas: Indeed we do, Melissa. And there's a lot more to be said. And in fact, people, our next episode is one where we're gonna talk about how and what kids learn about race from the social structures they see around them. So what do we mean by social structures? Check out the next episode to find out. For links and resources related to today's show from EmbraceRace and elsewhere, you can check out our show notes.




Andrew Grant-Thomas: The EmbraceRace podcast is hosted by me, Andrew Grant-Thomas.

Melissa Giraud: And by me, Melissa Giraud. Our senior producer is John Asante. Our editor is Megan Tan.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Our engineer and sound designer is Enrico Benjamin. And our consulting producer is Graham Griffith.

Melissa Giraud: Special thanks to Team EmbraceRace – Robin Deutsch Edwards, Andrea Huang, Tamara Montes de Oca, Christina Rucinski, and Maryam Zahid.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Mad love and respect to our people. And a big shout out to our two kids who helped inspire this work, and to the entire EmbraceRace community.

Melissa Giraud: Subscribe, rate, and review our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcatcher. That really helps us.

Andrew Grant-Thomas: And for more resources related to today’s show and other topics about race and kids, please do visit us at embrace dot org.

Melissa Giraud: Thanks for listening!

Andrew Grant-Thomas: Thank you!



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