Talking to your kids about race. (Spoiler alert: color blindness isn’t the answer.)

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In the last four years, I feel like I have had to totally reevaluate everything I used to believe about race relations and my own place in our world as a White woman. Now that I am a White woman who is the mother to Black sons, my eyes have been opened through my own research and conversations with those who have gone before me on this constant process of truly trying to understand my own privilege and how to best be an ally for racial justice. Before you read on – please hear me when I say that I am not an expert on this. I am still (always) learning. It can be hard and it can be messy – but, it is important enough that I know it needs to be talked about. So in my own humble and inexperienced way, I am choosing to talk about it here today.

Have the conversation.

If your child happens to notice something about someone that is different from them (and they will!) while you are out and about, try to acknowledge and have a conversation with them rather than shushing them. “Mommy, why is that man wearing a weird hat?” “Mama, why is that boy Black and his mama White?” “Mama, she’s talking funny and I can’t understand it.” – these are all awesome, teachable moments for your kiddos. I know that sometimes it is embarrassing to have your kid shout across the play place pointing out something that you perceive as a sensitive issue, but if you can get past the red-faced awkwardness of it and put a smile on your face and acknowledge their observation – “Isn’t that neat, honey? The hat is called a turban. Some little boys like you wear them, too!” “Families come in all different ways – sometimes they match colors and sometimes they don’t, but they are still a family just like us.” “I heard that, too, and you know what? She’s not talking funny, she’s speaking a different language. All over the world people speak different languages.” – then know that how you respond shapes how your child will view the world. If they ask and then get a hushed reprimand for commenting? Likely they will perceive that there is something wrong or bad about whatever it is that they observed, even if what you say isn’t anything to that effect.

Color blindness isn’t the goal.

Kids see things. They see clothes type, they see height, they see color. Your child is going to notice when people look different from them and they are going to notice when people look like they do. Is this a bad thing? No! Teaching kids that “we’re all the same” is a good idea in theory, but in reality it is too abstract of a concept for them to grasp. If your kiddo mentions someone’s race to you and you gloss over it to respond with “we’re all the same on the inside!” it is likely to feel as though you didn’t even acknowledge their question/comment. Rather than embracing and passing along the notion that “kids don’t see color,” let’s instead embrace the idea that we can love and value people of all colors and shades.

One of the first things our oldest son said when he met our youngest son was “we match! He has brown skin like me! He’s like me!” He was 2 1/2 at the time, and it was already high on his mind. A year later, he will occasionally tell people about his family using our race as identifying factors – “Hugo is my brudder, and Fletch-ah is my brudder – he Black like me.” In my eyes, this is a good thing! Do I take it as him preferring either of his little brothers? Definitely not. I see it as a little boy who is happy to have someone who looks like him in his family and who, in his own 3-year-old way, is taking pride in his race. I want my sons to be proud Black boys and proud Black men when they are grown, and working toward that starts now.

Make an effort.

Depending on where you live and where you do your activities, there’s a strong possibility that your kids truly don’t see many people who don’t look just like them. If this is the case, go out of your way to change that! We live in a city that is rich with culture and diversity – you won’t have to look too far. To bring diversity into your home, you can buy dolls that look different than your kids do. Watch shows or read books that feature people who are a different race or culture. Talk about people who have made an impact in history who are a different race than you are. If you hear someone make a racial slur or joke, model to your child that you don’t think it’s appropriate or acceptable. What your kids see is what your kids will do.

As moms, we are all just trying to do the best by our kids, and as with every other realm of motherhood, it can be muddled sometimes. These things I have mentioned are just baby steps on the spectrum of racial awareness – and for some of you, this is elementary and obvious. For others, there’s a chance you will have to learn things along with your children and confront some prejudices you didn’t even know you carried. Often, where we are uncomfortable is where we have the potential for the most growth – the kind of growth that can truly affect the next generation for the better.

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3 Responses to Talking to your kids about race. (Spoiler alert: color blindness isn’t the answer.)

  1. Dawn October 8, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    I very much agree with this! I believe, too, that it extends past skin color to include people with disabilities. I talk to my daughter about walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters. We say hello to children with crutches who walk differently just as we’d be friendly to children who walk like us. She knows that differences are just that- differences. They don’t mean good or bad. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kelly October 17, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    Thank you for writing this. I’m an adoptive mama to a little girl and I’m a little anxious about what these conversations will look like someday (she’s still too little to talk). It’s nice to know how to frame them in the context of accepting differences and observing the world around us.

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