I’ve been doing this activity in my media and storytelling class for a few semesters. My inspiration comes from reading through the work of Beverly Daniel Tatum, though there are many iterations of this exercise. I am always moved by my students’ willingness to share and honesty.

Screenshot of jamboard activity; colorful post-its covers the slide, in response to discussion questions
Answers entered by students at Oakland University during the Winter 2021 semester in a media and diversity class. Each semester begins with some work to establish common vocabulary and position ourselves in relation to the messages we receive from the media as one of the key socializers of our generation.

This semester, I asked, “What is your earliest race-related memory?” and “When did you become aware of your race?” Students could answer either question or both.

The answers they typed into a Jamboard sparked neat class discussion, as it always does, including my reminiscing of my own first grade realization that a boy who was heavily ridiculed at school was “different” than me. He was of Roma ethnicity.

What strikes me in this semester’s answers is that most students’ earlier race-related memories were around elementary school. Is it just me or is this sooner than it used to be? I still recall being in faculty workshops and other training contexts, where my peers more frequently answer these types of questions with “grad school” or “as a young adult in college” etc. Elementary school is a better answer I think [insert smiley face]. I find it positive that younger generations think of themselves in relation to others more intentionally and that the development of racial identity is made more explicit sooner in recent times, it seems. TBD how next semester’s crop of answers fairs.

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