Monday, June 18, 2012

When the Wicked Witch is brown: Teaching race and gender politics to kids

Once upon a time, I babysat to make ends meet. I had a handful of families on constant rotation covering their child care as a personal summer camp counselor, the date night savior, and watchful eyes so mommy & daddy can get some work done. When I wasn't sitting, I was teaching movement to small children. There were days when I rarely spoke to anyone over the age of 5. My vocabulary became very basic. As I communicated with little people often, I found myself as a liaison between their world and the grown up world.

Recently I babysat two of my faves for the first time in a long while. We were reading bedtime stories, and the younger of two sisters insisted we read Captain Underpants. To be brief, this book is disgusting. It's a children's book yes, but built entirely around potty humor. The more I read, the more I was grossed out and the older sister agreed. Then she remarked, "This book is for boys! Gross, disgusting boys who play in toilets!" I was struck by how this 6 year old had gendered a story without a gender. I shot back to her, "But your sister likes it! And she's not a boy. Being disgusting is not a girl versus boy thing," I explained. "It's just a disgusting thing." She wasn't convinced. To her, gross humor = boy. I guess her sister just didn't count. How sad, I thought.

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