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#WhoWeAre – Using Stories of Empathy to Disrupt Narratives of Hate

I’ve been posting lately about the important role educators play in countering the negative aspects of racial socializatiion of our kids. Sharing personal stories can be a powerful weapon in exposing White Children to new cultural perspectives and disrupting negative narratives about People of Color. Sharing stories about People of Color also de-centers “whiteness” and humanized and celebrates the contributions of non-whites in our culture.

A while back, I stumbled across animated StoryCorps #WhoWeAre project—a collection of videos showcasing stories exemplifying hope, compassion, empathy and optimism. I believe they could be used as a helpful resource for educators in addressing hate in our schools…

The #WhoWeAre Series

Using #WhoWeAre Videos to Counter Hate

In reviewing the #WhoWeAre series of videos, I’ve taken the liberty of selecting those that I think would be most appropriate. I’ve also been considerate to exclude videos that may be inappropriate due to the their discussion of violence or trauma. During this fearful time, marginalized students, and especially young children need to feel safe, and videos depicting traumatic events may make them more fearful. For these reasons, I’ve chosen to only include those I think are appropriate. Nonetheless, I encourage you to check them out yourself!

Examining Family Values

Use the these films to examine the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be a good human being?
  • What values or life lessons did your family teach you?

She remembers the life lessons her grandmother taught her in the kitchen

He was robbed at knifepoint and handled it in a most unusual way.

Discussing Dreams for the Future

  • What hopes does your family hold for your future?
  • What struggles or fears have your family members had to overcome?

They crossed the border to the U.S. so they could have a better life

A young kid and his dad talk about growing up in the South

A mother and her transgender son talk about his journey growing up

Celebrating Friendship and Difference

  • Do you have any friends that come from different backgrounds or cultures than you?
  • What makes you the same? What makes you different?

An American soldier and Iraqi interpreter talk about becoming close friends

She cooked a Christmas meal that made a homeless man feel like family


Challenging Stereotypes and Bias

  • What prejudices or bias has you or a family member had to overcome?
  • What misconception would you like to change?

The family they have is not defined by her mom’s disability

A transgender grandmother talks to her daughter about her struggle.

Before you Show… Some Recommendations

Establish clear classroom expectations about appropriate language and behavior. As with any sensitive topics, this one goes without saying. It’s even more important to front load conversations about race, homophobia, etc. Ensure kids know you will not allow slurs or derogatory jokes when talking about these topics. Be diligent about reminding students when they get off track.

Review proper terminology. Educate students on correct and caring language to discuss the communities represented. For example, review LGBTQ terms before showing the video of Gabe + Chris Lopez, in “A mother and her transgender son talk about his journey growing up”. Explain the difference between “gender identity” and “sexual identity”.

Give students the “Right to Pass” Honor students right to abstain from discussion. Some children may be uncomfortable with new ideas. Others, may experience cognitive dissonance when they are presented with information that contradicts information they’ve learned from their families, media and books. Conversations about difference should allow students space and time to digest new ideas. Allow students to reflect privately, in writing if possible, before asking them to participate in classroom discussions.

Be sensitive to the needs of underrepresented students. It is extremely difficult to talk about the Black experience when you are the only Black student in class. Likewise, I would never expect a child to participate in a classroom discussion of transgender identity, as the lone transgender student in a cis-gendered classroom. Don’t call undue attention to individual students or ask them to “represent” their community. If you are not a member of the community represented, ensure underrepresented students have “back up” by inviting adult volunteers who can answer questions and serve as “ambassadors”.

Find ways to manage power dynamics in classroom discussions. Privileged students often dominate classroom discussion, even where those discussions center on oppressed groups. They may also unconsciously position underrepresented voices as “divisive” or try to marginalize them. (Read more.) Use your status as an adult to elevate and echo voices of marginalized students. Encourage Students of Color to speak first, for example. And, limit participation of students who tend to dominate discussions. Here are more tips on Leading Cross-Cultural Dialogues.

Do you have other resources for sharing personal narratives of People of Color? Please share in the comments below.

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