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Under Our Skin

Kids Talk About Race

I find I can get along with anyone no matter what color or race. . . You've got to get to know people first. Then you'll understand what they're like, that they are just the same as anyone else.
Under Our Skin: Kids Talk About Race

Six students age twelve to thirteen openly discuss one of the most explosive issues of our time – race. Rosa, a Hispanic; Akram, an Arab; Jenny, an Asian; Tad, a Caucasian; Jason, an African American; and Janell, a Native American, describe in their own words how the traditions of their ethnic backgrounds affect their daily lives, their views on racial relations in America, and their own experiences with prejudice.

These six young voices present a new perspective on an increasingly troubling topic. They celebrate the best of our multicultural society and offer words of wisdom and hope for the future.

National Council on Social Studies Notable Trade Book for 1998

Oregon Book Award nominee

“Upbeat and informal . . . without jargon or sermonizing . . . a good starting place for classroom discussion on tolerance”  -Booklist

“An excellent starting point for discussion . . . gives readers a chance to see what life is like through someone else’s eyes, and in someone else’s skin.”  -School Library Journal


Some say that one question often leads to another. For my wife, Debbie, and me that certainly is true. No sooner had we finished asking kids from different religious backgrounds about their faith (and putting their answers into the book WHAT I BELIEVE: KIDS TALK ABOUT FAITH), than we started wondering what kids from different ethnic backgrounds would have to say about race.

There were so many things we wanted to know: What is it like to grow up Hispanic? Or of Asian descent? How does it feel to be born Afro-American? Or into Arab culture? What is unique about being Native American? Or white in a racially mixed neighborhood? Are the differences between us as big as some people make them out to be? Or are we really more alike than not? What causes prejudice? How does it feel to be the brunt of it? Are race relations getting better in America? Or worse? What should be done to fix things? How does a kid make a difference?

Questions, questions, and more questions, about what for some was a touchy subject. All of which led us — no surprise — to another question: Would middle schoolers be willing to talk about it?

The answer was a big YES. Not only were they willing to talk, but with great honesty and feeling, giving us very personal portraits of themselves in the process. Our hope is that you enjoy getting to know them, and putting individual names, faces, smiles, and hearts to the big issue of race as much as we did.

I find I can get along with anyone no matter what color or race.

At middle school I have friends from different groups. A lot of my Mexican friends ask questions like, “What do you do down there on the reservation?” I tell them about the powwows, and watching TV or movies, or shooting baskets at the elementary school. I tell them mainly we like to talk and have running races, that we’re no different than anyone else.

You’ve got to get to know people first. Then you’ll understand what they’re like, that they are just the same as anyone else.