Race and Culture in Wisconsin

Where does Wisconsin fall in terms of racial and cultural equality?

If you have been keeping an eye on the news lately, chances are you know the answer to this question; Wisconsin falls short. According to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) report, Race to Equity, there is a substantial disparity between white children and families and their minority counterparts, particularly African Americans. Black children and families in Wisconsin are far more likely to live in poverty, to have higher unemployment rates, to not graduate with a regular diploma in four years, to have higher juvenile and adult arrest rates, insufficient prenatal care, and to be significantly less proficient in reading by third grade than their white peers. These are only some of the existing disparities. Another report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results, building a path to opportunity for all children, not only reiterates that African American children and families are not given the same opportunity for success in Wisconsin, but finds that Wisconsin is the worst state, out of the 46 states providing data, for black children and families to thrive. These disparities are a direct result of a profound lack of equal opportunity, support and access to resources that African American children and families in Wisconsin receive (*See Being Black is Not a Risk Factor). What can we do, as early childhood professionals to start effecting a positive change for these children and families?

How can early childhood professionals support racial and cultural equality?

  • Be informed: There are a multitude of cultural and racial competency trainings, information, resources, and discussions going on across Wisconsin. Better support racial equity by having a clearer understanding of the obstacles and barriers that exist for black children and families, and by knowing what discussions and supports are happening around them:
  • Stay tuned to the YoungStar training calendar for diversity trainings pertaining to early childhood settings.
  • Look to your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) or Family Resource Center (FRC) for trainings in your area, which are open to a variety of early childhood professionals and community members.
  • Watch these Training Videos for Cultural Competency from the American Psychological Association (APA) on your own time.
  • Become familiar with non-profits and organizations in your area that host trainings and discussions on the topic of diversity, such as your closest YWCA or community center.
  • Implement diversity in your work with children and families: Make diversity a priority in your early childhood work. This does not just mean talking occasionally about race. Prioritizing diversity is an all-encompassing approach that means acknowledging and celebrating our individual differences in small ways every day, in everything that we do, whether those are differences in race, culture, gender, sexuality, learning ability, family traditions, language, etc.
  • Incorporate diverse materials, activities, and thoughtful discussions into your early childhood program. Don’t just have materials available, intentionally plan use of those materials and implementation of what you are teaching to make a real impact. The “tourist approach” of simply seeing diversity materials in a classroom is not enough.
  • Listen to and observe the children and families you work with to better understand their unique racial and cultural traits and how you can use that knowledge to better meet their needs.
  • Ensure that your fellow staff and partners incorporate diversity into their work as well by sharing resources and tools.
  • Know your own biases: This one is both simple to begin, and hard to complete. All of us have biases of some sort that affect how we approach our work. It is important to acknowledge what your biases are so that you can actively work to overcome those biases in your work with children and families. Test yourself for hidden biases.
  • Be an ally: Don’t just teach equity, live it. Allow your everyday actions to reflect your commitment to racial and cultural equality. Check out the video, 5 Tips for being an Ally
    Ally Video_pic
  • Stay open: No matter how informed, aware, and ready we feel we are to address racial and other inequalities, every day and every person we meet is a new learning experience. Never assume you know all you can know. Listen and learn from the experiences, knowledge, and lives of those around you, and always be ready to change your approach or views based on new understandings you gain.

There are a ton of fantastic resources out there that can show you how best to become an active part of pushing Wisconsin towards racial equality. Whether you are an ally of this movement, or someone who is directly affected by these disparities, it is up to each of us to do our part to create a positive change.

Even More Resources:
Teaching Young Children to Resist Bias
Wisconsin Early Childhood Collaborating Partners
Racial Equity Resource List for The Annie E. Casey Foundation
Common Beliefs Survey and Accompanying Reflective Practice
Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves

* This article is from SFTA’s most recent Quarterly Newsletter. Click here to access the full newsletter, and sign up to receive SFTA’s quarterly e-mail newsletters.