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.