UWM Department of Africology’s Dr. Erin Winkler was invited to Washington D. C. to help train staff at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The training goal was to prepare staff to teach the museum’s youngest visitors about race and racism. Dr. Winkler was a member of a panel of national experts to talk about how to conduct the sometimes-uncomfortable discussions about race. Those discussions helped determine how to train the museum’s volunteers. In June, Dr. Winkler returned to Washington D. C. to work directly with museum staff to prepare them for the opening.
Dr. Winkler found that adults lack confidence in talking about race and make assumptions about a child’s ability to understand the social implications of different racial groups, when children are constantly and very naturally making observations about the world around them.
“Often, adults think they [childen] don’t understand, or that if we talk to them about it, then we are putting ideas in their head, poisoning their minds. Although it’s counterintuitive, the opposite is true,” she said. “Little kids are observing patterns in the world around them. They’re seeing things like who lives where, who is the princess in the storybook, who seems to have what kinds of jobs. They often, counterintuitively and unintentionally, infer that there must be inherent differences between people that cause these patterns to be.”