One of the exercises I do at adoptive parent trainings (and I've also done this in my class I teach at Metro State University) is the bead cup exercise. Basically, the object of this exercise is to explore one's social "world" through a clear plastic cup and assorted beads that represent communities of color. Yes, in many ways it is essentialist; however, it is a visual wake-up call and a call to action in terms of being real about the diversity (or lack thereof) in our social and community interactions.
The bead cup exercise (as I implement it) looks like this – using the following colored beads to represent the following racial and ethnic groups:
white = white
black = African American, African Caribbean or African
yellow = Asian/Pacific Island
red = Native American Indian, Aboriginal, First Nations
dark brown = South Asian Indian, South or Central American, Latino
medium or light brown = multi-racial, Arab
[As not every racial or ethnic category can be listed, improvise or choose a bead that you feel best reflects the racial or ethnic heritage of the person]
Place a bead that represents:
1. Your Self
2. Your mother
3. Your father
4. Your siblings
5. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner
6. Your two closest friends
7. Your neighbor (next door apartment, house next door, roommate)
8. Your primary dentist
9. Your primary dental hygienist
10. Your primary physician
11. Your attorney, if you have one
12. Your accountant or financial planner, if you have one
13. The mayor of the town or city you live in
14. The tellers at your bank are…
15. The television sitcom or show you most enjoy watching has a cast that is mostly…
16. The social clubs you belong to are mostly…
17. If you attend church/temple/mosque the congregation is mostly . . .
18. and the pastor/rabbi(s) are . . .
19. Your co-workers are mostly . . .
20. Your direct supervisor is . . .
21. The President/CEO/Executive Director of your company is . . .
22. The people who come to your house (for dinner, etc) most often are . . .
23. The people whose home you go to most often (for dinner, etc) are . . .
24. Your favorite movie star is . . .
25. Your favorite singer/band is . . .
26. The movies you like to watch star mostly . . .
27. Your favorite tv news anchor you watch on tv or cable is . . .
28. The bands/singers you listen to most are of . . .
29. Your favorite author(s) are . .
30. If you have art/posters on your walls, they are of which culture?
31. Your child's favorite television show has a lead character that is:
32. The principal of the school your child(ren) attends is…
33. The teacher at the school your child attends is mostly…
34. Your child's teacher is…
35. Your children in your child's class are…
36. Your child's primary babysitter is…
37. Your child's Sunday School teacher (if applies) is…
38. Your child is… (and when I do this exercise, I have the parents hold their "child/ren" in their hands next to the cup and ask how the cup reflects their world, then I have them put those "child/ren" into the cup, and ask the parents to reflect and respond.
I thought about this because of this post on Racialicious.
One of the things I think we can understand is that there are many
things we each have or had no control over. The race of our parents,
for one. The race of the other members of our family other than a
romantic partner (and kids). But there are many other things we have
tremendous control over – our doctors, our dentists, the community and
neighborhood we live. Everything is about choices and while we may
think we have little or no control over many aspects of our lives, we
really do. It's just that some of these areas may be easier or more
difficult financially, in terms of our supports, and/or according to
And we need to look at whose values and needs are most important for everyone.
My world was controlled by my parents until I graduated from high
school and that in that world there was nothing but white beads. I am
very happy with my "world" right now because I shaped it, slowly, over
the years. Sometimes I got it very, very wrong. There were times in my
life when I made friends with Asians and other people of color because
of their race and ethnicity; and like a lot of adoptive parents, this
inauthentic approach meant I did not develop true or loyal
relationships with these folks. But I worked on that.
In LaToya's column,
she states that she found her community through other shared
activities. And, like LaToya, that is also how I found my "world."
Through seeking to develop relationships with other people through
I found many of my current friendships through my children. When
picking them up from school or daycare, taking the time to talk to the
other parents there. Developing the relationships so that our kids had
play dates out side of school and inviting the parents to stay for
coffee or tea. I found another group of friends through a writing group
I joined specifically for Asian women. I didn't become fast friends
with ALL the members of the writing group but two of those women have
remained as my closest friends today. I moved to a neighborhood that is
diverse and developed friendships that way. My cup right now would look
What color is your world?