Pioneer Woman doesn’t know jack* about diversity or how to teach it

Back in December of 2009, Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman posted a pictorial tutorial (I just made that up!) illustrating how she teaches her children about diversity. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of the neatly packaged Drummond—she only plays at being a by-her-boot-straps kinda girl on the Internet—I’m linking to her post HERE because, really: This lesson plan is a sight to behold.

Yes, it will give her traffic when all three of my readers scramble over there to see what she’s got cookin’. But the wrongness of Ree D’s approach deserves highlighting. If you have the stomach for it, delve into the comments, because more disturbing than PW’s educational tack, is the blind agreement of her many followers. Indeed, the comment section of that post is overflowing with a disturbing number of atta-girls and excited I’m-gonna-try-thats. The enthusiasm of her fans is so powerful, you can practically see the light bulbs going on. “By George! It’s brilliant!” they might be saying to themselves as they hunker down in their dark basements, jotting down a list of supplies needed to enact the lesson plan.

“But, Aaryn?”  you may ask. “Why are you writing about this now?” And that is a good question.

The truth is, I’d intended to write about this long ago, but never made the time because this is a Very Big Topic. It is not a one-off. It is not modern-day-attention-span friendly.  It is a multi-head monster.

But this space is a-changin’. After spending four days at Pact Camp in July, I am inspired to speak out regularly, with conviction, with my trademark outrage, without apology.  I pick on Ree Drummond now, because I don’t want my daughter’s choices, opportunities, identity, sense of belonging, and self-worth—and those of her black brothers and sisters in this country—to be dictated by the pale-faced Baby Drummond’s of the world, those white folks with unearned and unacknowledged privilege who learned about diversity when their bloggy mommies decided it was sufficient to dump a bunch of “sturdy, rugged, and awesome” rainbow colored Block Play people into a fancy Le Creuset pot and stir ‘em all up.

“Because when it comes to discussing diversity with my children…” says Drummond, “I choose not to discuss diversity with my children…I figure it’s a more powerful message for the Block Play human race to coexist without a lot of fanfare and hype than if I separated them, sat my kids down and explained, ‘This is a black family. This is an Asian family…etc.‘ If they have questions, I’ll answer them as I’m doing the dishes or painting my toenails.” For fuck sake. This woman publicly refers to herself as a pioneer. I can only wonder how she would have fared on the Donner Pass.

Look. Teaching children about diversity with plastic figurines is like teaching a woman to have an orgasm by showing her a photograph of a dildo. The fact is—and there’s plenty of peer-reviewed research to prove it—children don’t not see diversity simply because mommies choose not to mention it, an act that in itself is proof of white privilege. Progressives, especially, are guilty of using this method. Despite the good intentions, it turns out that if you don’t talk to your kids about a topic, they will learn about it elsewhere. And all they have to do is turn on the television, open a cataloge or magazine, go out into the real world to learn about non-white people, and how they are viewed as “less than” or “other” by our society. The authors of Nurture Shock have written about it. Anderson Cooper re-proved it in his “race doll test.” And—hey, ho! just look at that!—dolls being used to teach about race! The mind reels.

You can bet that black families all across America are discussing race, all the time. And white families need to be engaging in real conversations about that elephant in the room. Or the people in the pot, as it were. White children cannot learn about diversity because they have three Native American dolls and two black ones. Moreover, they cannot learn about their abundance of privilege, something that must be acknowledged as part of a larger discussion about race. Ree Drummond’s children and the children of people who decide that oh, we’re all the same, cannot know that black people are regularly denied bank loans, car loans, promotions, jobs, and housing because they are black; that they are ignored in restaurants and department stores; that they are assumed to be guilty or incompetent or uneducated at first assessment. And it is imperative that white people know and try to understand what it is to be brown in America. Because the reality is that white grown-ups in power (and even those not in power) do, in fact, see color and then act—maybe overtly, maybe not—as if theirs is superior.

A real pioneer would ditch those Block Play people, grab her children by the hands and introduce them to people of color. Mingle with them. Share meals with them. Have friendships with them. Love them. And then she would start talking about race in an open, honest and straightforward manner. While doing the dishes or painting her toenails. Or—my preferred method—while sitting face to face, and looking into their beautiful curious eyes, and telling them the hardest truths of all.

*A kinder, gentler title for my friend Joe.


32 Responses to Pioneer Woman doesn’t know jack* about diversity or how to teach it

  • Rebecca Hendricksen says:

    Although I completely agree with what you discuss in your article about diversity and the vitality in discussing everything which affects and is affected by it, I don’t believe that what you claim Drummond is trying to teach her children and the lesson she truly intended are the same. I really think, although I also agree her methods are flawed in some way, what she intends to teach her children is how the world SHOULD treat every single person, a utopia of sorts. Now, recognising that this is not, and unfortunately, may never be how the world works (a completely diverse and equal society), her “method” should be followed up with a discussion of what needs to be done to reach this distant and crucial goal and why it is not implemented in modern day society. I believe Drummond recognises and realizes the inequalities in society (even though she does not voice those to her children), but I believe what she is trying to do is to erase any barriers that are, but SHOULD NOT be, in existence; starting with her kids. I recognise that this lesson of almost ignorance can only work for children until they get to a certain age, until which they should have lengthy discussion of diversity, race, etc..I really do believe her intentions are good, but again, I do recognise her methods are naïve and far too “laissez faire” for such a huge problem that impacts every person of diversity. I do also, however, believe that whatever harm there may be in Drummond’s way in teaching her children, there is way in which to draw attention to these certain flaws other than mimicking the way she speaks and her way of living. I respect what you say about diversity and white privilege, I really do, and it did bother me the off-hand way in which she spoke of her children’s curiosity of diversity, but as someone who obviously has a more than adequate knowledge of inequality and diversity in the world, I would think you would have find a better way to prove your point other than swearing and mocking. You have incredibly realistic and, in my opinion, accurate opinions on diversity and its education, and it hurts me when I see the way in which you handled your views as it discredits your opinion, and thus, the important points you did indeed make.

    • Aaryn says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. Unfortunately, this method of teaching kids about diversity is lacking in scope, depth. To behave this way is to live blindly within white privilege, perpetuating racism on all levels, from the individual to the systemic. Yes, it’s good to teach kids that all people are the same and should be treated this way, but this message must also be taught alongside the message that not all people are treated equally and to point out where the inequalities are. There are examples every single day in everything around us. And I take issue that it’s somehow appropriate teach “almost ignorance” to children “until they reach a certain age.” My child is 8 and we have regular and appropriately-lengthy conversations about diversity, race, etc. She knows about slavery; she knows about police brutality; she knows that Trayvon Martin’s killer didn’t get any kind of punishment for what he did; she knows that brown people aren’t treated the same as white people. This all makes her angry and sad, and we talk about that, too. Families of color aren’t waiting around until a 13th birthday to share with their children the realities that they’re up against. We aren’t waiting for our black children to hear the “n-word” from a classmate. We are teaching our kids all of this stuff at home because if we don’t, they are adrift to figure out all of this difficult stuff on their own. Indeed, children of color learn very early that there are those who are valued and those who aren’t. Those of us parenting children of color do them no favors by sheltering them with ignorance and utopian hopes and so we have difficult, sometimes very sad, sometimes upsetting conversations with them. Parents of white children should be doing the same thing if we ever hope to see racial equality. Furthermore, I think that white people who do not do this, who fail to acknowledge all the myriad benefits we get simply from being white, are accountable for ongoing inequities in our society. Ree Drummond lives on acres and acres of land in a place where her children rarely come in contact with people different from them…aside from the play people in the cooking pot. This is insufficient and, in my opinion, reprehensible. I stand by what I wrote, and the way I wrote it.

  • lesley says:

    Oh Thank God for you and your ability to communicate so clearly! And your ballsiness to speak up.

  • Jen says:

    Ree mentions that her town is 25% Native American, but anyone who has read even a little of her town’s history knows how that quarter of the population has been treated, and how they are treated today. Maybe Ree can ignore the black families and the Asian families, but she really, really needs to talk to her kids about Native Americans. Even if those particular dolls were sold out…

  • I had to come back and re-read the post, and the comments. Wow. Talk about an epiphany. I realize that while I have always had black friends (oh, how stupid that sounds) it has only been when they were in my neighborhood (which, as you know, is pretty darn white)–it never occurred to me that I should be stepping outside my comfort zone to cultivate relationships with people of other backgrounds. You have certainly got me thinking.

  • Kizz says:

    As you know I’ve been thinking about this conversation a lot over the past day or so. I found that last night and this morning as I was wandering around my neighborhood and walking the dog and running my stupid errands I was really grateful to live where I live and with the people that live there. It’s not hard for me to interact with all kinds and colors and ages of people. All I have to do is go to the library or the deli or the bar or my apartment building. It’s not a question of making the people there mix, we just do ’cause we all just happen to be there. You know me, it’s no secret that I fucking love the shit out of where I live but with this conversation on replay in my head I have been loving it just that much more.

  • Lori says:

    “Later, when she is a teenager, waiting alone at the bus stop, or a grown woman trying to resolve a discrepancy at the bank, or interviewing for a job, or trying to get a date or whatever, they will just assume that she’s a ho, or that she’s a gold digger, or that she’s dirty, or that she’s dumb, or that she’d be pretty if she were just a little lighter…shall I keep going?”

    These words are so sad and I used to think so untrue……but since Obama has entered the White House….racism and white supremacy are dark realities in our country. Thank you for reminding us….thank you for your honesty…..we have such a long way to go.

  • Come visit Detroit sometime, and i will take.your family to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge! It’s an amazing repository of Black American culture, and one I feel privileged to have access to.

  • Anna says:

    sounds good : )

  • aaryn b. says:

    Hi Anna, my intrepid Devil’s Advocate. :)

    You are the second person here to pose this question. And though I’d like to say it’s a valid argument, I’d be hard pressed to say that honestly. If you go up, you can read my response to Alice, who expressed a similar sentiment.

    To the first part of your question: How is PW (and let her just be a stand in for all people who don’t live conveniently near (i.e. next door to) people of color) supposed to grab her kids and go find a black family to befriend? By grabbing her kids and going into the city and letting them play in a park in a predominantly black neighborhood. By grabbing her kids and taking them to a library in a predominantly black neighborhood. By grabbing her kids and taking them to a mall, a coffee shop, a movie theater, a museum, a restaurant, a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood. That is how you begin to build a bridge, have conversations, and forge relationships with other people. I’m not saying that you walk up and announce that you need to fill your dance card with a person of color and then expect people to be honored at such an invitation and show up with a corsage. I’m saying that white people can talk all we want about how we understand and sympathize with the black struggle, and how “The Help” was so illuminating (so help me God), but——shoot! look at that!——we just don’t live near any black people. As if our choice to segregate is actually a geographic happenstance. We have to do the reverse white flight and go actively towards. Like I said to Alice, it may not be convenient or easy or comfortable. But then, maybe that is an sampling of what it feels like to be black in America.

    As for your proposal of asking me for a playdate so your child could mix with people of color: Depending on the circumstances (do our kids know each other from school or from another social construct? Are you and I in book club together?), I would probably say yes. I like honesty and knowing where you stand, you and I can have some real conversations. Your child will be better for knowing my child, because being friends with Ruby——or any other black child——will start a series of very important questions. Believe me, your kid will come home with loads of questions (which is when you can answer, or you can pull out the figurines and mixing spoon). However, I’m an easy out as the “black connection,” because I’m just a white girl; you will learn very little about black culture from me. ISo I would suggest——once our girls became friends and you and I decided that we adored one another and damnit! aren’t we so glad you stepped out of your comfort zone and risked making an ass of yourself when you asked me for that playdate?——that you start to frequent stores and neighborhoods that aren’t filled with people that look just like you.

  • Anna says:

    I remember that post and I found it disturbing. However, here I want to play devil’s advocate. How is PW supposed to grab her kids and go find a black family to befriend? I would not think it’s easy where she lives. And don’t you think said family may take offense at it?
    For argument’s sake, say I live in your city in a prevalently white neighborhood and I have a daughter of Ruby’s age…would you have a play-date with us if I took your suggestion and told you I want my daughter to mingle with people of color?

  • Aaryn says:

    Joe, there is no joy and enthusiasm when talking about how white people view my daughter. Many see a black girl and think she’s lucky to have white parents. You know, the whole Great White savior thing. They are kind to and interested in her because of our (whiteness). The privilege extends to her now and when she is with us. Later, when she is a teenager, waiting alone at the bus stop, or a grown woman trying to resolve a discrepancy at the bank, or interviewing for a job, or trying to get a date or whatever, they will just assume that she’s a ho, or that she’s a gold digger, or that she’s dirty, or that she’s dumb, or that she’d be pretty if she were just a little lighter…shall I keep going? Kids who learn diversity by “not talking about diversity” do not treat black children the same at school or, later, in the work place. And yes, it’s very, very personal when the Ree Drummonds of the world think it’s okay-dokey to just pretend we’re all the same and give their kids some figurines made by small children in China and think then pat themselves on the back for a job well-done. I wonder what the enlightened don’t-talk-about-diversity parents of these children would think if their sons brought my daughter home for dinner one night. Drummond is influential with a huge platform and this type of mass “education” so flippantly delivered is irresponsible and deplorable. My point is, there is no happy-sunshiney way to say what I had to say. So I said it my way, and I’m proud of it. And interestingly enough, quite of few readers found it illuminating and educating.

    As for the WalMart thing: That was one part—one satirical part—of a larger piece and that somehow defines me? Yes, I may have missed the mark on that one, as I was aiming more for the readers of Sarah Palin’s book than for the average WalMart shopper. But I maintain it is a bad choice for people with means to shop there. It’s one thing for people with little means, who need to feed and clothe and house their families, to go there. But for middle-class white folks to load thier shiny SUVs with discounted books and patio furniture, and then make fun of the gross WalMart shoppers on their way out is gross.

    I am on my blog who I am in my life. I can be kind and generous and zesty (thanks for those compliments). But I can also be angry and disgusted and sharp tongued. I am all of those things. I am imperfect. I am thematcially fickle. It’s a whole package I guess.

    I am sorry your offended by some of it. But I do not wish to be enemies

  • Joe Crawford says:

    My comments were meant to be constructive. I can accept from you that your intent was one of illumination and education, I have to say that was not what came across. I like your style when you write from a place of joy and enthusiasm — but the parts where you spout curse words and tell people how horrible they are as human beings (off the top of my head I’m remembering a post where you make fun of Wal-Mart shoppers mercilessly for being idiots with a 3rd grade education) for doing things you disagree with, it flies in the face of the zest for life, generosity, and kindness I have experienced of you, in abundance over the years.

    Your words is so different from what I’ve seen of your in-person self I feel confused about it. I’ve met a lot of writers and bloggers, some of whom come off different in person than what I’ve read of them.

    I suppose I should read your writing as satire, but you have genuine feelings here too, about Ruby, about your husband — I get whiplash trying to distinguish what’s what.

    I really, really mean this as constructive. I have been through too much in the past year to be anything but my honest self.

    Regardless of how you take my comments, please know that I wish you and your family the best.

  • Lorinda Morey says:

    I got caught up with PW at first, in 2009 I think. As time went on I realized that she was not at all “keepin’ it real”. I don’t care that she makes money, I care that I felt duped by her. No other site has ever made me feel that way. But that is not the topic here, sorry for rambling. I agree you cannot toss a bunch of figurines at your kids and call that diversity training. Actions speak much louder than words. You have to walk the walk. Thanks for the article!

  • Kait says:

    Thank you. This is brilliantly written and expresses many of the things I felt when I read this posting on PW’s site. I found you from a link on PWSuxs as well. People ask us why we dislike her so much and why we don’t just ignore her. It is issues such as this we are concerned about. Plus we don’t hate her, we hate her brand. The fact is, she is a smart woman whose only talent is marketing herself and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. We are disturbed because she seems to have a large fan base of very young and impressionable girls. She is not a good role model. She is a fantasy and some people just can’t see it.
    Adding you to my RSS feed. :) Thanks.

    • Aaryn says:

      Thanks for stopping by. I browsed PW Sux once several years ago, I think, but I’m not a participant. I don’t have time or energy to put towards that. I’m also not a reader of PW because I don’t read sites I don’t care for and it didn’t take long to peg Ree as product for consumption rather than an authentic person. I will say that I don’t care for her precisely because of what you, Lorinda and others have said (Lorinda’s feeling duped really nailed it). I just used that particular post as a topic because it is the pinnacle of ignorance and because she is so influential. And because it is what my life is all about. Thank you, again for reading and adding a comment.

  • BK says:

    Well written; ah that more on the internet was so well thought out.

  • Joe Crawford says:

    If you are going to remove my comments, please also remove my name from your addendum.

    • Aaryn says:

      You know, I almost never remove comments. But I removed yours as they felt like together, they were a mean-spirited, passive aggressive personal attack. Yours were not words from a friend weighing in with something constructive, even with the “hey, it was great seeing you the other night!” disclaimer at the beginning. I am not—as much as you like to draw a comparison—like Ann Coulter who spouts bigoted, white-privileged rhetoric of the ugliest kind. I am discussing, in a totally valid manner—and in my way, a style that is different from the “more nuanced” one you prefer— something that is vitally important to my existence on this planet. So, it smarts to have someone I consider a friend say un-kind things about it and pretend they are being genuine. You know how I write, Joe. What do you think such a critique is going to do? Make me change my writing? Perhaps you should go read Pioneer Woman instead of me…

  • BFC says:

    Great post. The only thing I have to add is not to be “too” alarmed by responses to PWs post. If there were 100 positive comments, she deleted at least 100 comments questioning her methods. You are not allowed to criticize or question PW. Not everyone in Middle America are quite as dense at PW, even those of us who continue to shop at the evil Walmart.

    • Aaryn says:

      Point well taken. As to the Walmart comment, times are tough! What are folks to do?
      Clearly, you’ve read my other stuff. Thanks for coming back!

  • Kate says:

    “We must make the long drive. We must be uncomfortable. We must go to communities in which we are the minority and get involved. Black people have done this for generations and not by their choosing. This is on us.”

    Thank-you for this. It’s going into my file of best quotes from the Web.

    People like Ree Drummond demand special attention and consideration for their choices (mostly bad ones in her case.) More often than not, they refuse to struggle in their understanding of others. If it isn’t easy, people like the Drummonds aren’t going to participate…because their lives have always been easy. They don’t wish to acknowledge that their ease was built on the backs of lives more difficult.

  • annmarie says:

    Great post! I was disturbed by Ree’s post, as I am disturbed by almost everything she does, but the most offensive part of it was the whole, “I choose not to talk about diversity” and her readers then fawning over her brilliance at this idea. Thanks for the reminder that we must do the uncomfortable thing. Sometimes I fall into complacency and this post was a good little wake-up. I have four kids. I think I’m doing a decent job raising kids who are aware of the differences and disparities that exist in our world, but I have far to go and know that I can’t just stop now. Terrific post! By they way, I found you through a link someone left on The Pioneer Woman Sux and I suspect you may be getting a lot of views on this excellent post.

  • Alice says:

    Great post. There’s one point where I disagree with you, though – I think that, especially for people who are still just beginning to explore issues around race and privilege, the ‘find some friends of color’ approach is one fraught with pitfalls. Primarily, I worry about the burden that it can place on prospective friends of color if you’ve got a well-meaning but inexperienced person wanting to Teach The Children About Diversity through that friendship. (Plus, depending on where their rural town is, the ‘find friends of color’ part can be really awkward and artificial. I’ve got family where it’d be a ‘drive 40 minutes and introduce yourself to strangers’ artificial, which would just compound the main issue).

    That said, when your life is super-white, it’s imperative to *point out* that it’s super-white, to talk about what that means, and to do what you can to bring diversity in in ways that are genuine. Responding to questions can often be a great way to follow your kids’ lead WRT difficult topics, but when your daily life reinforces the general hegemony of society, that’s not enough.

    • Aaryn says:

      Thanks for this thoughtful response, Alice. I have to say, I understand where you are coming from. But as a white woman raising a black daughter, forging relationships with black people specifically, and the black community in general is simply not optional. My husband and I have an obligation to do it. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it sometimes contrived? Yes. But we push past that, and lo and behold, we are making some amazing friendships and having conversations that I never have with my white friends. We began doing this for our child so she has connection, but we, too, are learning and growing and changing. There is no school busing for grown-ups, so we must integrate all on our own and white people have got to reach out. I would argue that for all of these reasons, in order to bridge the racial crevasse that so many white people refuse to admit exists, we white anti-racist advocates—regardless of the color of our children—should be doing this. We can say we’re not racist and condemn racism all we want, but where is the action? And how do we teach our children how to fix what’s broke if we don’t model the solution? As Ghandi said, we must be the change we wish to see. We must make the long drive. We must be uncomfortable. We must go to communities in which we are the minority and get involved. Black people have done this for generations and not by their choosing. This is on us.

  • You know I wholeheartedly agree with you–and I take it a step further; I don’t just talk to my children about race, I talk to my students and fellow teachers about race. The conversations can be hard to have but are always worthwhile.

    I discovered Mocha Momma after BlogHer and have been over there daily since.

    You know I love the way you say things, Aaryn–it’s not the way I would, but that’s the point of blogging–we all get our say, in our way.

  • Kizz says:

    Really glad you’re getting to some of the things that Pact Camp spurred you toward. I’ve been thinking about your “policemen are good people” conversation a lot since we hung out. Keep talking, my friend.

  • Kerryanne says:

    I am not a PW fan- the blog drives me mad. Great post- thrilled you have the balls to be as vocal as you are.

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