Culturally conscious color book promotes identity, multiculturalism
Color coding is not just used to organize closets or as a studying technique. A University of North Carolina Greensboro doctoral student hopes to harness the power of the color coding pedagogy to help educate children in multiculturalism.
Whitney Wingate is a doctoral student in the UNCG English department, an intern at Duke Press and has taught at various institutions such as Duke University and Saint Augustine University in Raleigh.
Wingate hopes to accomplish teaching multiculturalism through various books of color. Her first book, African American Book of Colors, focuses on African American identity and culture. What exactly is a book of color? Well, it is not a coloring book but rather, a book that teaches young children colors–such as red, blue, green, yellow, etc.
“I hope to encourage multiculturalism through the practice of basic knowledge instruction so that the next generations of citizens will have an established habit of integrated thinking as well as an appreciation for every culture,” Wingate wrote in an email. “This book also features icons who were celebrated by many black Americans, rather than figures white/mainstream Americans assigned as valuable to the larger national culture.”
She said her book features 10 colors used as representatives of 10 popular African American icons from black history. Each icon is depicted by a child model (aka her daughter, nieces and nephews) wearing African prints that are reminiscent of the icon represented. The images are placed next to illustrations with “pithy poems,” which she stated was great for early readers “to learn sight words and phonemes through rhyming.”
Over some coffee from Common Grounds on Friday, Wingate told me about her book. She said she got the idea after the birth of her now 3-year-old daughter, who is biracial.
“Race became a much more taboo topic than I thought that it ever was, and I kind of felt like she was trapped in the middle of it,” Wingate said. “So I wanted to make sure she had access to some kinds of representations of black identity.”
Wingate said the representation of African American identity has improved since she was a child but it is still extremely important for early childhood development and especially for her daughter.
“I started looking at how I incorporate black cultural icons in her life, and I couldn’t find the resources that I needed,” Wingate said. “I decided one day, wouldn’t it be cool since she has all of these books of color, wouldn’t it be cool to have a black theme?”
But she did not stop there; she started to wonder what if every kid had a book of color that could teach them about cultural identity. Wingate said she is now working on a series of books of color that feature Latino, Asian American, Native American, Americans with Disabilities, Women of America, Muslims of America and Immigrants of America.
“I think we have a segregated multiculturalism project that we try to push on to our kids once they are already establishing and imbibing social, racial hierarchy,” she said. “That is why I thought [the book] was a good idea.”
Some of the icons Wingate chose to use were four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens (associated with the color white), American dancer Josephine Baker (pink), one of the most famous American artists Jean-Michel Basquiat (brown), the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama (green) and of course, one of America’s most beloved musical icons who just recently passed away, Prince (who is obviously associated with the color purple).
Wingate made a point to pick certain African American icons over others that have been traditionally represented, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
“I chose (Malcolm) X in order to represent black spiritual diversity and because he prioritized equality over integration, which demands an acknowledgment of humanity that integration didn’t necessarily.”
Wingate hopes her book conveys the messages of inclusion, equality, and practice because she said learning is a practice.
“You don’t show your kid, ‘this is pink,’ and then the next day they just know ‘hey this is pink for the rest of my life,’ it is a habit you have to keep getting them to engage with,” she said. “That is what I was hoping to get parents. Especially for parents of children who are not white or not biracial and be able to get their children in the habit of constructing an identity for blackness into this educational sphere. Not just for black children, but for Latinos, for Asian Americans, for Native Americans, for people with disabilities. There is a wealth of knowledge and education you can get out of that without being a separate unit. I would like for this book to be a practice of multicultural education.”
Ideally with her book, she said children will learn their colors. But, she hopes children will tether those colors to cultural knowledge. Her recommended readership for these books aims for children who are ages 0-6.
While the book is not published yet, she is working on getting it out for children in the community to read. She has big ideas for more books when she gets this project off the ground, so it looks like you’ll be reading much more of Whitney Wingate in the near future.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.