Title: I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla (ISBN 0375705899)
Author: Marguerite A. Wright, EdD.
Publication Year: 2000
Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
There are some books that cause you to re-evaluate everything you have ever been taught. For me, there are a relative few. There are books that cause me to think and others that cause me to ponder, but there are few that really make me re-evaluate how everything I have ever been taught. “I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla” definitely classifies as one of those few books. Written by a Black educational psychologist and consultant, this book challenges our society’s view of how children learn about skin color and race. In writing this book, she seeks to offer guidance to parents, teachers, and anyone who interacts with young children on her insights based on clinical and anecdotal research.
The book boils down to three main concepts:
- Unlike what is commonly assumed, children have a very different view of skin color and race than adults.
- Unlike what has been reported in textbooks and popular media, Black children have an overall positive appraisal of their race.
- Children learn about race in stages and in conjunction with their parent’s behaviors, the media, and the community around them
Using these three concepts, Wright goes through how children process race and skin color from pre-school to adolescence. Along the way, she provides guidance, stories, and strong evidence to back her claim. While this book is heavily influenced by clinical research, the language in the book is geared more toward the parent or educator. Wright is more interested in helping share the message in a way that is easy to follow along and engaging. Instead of providing a long list of experimental studies, White presents actual interviews with children and case studies to provide her point.
Reading through the chapters, you will undoubtedly see (as I did) how different adult concepts of race differ from children. There are stories of children who believe that skin color is not permanent or children who don’t understand the difference that people who are “brown” are considered “black”. You also get a chance to see how strong adult beliefs can lead to erroneous or even dangerous beliefs. You will read about children who refuse to deal with people or act irrationally around another race. In either case, you will see from the children themselves, the author’s point that adults need to be concerned with how they choose to discuss race with their children.
The book’s strength comes its simple, down-to-earth advice coupled with the professional advice provided by the author. This advice is not only for the typical reader, like the parent or the teacher, but for everyone in our society (school administrators, neighbors, etc.). The author’s point is that everyone needs to reevaulate how they view race and how this is communicated to children. One of the ways that I think that the author does this brilliantly is by telling the story of her own children in a critique on her child’s education. Wright described on page 147 how her child’s first knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. was of being shot. Her son couldn’t understand why he was shot. The author shared her opinion:
“The more he talked, the more obvious it became that he was more focused on the gory details of the King’s death than anything that the teacher mush have told him about King’s achievements…..As yet, he did not talk about people in terms of their skin color and I was saddened that one of the first bits of information that he learned about ‘whites’ is that they are “bad” people who killed Dr. King.” (Wright 147-148)
Those are sobering words indeed.
The only criticism I have would be a minor one. The book focuses an overwhelming majority on the issue of Black and White relations, without the same attention paid to the other topic mentioned in the title-biracial children. There are a few paragraphs on the topic of biracial children in some of the chapters, but not in a comprehensive manner.
In either case, the author does an incredible job of showing adult readers how our beliefs and attitudes reflect in our own children. Reading this book caused me to evaluate my own thoughts about race. I was able to look back at my own childhood and see instances where my ideas were created. Knowing that, I have to make a strong effort to ensure that I pass on a healthy awareness of race to my own children. I need to shield them from people and media who could potentially provide them an unhealthy view of race, while at the same time instilling pride in their own race. It is tough work, but it must be done because the cost is worth it.
Wright, Marguerite. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World. 1st edition. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers, 1998. Print.