This weekend I was at every mother’s favorite store (Target, of course) waiting in line to check out. In front of me was a mom with her son who looked to be an early 3. As I’m trying to keep my toddler’s octopus arms from opening and/or throwing everything in our cart, I overhear him ask his mom, “Why does that lady have a brown baby?”
She immediately responded with a “Shhh! Don’t be rude!” and a startled look on her face.
But why? Did he say something wrong?
It immediately reminded me of this article .
“Kids as young as six months judge others based on skin color.”
“It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.
They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.
More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.” [bold added]
Wow. A group of liberal, open-minded, non-racist parents – probably a lot like many of you – and more than half of their children answered that their parents didn’t like black people or they just didn’t know.
And why didn’t they know? Their parents had simply never talked to them about it. What this suggests to me is that colorblindness doesn’t work. Even just placing your child in a diverse environment does not work. What works is having the conversation – early and often. It’s okay to acknowledge that people look different. It’s okay to acknowledge that people sound different and act different. And its important to talk about what those differences do and do not mean.
I know it can feel uncomfortable and you may be unsure of exactly what to say. Here’s a tip for getting the conversation started: use books.
These are a couple we are loving in our house right now (click pic for the amazon link):
A fun book with engaging pictures and a clear message!
The Sesame Street gang are my kids’ BFFs – I like this book for using familiar and well-loved friends to introduce a new message.
Race is one of those many topics that is simply no big deal to kids…that is, until adults make it feel like it’s a big deal.
I overheard something once that I will never forget. My son was in kindergarten and I was dropping him off at his before-school daycare. I had just kissed his head and was walking towards the door when another child asked him, “Is that your mom? Why isn’t she brown like you?”
He didn’t get uncomfortable or hesitate for a moment with his answer of,
“Because she didn’t make me in her tummy. God just made her my mom.”
Simple as that.