Ignorance or prejudice

Last week my friend's 5-year-old son, who is African-American, came home from school and reported that a girl in his class, who is white, told him that "a peach girl can't marry a brown boy."

What I hope is that the girl just put that together on her own, and maybe the only couples she knows and identifies as "married" are couples in which both partners are white. I'm thinking about the chapter from NurtureShock called "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race" that shows that kids put together patterns based on things they observe that may not be what jumps out as *us* as being the salient points of the situation. (If you weren't reading or don't remember, pop over to our discussion of it to get the quick-and-dirty.) So it's entirely possible that a little kid could live in a very ethnically-mixed community, but by the luck of the draw not know any white people who were married to people of color, and pull that out as a rule.

For me, it reinforced the idea that we need to be talking talking talking, verbalizing what our values are, even when it seems like it's overkill. And explaining the situations we see around us, the parent combinations in our kids' schools, etc.

Of course, it's also possible that the girl's parents told her that. I'd have thought that was unlikely, but then another friend a few months back was told by her daughter that a girl in one of her afterschool activities asked her, "Are you [Religion X}? Because my mom says I'm not allowed to play with anyone who isn't {Religion X}."

That makes me sad, both for my friend's daughter and for the little girl who has a rule enforced that is going to make it extremely difficult to be a fully-participating American. Think about not being allowed to play with anyone who wasn't just like you. And I get why subcultures want to stay together for protection and pride, but, as my friend said, when she was taken to task about objecting to her daughter having been told she wasn't good enough to play with, "I already know *why*, but none of those reasons make it right or fair to people on the receiving end." (She also taught me the term "Oppression Olympics," which I think is a nice companion concept to "Misery Poker.")

Being a decent person doesn't mean you have to assimilate. It does mean that you have to give each individual person a chance. Especially if they're a little kid! Both because being rejected based on something you have no control over is a brutal experience for the child who is rejected, and because rejecting people based on things they have no control over, without even attempting to know them individually, dehumanizes you.

Thoughts? Has anyone else been verbalizing values more since reading that chapter of NurtureShock? (I'm pretty sure my kids are tired of my talking about how they can marry any boy or girl they want to when they grow up, or not marry anyone.) Have your kids been on the receiving end of ignorant or prejudicial talk? How did you deal with it?

80 thoughts on “Ignorance or prejudice”

  1. I’m definitely talking about values out loud a lot. We’re lucky to live in a state where either of my kids really CAN marry a boy or a girl when they grow up, though my son (four years old) rather astoundingly observed that my daughter could not marry my friend Ms. H (who they have been fighting over for years) “unless she comes here to get married” – b/c a girl can’t marry a girl in Israel. I don’t remember telling him that, but he’s right.We don’t talk about race enough for eleven months of the year. In the weeks leading up to Passover both this year and last, I made a point of discussing all forms of slavery, and how people are not automatically “better” or “worse” based on skin color…but both times it’s petered out and I can’t ever figure out how to get the conversation started again.

  2. I haven’t managed to read Nurture Shock yet but did follow your discussions about it. We have been consciously trying to voice our values. We live in a very small community (fewer than 2,000 people) and it is predominantly white with the second most common ethnic group being Native Americans. We hear prejudicial statements about other races/ethnicities,religions (Catholics and Jews tend to still be fairly mistrusted around here and you are supposed to be Christian), and political leanings on a fairly regular basis. I consistently try to expose my children to a variety of people and make it clear that the only reason for disliking someone is their conduct rather than their external characteristics, religion, etc. We are lucky enough that we have friends and family across pretty much every major ethnic group, religion, and lifestyles who also espouse the same values of acceptance, love, peacefulness, and interest in educating themselves about people who are different.I have not found a way to deal with children who parrot their parents’ beliefs or seem to perceive things as being only one way. With adults I usually try and say in a very mild but firm way that we don’t find stereotypes a very good way of determining our relationships with people or that we determine whether or not we like someone based upon their behavior rather than what we hear about them, their religion, etc.

  3. I live in a very small town, where about half the population identifies as Mexican-American, and the other half identify as caucasian. There is a ton of prejudicial talk; a lot of older whites write the local paper about how English ought to be the official language, and how we need tighter immigration policies, etc. Yeah, it’s racial.Anyway, my friend is a paraprofessional at the elementary school thought of as the “most-selective” by many of the white parents, and I think part of their reasoning for sending their kids there has to do with the fact that it has the smallest population of English-learners, migrant families, and children in Foster care. (But it does not have the highest test scores in these parts – which makes me feel racial and SES-composition is factoring largely into the school’s appeal, but I digress…)
    So my friend at that school was talking to a 5th grade girl who mentioned that her parents had “choiced” her in from her local school which is a dual-language Spanish/English immersion school, and I quote “so that I wouldn’t have to learn Spanish and hang around with a bunch of Mexicans, and bring home lice.” Holy effing shit, right!? Hard to believe people actually talk to their kids in such an overtly racist manner in 2011, but unfortunately, they do. My friend did a great job of letting her know that those attitudes are not the norm, and had a kind of “enlightened witness” discussion to plant healthier ideas in the kid’s head. I hope they take root.

  4. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  5. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  6. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  7. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  8. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  9. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  10. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  11. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  12. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  13. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  14. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  15. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  16. I grew up in a house where it seemed like every day since I was a little girl I was told “you can marry who you want as long as you marry someone of our religion”.I didn’t know until I was about 9 or 10 yrs old that there were people who were NOT of the same religion. And this was in a very large metropolitan cosmopolitan city in an Anglo-type country. It was a big revelation at the time!
    I did NOT marry a person of the same religion. In fact I ended up eloping. My parents didn’t speak to me for at least 5 yrs and then only fully when I had kids (their grandchildren). They still haven’t forgiven me and make it known in all sorts of ways. Still.
    All family arguments and crises when I was a kid centered around religion and by extension, people who looked and acted like us, ie skin color.
    Folks, love your kids unconditionally. It’s that simple. Do everything you can to teach them about human values, doing good and global togetherness. I think this is the most important thing we can do as parents. Be proactive about it. Let them make their own choices. Or, lose them. Lose your kids and their love and grow old bitter and resentful. That’s my parents lot and they deserve it for teaching me I was better than everyone else, when clearly I wasn’t.

  17. My daughter is only 2, so there’s only so much voicing of values I can do at this point.However the other day I was watching a taped Oprah show about the Freedom Riders and thinking of NurtureShock, started telling my daughter “See, Oprah has brown skin like your friend CJ, and so does that man. Mommy and Cupcake have peach skin. People have different kinds of skin and that’s OK.”
    It must have really made an impression on her because then she was pointing to lots of people on the show and saying “CJ? CJ?”
    It made me glad that my daughter’s daycare is pretty diverse because when she sees African Americans around town now, hopefully she’ll connect them to her friend at school instead of feeling strange about them or something.
    And at least I started talking about it.
    I also recorded the PBS documentary about the Freedom Riders to watch with my step-kids later. I really didn’t know that much about it until I watched the Oprah show. Just think how amazing it is that in 50 years this country went from burning a bus full of freedom riders to electing a black president.

  18. We live in a mostly caucasian community, but we lived for a time in a housing project where the majority of tenants were African-American. Things weren’t really an issue for our then 3 year old son until two neighborhood boys who were African American stole some of his toys off our porch, and since then when he sees anyone who is African American he equates them to the kids who stole his toys and calls them “naughty”. We have, each time he’s said something like this, explained to him that the two boys who stole his toys were naughty, not everyone who has that color skin is naughty, just like if (insert name of a white child here) stole your toys, they’re the one who did something wrong, not everyone who is white. As he’s gotten older and is now in school with children of other races I think it has toned down somewhat but it has made me nervous. As a person who was raised in Chicago and whos family is made up of a myriad of races, it’s just something that never really occurred to me as ever being a problem, but I guess now that I’ve noticed that we don’t live in a large city with a lot of diversity, that can really shape your world view in a sometimes negative way. It’s a work in progress. I haven’t heard him take home any racist remarks or strange questions about not being able to play with someone who isn’t a certain religion from school as of yet, but I imagine it will happen someday.It’s weird that this is still going on in our society today, people are just very afraid of one another for no other reason than their own misunderstanding and ignorance of that person’s culture/race/religion.

  19. This post is a good reminder that we need to talk more in our house about race and about our values. I think the biggest danger for us is falling into the ‘unsaid’ camp and DS filling in the blanks for himself based on what he hears from other kids or adults.It’s funny because we are often quick to point out when it comes up in conversation with friends that the future object of DS’ affections may be a boy or a girl, but we don’t often do the same for race or religion etc. I suspect this is because for both DH and I, we have more friends that have experienced sexual orientation discrimination than race or religious discrimination.
    The other theory I’ve formed recently is that we’ll need to be extra careful of unconsciously re-inforcing any stereotypes for our very sensitive kid. I suspect there is a need for highly sensitive kids (or kids who tend towards perfectionism) to categorize things into right and wrong answers (my Mum tells me this was very important to me when I was young), in order to maintain their sense of order and control.
    I think that the more we can provide examples of possibilities (without over confusing the issue) and the less we reinforce stereotypes, the easier it will be for DS to understand that there can be more than one ‘correct’ answer/solution to a question/life situation.

  20. My daughter is an American in a small British elementary school here in Germany. Even though the children are all white (they’ve had one or two black kids, also American, in years past but not this year), she is one of only a few Americans at the school. Last year one child made several derogatory remarks to her about Americans, and either she or another child “told” and the school dealt with the situation quickly and competently. The child was clearly repeating something he had heard at home. I think the school just disciplined the child directly, though. I don’t know if it contacted the parents or not. It never happened again, anyway.In addition, we are church-going Christians, which also makes her a minority among her schoolmates. (The Brits have a great religious education curriculum, by the way…in three years she’s already learned the basics of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hindu. But of course it was obvious during R.E. discussions what her belief system was.) Anyway, she was troubled her first year by a kid making fun of her belief in God, so we had the “not everybody believes the same things” discussion earlier than I expected(first grade).
    We move back to the States soon, and I think these years will prove to be valuable, actually, as it may be the only time she is in the minority at school. We’ve talked about race in a general way, and about body image as well, since she is a head taller and a good bit heavier than her friends. It seems to go together somewhat in her mind, the idea that how one looks on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean anything about who you are on the inside. And whenever we read historical fiction or she comes home with tidbits from history, she is suitably indignant that black people or women “used to be” treated so badly. She has a strong sense of fairness that I hope will serve her well in her thinking about these kinds of issues.

  21. My 7 year old has started asking what color people were in ancient Egypt, Rome, etc. I don’t think it is anything more than one more facet of a society that interests him — what did people look like, what did they eat and wear, how were their houses designed. He does ask WHY people are brown or white or dark brown, and so far seems content with “that’s just how they were born” or “that’s how God made them.”His uncle (my sister’s husband) is African, which makes inter-racial relationships seem run of the mill to him. His tiny Catholic school is fairly racially homogenous, so right now he’s more interested in knowing if someone is Catholic more than anything else. Innate differences like race seem less startling to him than the fact that his some of his grandparents are Christian but not Catholic, or not Christian at all.

  22. You know, I think the racial part is comfortable for my kids- they know many families of varying and mixed ethnic backgrounds. But I falter when I try to find out if the fourth graders are getting interested in the opposite sex. What if my son is gay and I’m pressing on him an expectation of being hetero?21st century parenting!

  23. We have had to talk about this from a very early age with our kids. My husband is from India and our kids are acutely aware of how Brown Daddy and Yellow Mama are different colors(yes, I am caucasion, I must cast yellow undertones or perhaps, I need a makeover at the Estee Lauder counter!) Basically, we talk about it and truth be known, we do joke about it.My kids are in a private pre-school with a mix of ethnicities (including an Indian couple and yep, my kids are fascinated with their friends’ mama matches the Brown Daddy ๐Ÿ™‚ However, my son enters kindergarten in the fall. I am bracing myself.
    I do think talking about it is the key. I want to give my kids the vocabulary (and courage to match) to TALK about it and express themselves. I can’t protect them, but I can begin to give them the tools to defend themselves.

  24. Oh, and I should have mentioned that although I am in a Mixed Pickle marriage, we were both raised Christian. My husband is more Catholic than I am. We are both lapsed and don’t go to church – that is a whole other subject that I am still wrapping my brain around, since we live in the bloody Red state of Kansas where we are surrounded by religion.

  25. My daughter is half asian, half caucasian and as it comes up we’ll be talking lots about race. However, the other day she came home (she is 3.5) from school saying boys can’t wear skirts or dresses. Which prompted a large discussion on the “why” of that. Finally, she said it was because a boy at school told her that. So we talked about how people should be able to wear whatever they felt good wearing. If she felt good wearing a skirt, then couldn’t a boy feel good wearing a skirt? It is a discussion we are going to revisit, but I think I’m going to need some pictures of men in kilts to really make my point.

  26. Two quick stories:We were in the parking lot of a store when a person of short stature (I googled it and it seems like the PC term is “Little People” but really? that sounds insensitive to me) was walking towards us. I was exhausted (insert lame my-kid-never-sleeps excuse here) and I tried to steer my 3.5 yr old away from said person. My son starts exclaiming, in his loud and squeaky voice, “Momma, look at that little guy! Why is he so little? He’s so shrunken, Mama. You’re not looking! Look. At. Him.” I just about died. I had no words. I just averted my eyes and tried to escape as quickly as possible. This was months ago and it still hurts my heart at how badly I reacted. I was such an asshole and I will go to my deathbed with it weighing on my heart.
    2nd story: This weekend we were in Philly, which is culturally and ethnically 10x more diverse than the outskirts of Denver where we currently live. My son sees a black couple and asks “Why are they so brown?” and because of story #1, I was prepared. “Because, sweetheart, people come in all different colors and sizes.” (How hard was that?) Tada. We saw a million shades of people that weekend and somehow what I said turned into his internalizing that “that’s how they were made.”
    We will keep talking about it. And we will keep talking about standing up for yourself and your friends when someone else is insensitive or hurtful. And we will talk about how sometimes it takes a strength or courage we don’t think we have – or don’t want to muster – but that it’s always the right thing.

  27. We are extremely fortunate in that we live in an urban area with a diverse population, and, to drill down one more level, our block is pretty evenly mixed between African-American and white. So–geography has done a lot of the work for us. That said, we DO talk about slavery, segregation, the civil rights movement, the significance of Obama being elected president… etc. Interestingly, Eldest went to a pre-school that was predominantly Black–she was the only white kid in her class. We wondered how that would play out… Would she be discriminated against, based on her color? She was not.Additionally, one of my SILs is married to a woman (not legal, yet, in this state, but they did do a civil ceremony with the big white dress and the cake and everything, oh my) and so the concept of same-sex pairing is treated very naturally. I mean, it’s part of our family. Like another commenter, I have found discussing same-sex pairing to come much more easily than discussions of religion. The reason is because we don’t really practice a religion, so there you go. This conversation, for me, is another reminder that faith and organized religion need to be something we introduce with real intent into our kid’s lives, if for no other reason than that creating an opportunity for these conversations is a part of my job of being a parent.

  28. We are good friends with a lesbian couple who have a daughter the same age as my son– in fact, they were in day care together and are probably each other’s oldest friends (they’re now 4). A while back, my son said, “Why doesn’t F have a Dad?”. I said, “She does have a Dad– he lives in Philadelphia. Remember, his name is K. and he came on that camping trip we all went on.” DS said, “But why does he live so far away? F. needs a Dad in her house.” I said, “Well, instead she has a Mama and a . ” He said, “Oh. OK.”He mentioned it one or two more times, just asking questions about where F’s Dad was (he’s very close to his Dad, so I think it was more about “Could my Dad go away?” than wondering about same-sex couples).
    That was easy compared to the questions he had when we read Obama’s children’s book, “Of Thee I Sing”. It was incredibly hard to try to convey who Abraham Lincoln, MLK and Jackie Robinson were to a four year old. So, to concatenate and paraphrase my replies to his many questions, I said: “A long long time ago, white people stole brown people from Africa and made them their slaves. They had to work like animals, and they were sold like animals, just like cows or sheep. If they had children, they got sold, too. The white people did this because they were mean; it was not right to do this. The brown people were very sad about being slaves. Then there was a war and Abraham Lincoln said all the brown people should be free and should be able to live and have families and houses like the white people. But there were still a lot of mean people who didn’t like the brown people because they were brown. They wouldn’t let brown people play baseball with white people. The people who thought this were mean and they were wrong. Jackie Robinson was the first brown man to play baseball with white people. He was a very good people baseball player and a nice man. Because of him, lot of people realized that brown people are as good as white people and that it is mean and wrong not to let brown people play with you.”
    I cringed through every moment of it, because I felt like I was grossly oversimplifying, probably misstating and likely phrasing everything in terms of white privilege anyway. But, I kept thinking about the Nurture Shock chapter and about how it was important to bite the bullet and talk about it even if I felt uncomfortable and unqualified doing so.
    @nej: I had a similar experience with my son; we passed an extremely small woman on the sidewalk and my son said loudly, “Mom, that lady is as small as I am!” Luckily, he said it in German and I hope the woman didn’t speak German; I can’t remember what I said, something like “Yes, some people are small and some people are big.” He also likes to point out whenever he sees a wheelchair and ask loudly why that person can’t use their legs, what happened to them, were they sick? Again, I can only hope these people don’t understand what he is saying!

  29. This is not an issue for me since I don’t really care what other people/families do, but what if there is a parent reading here whose belief system really and truly says that gay people should not marry (or even I suppose inter-religious marry without conversion)?I would guess that would be one of those times when you’d pull out the “different rules in different families” card and play it like you can still be friends with the kid with two daddies and we don’t discriminate against people, but we can’t condone their actions. Now that would be a tricky line to straddle. That could be repeated at school as something like “The pope says your daddies are going to h-e-double hockey sticks”.

  30. Ever since reading the chapter in Nurture Shock, I’ve been comfortable discussing race with my daughter. Her school is really very diverse, so you’d think that would give us a lot of opportunities. But she doesn’t bring it up much, and I don’t think about it much. Instead, we talk about different countries where people and their families are from. I am reminded that I need to bring up races also so that she doesn’t start making up “rules” on her own.My hot button issue tends to be more the restrictions based on gender. I am quick to talk to her about not excluding others when she says things like, “boys are allowed in this car” especially when her brother is clearly sitting right next to her. And I got pretty mad about a discussion I wasn’t around for about what raincoats were okay for her to wear versus what were okay for her brother to wear–although my anger there was much more about society than the actual discussion that I missed.
    We haven’t had any religion discussions yet. I am worried about those, because I’ve undergone a complete change in my religious beliefs over the last few years, and I’m not sure how to talk about it yet.
    What’s that book everyone recommends about raising kids without religion?

  31. BlueBirdMama:If it makes you feel better, my friend’s husband has an artificial leg. When kids ask about it he is very matter of fact. “Yup, I only have one leg. I was born this way.” I don’t think it bothers him at all that little kids notice it and comment.
    I’m pretty sure that people don’t take offense when little kids notice this stuff. At least this is what I will tell myself when my daughter starts making observations about other people!

  32. My parents didn’t talk about it and I grew up thinking color of the skin wasn’t a big deal or a reason to have a discussion (yes, I’m white). I don’t understand why it always has to be an issue. I don’t care what color anyone is. The only time I have ever seen anyone ever bring it up is non-white people. Which, I guess, just makes that book you stated a reality. It seems to matter a lot more to other people and I don’t know why. I am more interested in teaching my child about respecting others and preferring her neighbor. Why does it matter if your neighbor has a different skin color?

  33. oh.. and bluebirdmama.. that description of slavery hurts and I cringe. I hope you’re able to get to the point where you explain that it wasn’t just meanness – but ignorance. And a reason to always educate ourselves and don’t hurt others. Also, to help them understand that not all white people were mean people. And even then, not all slaveowners were mean people. The culture then was just so complex and different from now. And yes, I think slavery was very wrong. In every way.but sometimes I wonder if we just don’t oversimplify things to a horrible degree. A degree where we’re drawing lines again by trying to not draw lines or explain old lines. We need to be careful not to help them associate color with differences in the past, but instead to just see people in a variety of colors and know that all people have feelings and need friends and probably like eating candy – so, share your candy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. @Emily N – That’s what I thought, also… until I read the chapter in Nurture Shock which looked at actual research in this area. Unfortunately, kids are “developmentally prone” to categorize things, especially big visual indicators like color of skin, and to prefer others that look like themselves.I highly suggest you read the discussion we had on Moxie’s post about that chapter in Nurture Shock, which lays out the chapter and research, as well as the comments were we all talk about what we read. As Moxie wrote there: “So, basically, we’re letting kids interpret physical differences, like race, all on their own, without any guidance, thinking they’re blank slates. But instead they’re drawing the exact conclusions we don’t want them to.” http://www.askmoxie.org/2010/06/discussion-of-nurtureshock-chapter-3-why-white-parents-dont-talk-about-race.html

  35. BTW, my comment was in response to Emily N’s first comment, and how I also thought I’d just not make a big deal out of race and not talk about it.

  36. We have been talking a lot about immigration recently seeing the subject has been in the news lately due to the crisis in Libia and the rest of Northern Africa. Italy still doesn’t know how to deal with the problem of the boat people, or better still prefers not to deal with the problem personally, asking the EU to intervene, but I digress. There are posters of overloaded boats with slogans (from the political far right) calling for tougher actions against ‘clandestines’. My 6 y.o very innocently once asked if people can not feed their babies in their own country then why can’t they come here. Beautiful sentiment I thought.My kids associate black skin with Africa and boat people. Just the other day, my daughter( almost 4.5) saw a dark skinned woman in the shop we were in and declared at the top of her voice ‘Mum, look an African’. There was nothing wrong with this statement ( she probably was African actully), but I thanked God that she had said this in English and so no one would have understood, even if I’m sure even the woman in question would have smiled. Then the almost 6.5 year old pipes up with, ‘Mum, do all African come over in boats?’, again fortunately not in Italian. I did manage to answer the question without too many follow up questions, which must have satisfied their curiosity, because the kids changed the subject to something neutral like the cute Hello Kitty t-shirts on the rack.
    We will soon be moving from a fairly racially homogenous small town to a big cosmopolitan city in an English speaking country where, unfortunately, I will no longer be able to hide behind another language ( my kids do not speak to me in Italian). I am starting to dread the prospect of dealing with similar comments to the above, but at the same time realise kids are bound to say things that might be embarassing to the parent, like, ‘hey, you know my Mum farts’.
    I agree with Moxie, talk talk and talk about your values until its overkill, and then talk some more.

  37. @caramamaThe book you are thinking of may be Parenting Beyond Belief. However I can’t remember the author’s name and seem to have mislaid my copy at the moment.

  38. @Emily N: A couple of thoughts. As for “why it always has to be an issue”, I think race is still an enormous issue in our country. There a people still alive today who had to drink from colored water fountains– it’s not like the racism that produced that evaporated into thin air with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I went to high school in rural Georgia (in the 90’s) where the “N- word” was commonly used by white people; any girl who dated black guys in my high school was called an “N- lover” and ostracized by the whites. This was 15 years ago; my classmates now have young children. So yes, I think race is still very much an issue in this country.Our current events are *filled* with race issues. The immigration issue is about race. Forget the fact that Spanish speaking people have been in what is now the United States longer than English speaking peoples and that California and much of the Southwest have been populated by Spanish speakers since before CA, NM, AZ and TX were statesโ€ฆ brown skinned Spanish speakers in the Southwest are routinely treated as “the other” and potential criminals in the Southwest, whereas white people are just assumed to be there legitimately. The birther movement is about race (has a white president ever been asked to prove his Americanness? No– Obama is seen as “a foreigner” precisely because he is black.) The controversy over Common being invited to the White House is about race (as John Stewart pointed out, Bob Dylan, among others, sang songs about convicted murderers and no one every got outraged by his being invited to the White House).
    Why do people of color continue to bring up race? Because for people of color, their race is routinely considered by white people to be the most salient thing about them. Because they don’t have the privilege of not thinking about it as you do.
    Yes, there is a lot more nuance in the discussion of slavery than my initial foray with my four year old; and yes, culture was complex. But honestly, I don’t think one needs to spend a lot of time defending the poor, ignorant slave owners who didn’t know any better– personally, I think the suffering of the slaves and the destruction wrought by slavery on the fabric of black social and family life in the United States deserves more air time. By the same token, I’m German and I don’t think the primary issue of the Holocaust is that there were some Germans who were nice and it was a complex issue– I think the primary issue is that a whole nation of people was complicit in the slaughter of millions based on race and religion and the Jews were very nearly destroyed (certainly their long and brilliant history in German and Poland ended). Even so, there are still people in Germany (like my Grandfather) who say stupid shit like “If Hitler had won the war, everyone nowadays would think he was a hero.” This is why in German schools, young people are taught that it is *Germans* who were responsible for the Holocaust and its consequences and that Germans cannot rightly turn away from their responsibility– not that, gee, it was a really complex issue and people didn’t know any better and we should really just let bygones be bygones.
    Sorry to hijack this thread and get all testy, but it just boggles my mind that so many white Americans think, “Hey, I like Oprah. We have a black president. Race doesn’t matter anymore!”
    /end rant.

  39. I haven’t read Nurture Shock yet and was also trying not to make race a big deal with my 3.5 year old (Caucasian) son. That is, until he came home from preschool talking about how his (African-American) friend’s hands were “brown” on one side and “regular” on the other side (his palms). So for now we talk about “differences” in the context of how they are normal and good, but one difference is not better than the other.

  40. We have had a lot of help from school with this topic, because Mouse attends a very diverse (no group is a majority) school with a Civil Rights focus. Some of the things they have done are really powerful – like teaching about segregation in Kindergarten in explicit terms. Mouse learned not just that white people used to treat people of other colors badly, but that everyone’s world was impoverished by that state of affairs. I’ll never forget her coming home and very seriously saying “mommy under segregation I couldn’t have gone to school with S and R and N – I would never have gotten to know them”. They also have an Ability Awareness Fair where kids can try out various physical limitations, understand that while many are serious, they would still be themselves if they had them, and think about what it takes to make sure every kid at the school has what they need to learn.Religion is tougher. We have none, and only one of her grandparents does, and at the same time we teach her that it’s important to respect others’ beliefs. I feel confident that she’ll accurately identify prejudiced statements to her, but they may still be hurtful, and I’m not sure what I’d say to another kid who made one. I know she’s gotten some gender ones already.

  41. @BlueBirdMama, we haven’t had the experience yet of DS blurting out the obvious, but I’m thinking that I’ll try to take a different approach when DS says a fact “that person is as small as I am” “that person is brown” “that little boy/girl has two mommies/daddies” vs. when he makes a judgment or asks prying questions “why do you only have one leg” “why don’t you have a daddy” etc.I’m all for asking questions, but I guess that’s part of learning about being social and relationships with people you do know vs. those that you don’t.
    Of course, I’m sure not every situation is so black and white (no pun intended) and I’ll be eating my words, but…
    Interestingly enough, the only thing we’ve really encountered so far with DS is other kids pointing out his hair colour (a fairly bright red). A few young kids (3-4 in age?) pointed at him in a shoe store and said “Mommy his hair is funny,” and then the other day at another shoe store (I don’t know what it is about shoe stores), two other kids said quite loudly “Look mommy, he has hair like you!” Both parents handled it with grace – the first talked about it with her kids and the second just smiled wistfully saying she wished one of her kids had her hair colour.
    I don’t think DS took much notice either time, but I suppose I may in the future need to qualify to him that when another kid says ‘His hair is funny’ it’s probably because they have never seen anyone with red hair, and to make sure he doesn’t feel any shame in being different.

  42. @Paola, Heeeeee…”…kids are bound to say things that might be embarassing to the parent, like, ‘hey, you know my Mum farts’.
    …if only I could get DH to hush up about similar things. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  43. @Charisse’s comment reminds me to approach all of this through books (at least as a starting point), and to not necessarily be afraid of explicit terms. DS (at just under three) is learning the word ‘hypothesis’ in regards to science experiments (thank you Sesame Street video games!), so surely he can learn about other complex things like race and religion.Also, seeing what he gravitates to in books, it reminds me to not underestimate his capacity to learn.

  44. yeah, it’s an issue, I know. Even if I don’t understand it. I grew up in Texas and went to a school where I was in the minority. 15% white. I just don’t see people by the color of their skin, so I will never be able to understand why it’s such a big deal.Maybe I will start teaching my kids with the Venn diagrams. ‘Sure, these things are different, but what can you find that’s the same?’
    I just worry about continuing a problem. If kids are going to separate on their own, I think our job as parents isn’t to help them separate by giving them more information to use to show that there’s a divide, but instead to help them link things back together by giving them unifying things.
    perhaps I’m naive.

  45. @bluebirdmama – right on!@Emily N, you may really benefit from reading the chapter in Nurtureshock. It explains in convincing detail why “we don’t see color” is not just untrue but confusing to each successive generation of little kids.
    I’m really interested in race issues right now. The more I learn, the more it’s obvious to me that race is still very much a giant issue in the fabric of everyday life – in America, but pretty much in any country with more than one ethnicity of people. And it’s also increasingly obvious to me that I – a fairly non-racist white person – have spent most of my life just totally ignorant of a lot of stuff relating to race. Just not noticing it, because it doesn’t really apply to me. (Hello, white privilege.)
    Our child is barely verbal at this point, but my husband and I spend a lot of time talking about race issues (is that weird? okay, fine.) – I don’t know how much of that is getting into our kid’s brain or how much of it will in the future. But I hope that we’ll continue to discuss it and not sweep it under the rug.
    There’s technically a ton of diversity in the megacity we live in, but in practice, middle-class parents tend to cluster together in private-school enclaves. We went to a preschool tour recently, and for all the school’s talk about the importance of diversity, every single parent there was white.
    So it’s important to me to keep talking and thinking about this stuff, because I’m pretty sure it’s very easy, as a white parent raising a white child, to offer platitudes like “Everyone is the same and of equal value!” and ignore the realities of how race still (dis)functions in America.

  46. @canneverremember – “hello, White Privilege!” Amen, and I’m so glad you brought that up.@BlueBirdMama – Oh sister, how I totally agree with everything you just said, and I’m still chuckling to myself about your “I’m German and I don’t think the primary issue of the Holocaust is that there were some Germans who were nice and it was a complex issue” line. Love it!

  47. I’m all for explaining complex topics to kids in an age-appropriate way, but I don’t think simplifying salvery into white people were bad to own black people does anyone any favors. Slavery really is more complex than that. It went on for hundreds of years on a worldwide scale. There were a whole lot of people in a whole lot of countries involved in the world wide slave trade. This doesn’t make salvery right. There were a whole lot of people looking the other way. It wasn’t just Americans, and it wasn’t just whites. There were Africans involved kidnapping people in Africa, black people in the US and Caribbean owned slaves, people all over the world knew that there was slavery in America and didn’t go to war with us over it. I’m saying that slavery is wrong and complex at the same time. I don’t think telling kids that white people were naughty helps white kids or black kids (and certainly not mixed race kids).So far, we’ve had some small discussions of slavery and discrimination/bigotry (while reading the Little House books (Little Town on the Prairie and the “Literaries” – oh my!)), and we’ve made it very general about how the law allowed it and that was wrong and people needed to fight to change the law and free the slaves. The Little House books also made me confront Native American oppression with the kids. Good times.
    As a total aside (since my whole post is pretty much an aside), I would say the “international community” handled the Holocaust better. There was a war going on, the genocide was identified as wrong and stopped as soon as possible, unlike slavery.

  48. @SarcastiCarrie: Of course, slavery is complex. My child is four. The discussion was about American historical figures (as opposed to say British or Carribean or African). When DS asks my why people had slaves or thought black people weren’t as good as them, am I going to launch into the complexities of the southern agrarian economy, prevailing cultural and religious beliefs about race and then talk about how a few brave white people were against it all anyway? No, I’m going to say, “Owning slaves was wrong. The white people were wrong to have slaves, and black people were hurt by it for many generations.”I really don’t get why when white people talk about race, they want it to be all about the noble white people who helped the blacks out or about how the economy made slave owners out of otherwise swell white folks. Saying “it wasn’t just Americans, and it wasn’t just whites” may be true on a global scale in the world history of slavery (sure the Romans had slaves), but in the American historical context, it’s incredibly disingenuous. American slavery is about hundreds of years of one group of people denying personhood to another group of people based on the color of their skin– and, sorry, but the sad fact is, the whites *were* the bad guys in this story.
    Are you worried that “simplifying salvery into white people were bad to own black people” will make little white children feel bad to hear about their ancestors doings? I have great grandparents who were your average, middle class German anti-semites tacitly participating in the slaughter of the Jews; my great-grandfathers both fought in the German army and one was an officer; when, at age 12, I tried to ask my great-grandmother what she knew about the Holocaust at the time it occurred, she told me a story about a Jew who cheated her father. When I learned these things about my family, it didn’t make me feel bad or guilty or bad for being German. It made me feel like I had more of a responsibility than other people to stand up and speak up for what is right, to be more sensitive to issues of discrimination, to open my eyes and look for the on-going oppression occurring in daily life all around us. In other words, it made me committed to helping right the wrongs of the past. IMHO, one of the reasons race is still such a divisive issue in the US is because white people in general (yes, I know there are exceptions) are not willing to accept that it is there responsibility to make it right. Instead, people try to, ahem, white wash the past and talk about how hard white males have it (now that they are losing a teeny-tiny sliver of their dominant position to women and minorities, making them still dominant and priveleged, just ever so slightly less so).

  49. Glad you brought this up. I must address it now that M is four. She got a bunch of princess panties (she loves princesses — it’s out of my control), and the other day she said she didn’t want to wear the ones with the brown princesses. I should have jumped on that opportunity to talk about people of different colors! I will take the next opportunity!

  50. I think kids in K are primed to catalog differences. When a kid makes a remark like that, I always think the best thing to do is ask why? or how come you say that? just to see if they put it together on their own or if it sounds like it comes from the home. Kids will always fill in the blanks when they don’t get the whole picture.That said, we definitely had a religion prejudice. DD’s classmate in daycare had this overprotective mother who begged me to request our kids be put together in K. I thought we were all going to be friends from that, but no. The little girl quickly had to tell mine how her backpack wasn’t “cool” and how she was only allowed to play with A, “because A goes to church and I’m only allowed to play with kids who go to church”. This caused DD to beg us to take her to church. We went once and she thought it was seriously boring. She basically wanted the church cred to get the girl to be her friend, but no dice. It had to be HER church, not just some other one. Nice. I confess it made me turn pretty frosty to the mom.

  51. I’m glad I have a year or two to start to worry about this because once my daughter is old enough to comprehend what people around her are saying, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. My husband’s family is part of an ethnic minority, but if you think that means that makes them automatically tolerant, think again. I’ve heard more blatant and inadvertently biggoted comments come out of the mouths of my husband’s family than from any white person I know (in person, anyway). It makes me want to scream, but I don’t know how to handle it. My husband tends to keep his mouth shut and pretend he hasn’t heard.I know there are polite ways to address this with family, but I honestly think it will only make them uncomfortable with ME – they know they’re not being “politically correct,” they just don’t care, and want to be able to “joke around” with family without fear (note that this also includes making jokes about their own ethnicity). Obviously, I don’t condone any of this, but dread the day I finally have to bring it up because our daughter will start internalizing those beliefs herself. I’m starting to think the best approach is to address them more harshly – say, with “Hey – don’t say that sh&% around my daughter” – because it might be the only way they’ll actually listen to me.

  52. We live in Detroit, where something like 85 percent of the population is black. We’re white. I grew up as a racial minority and so will my kids; her my daughter’s class is majority Latino, some African-American, some mixed race, and she’s one of two white kids (both girls). Her BFF at school is biracial and our neighbor that we ride to school with is also biracial. I don’t talk about race with her a lot because she doesn’t bring it up and hates, hates, HATES getting A Moral Lesson so I just try to bring up what makes sense and let her see me have friends of different races. So imagine my shock and dismay when she said to me the other day, out of the blue, that “you have to marry someone who is the same as you.” After figuring out she did in fact mean race, I asked her why she thought that and she said “Because you and Daddy are the same.” I said, “That’s not always true though…BFF’s parents aren’t the same, and neighbor boy’s aren’t the same, and Friend in First Grade’s aren’t the same…” She got it right away and I said “You can marry anyone you want who’s not in your family.” Still. JEEZ. I guess I’m sharing this just as evidence that yes, kids categorize despite all evidence to the contrary. Now that I think about it, she does a lot of saying how she and Daddy are the same because they have blue eyes and dimples and are tall, or she and I are the same because we’re girls, or whatever. I was just floored by it.(Also, our most intense discussion about MLK ended with her somehow thinking my parents knew him…like were friends with him. Clearly I suck at this).

  53. My husband and I are trying to do better about addressing race and other differences now that my eldest daughter is 4. We’re trying, but we’re not there yet. I’d give us a solid B-. We’ll keep trying, though, and that is the best I can do. We all come with our baggage, you know.I think it is my job as someone who has the privilege to be able to ignore race sometimes to fight that urge and NOT ignore. To see the inequities that still exist and try to raise kids who will see them, too, and maybe do better than we do at fixing them.
    I’ve been thinking about race more than usual these days, because I have been shocked by the coded racism in some people’s reactions to my plan to send my kids to a public school. Even some people who think of themselves as progressive and open-minded can’t see the horrible racism and classism implicit in their opinions of public schools, and what those opinions mean about our supposed meritocracy. But that is a rant for another day. In fact, it is a rant I’ve already written on my blog, so I’ll stop.
    But I’ll leave one link for anyone who is thinking that we have somehow gotten beyond racism. As I’ve seen as I start talking about schools with people, and as Moxie’s friend’s story shows- the latent racism in our culture really rears its head when our kids are involved. The link is to a blog post from a black father, about the racism he faces when he takes his daughter to the playground:
    http://daddy-dialectic.blogspot.com/2011/05/day-at-park.html

  54. @girdtmom and Stacy – Those were the books I meant! Thanks guys.@Charisse – I totally love Mouse’s school! Man, I wish they had stuff like that here… I would have loved to have gone there myself!

  55. “No Body Talk”. This is one of the rules at the summer camp I went to. It means no commenting on any part of the body, no matter whether it’s complimentary or negative. As a culture, it is something that gives a person freedom to be themselves, in the skin they have. It is especially wonderful for the adolescent girls who go there.My son knows that it isn’t polite to use “body talk” about other people. We talk privately about bodies, of course, especially his, and mine, and he has lots of questions that he shares in private. But we also talk about the power of “body talk” and the need to find respectful language with which to explore our curiosity, even just amongst ourselves.

  56. After reading NurtureShock, I tried talking with my son about race, in some age-appropriate ways…I thought. It didn’t quite work: I started talking about how different children in his class have different skin, and that was okay, and asked what color skin he had. He said he was gray. (We are white, by the way, and my son is pretty pale — but nothing that could be construed as gray.)It took me a few weeks to figure out that he probably wanted to be gray like Thomas the Tank Engine.
    Anyway, this post was a good prompt to try that discussion again. Unfortunately we might be talking about tabby cats and marmalade cats, as DS is very into pretending he’s a cat. Actually, it’s kind of hard to pin him down on much: he goes into various imaginary worlds a lot. We are, however, starting to get a lot of talk about which favorite color belongs to which child at daycare, and whether someone has done a wrong thing, like say her son has to eat his carrot. We’re starting to get into social rules and identities, in other words. Time to talk about whether we’re gray again.

  57. So many great comments, but I’ll just mention that saying you “don’t see race” or skin color means that you don’t see a *fundamental* part of who a person is, his or her identity, family, background, and how he or she functions in society. It’s like saying, “Oh, I’m gender-blind, I just don’t see whether a person is a man or a woman.” Of course you see it, and you should see it. Whether that person is a friend, an employee, or your own family member, that ethnicity is part of their personhood, and you should honor it.

  58. Magda,Another Mawrtyr clicking through friends’ links. I have many nieces and nephews. When one of my nieces was just starting school (nearly 20 years ago), another aunt got married. Our family is Korean. She married a non-Korean. The niece called the new uncle a stranger because he wasn’t Korean. Her parents actually gave her a big lecture about discrimination. I think with her, it was based on patterns. Most of the older relatives hadn’t married non-Koreans, but then most of the older relatives were getting married in Korea. More of us now live in the US, and we’re marrying all kinds of people, or not getting married at all. Who says you have to marry someone who’s the opposite sex, same ethnicity, or decently proportioned to your height? Who says you have to marry at all?
    Hope to meet you in person some time.
    Anassa kata,
    Terri ’01

  59. I’ve been thinking a lot about the slavery issue, and how I’ll explain it to my kids, who, after all, only inherit this shameful history from one parent. (They get another set of historical problems from the other parent. And most of my ancestors didn’t come over here until after the Civil War….)But they are white kids, growing up in America, so they have this cultural inheritance of a great injustice that was done by “their” group, and the ongoing effects of that. I’ll want to address that with them.
    I can see the point of both the people who say that it is an uncomplicated wrong thing and should be explained as such and the people who say that is complicated.
    I guess I think both are right: slavery was an unambiguously wrong thing. But what that means to us now is a bit complicated.
    One clear lesson is that we need to recognize people’s fundamental equality, regardless of race. That is straight-forward, and I haven’t read any comments arguing otherwise here.
    But I also see it as a chance to go a step further and teach how social norms can corrupt even fundamentally “good” people.
    There were no doubt some slave owners who were very good, wonderful people- except in this one horrible aspect. In that aspect, they were conforming to the norms of their time and culture, which we now realize were very, very wrong.
    There were people at the time who tried to point out how wrong this was, and their objections were ignored or rationalized away.
    We can all probably think of our favorite parallels in modern times, and one of the interesting things is that we might not all agree on what things are truly parallels. How to handle that is a major question for all of us in our lives. Which things are important enough to fight for? How hard is it OK to fight against a social norm that you believe is an injustice? Most people agree (now) that it was right to take up arms against slavery and the holocaust. But where do we draw the line? It is much harder to know where that line goes in the present than when looking back into the past.
    And THAT is the complexity I want to teach my kids about slavery. Obviously, I won’t go to this level with my 4 year old. But I want to start laying the groundwork for an ongoing discussion about values around social norms, because that is, to me, the real lesson we need to learn from slavery. And that is why I can’t just agree that slavery is a straightforward topic to explain to my kids. There are some very straightforward things I can tell them. But the full story? That is very complex.

  60. @Cloud – You response about changing social norms, immigrants who came after the Civil War, and how to decide when *today* to fight against known wrongs was absolutely wonderful and one of the best comments I have read.

  61. Thank you to Cloud & to Bibliospork for those links.Regarding what to say when your kid tells you what another child has told them, I tend to ask “Do you agree with him/her?” And then we talk about what my child believes.
    This can be about things as innocuous (and objective) as who is taller or as painful as who is prettier, who can play with/marry/whatever with whom, etc. I like to think that I am at least starting to teach my 4 year old that she doesn’t have to believe or agree with what other people tell her but that she gets to make up her own mind. We’ll see how that works out as she gets older and starts into a language/cultural immersion program in our public school district with people who don’t all look like her.

  62. Peach girl! Brown boy! Oh, if only race was just the crayons in a box. In fourth grade, my teacher made everyone go around saying what color they are. My heart was jackhammering. I finally said I was peach, because I am quite pale, and she said, “No, you are yellow.”I am mixed myself. My son is mixed. Amongst other people of mixed color,we freely ask, “What are you mixed with?” It does not offend me. But,whenever a Caucasian person asks me,”What are you?” I get so burned up.
    I don’t want my son getting burned up and told he’s yellow or peach or brown. He will though. So how do I prepare him?
    I want him to know that I am here to defend him or help him defend himself. I never told my parents any of the racism I encountered, because I knew it would hurt them and they’d feel helpless…
    Anyway, this topic is all too personal and I’m paying close attention to everyone’s responses.

  63. @SusanOR, I think that’s a great plan and I hope to remember do the same when the time comes.@Lumberjack, OMG. That’s awful. I can’t believe your teacher did that. I feel for the 9/10 year-old you.
    And ITA with @SarcastiCarrie’s comment re: @Cloud’s last comment.

  64. Thanks, @SarcastiCarrie and @the milliner! It took me a while to figure out how to say what I was thinking… I’m glad someone was still reading.

  65. @Lumberjack – I totally get where you’re coming from. Growing up, I got “where are you from?” all the time, and when I’d say “Pittsburgh” they’d say “No, I mean, where are you *really* from?”WTF? I was born and raised in this country but made to feel like “not a REAL American” more often than I care to remember.
    That and the people who compliment my English. Great, since it’s the only language I speak. Fortunately in Seattle, this almost never happens anymore.

  66. Haven’t read the comments, but yes, we have definitely been talking more about race and other stuff since the Moxie discussion. I ask him what color his skin is, and what color Mr. A’s skin is (it is brown). The other day I asked him if it was better to have white skin 0r brown skin, and he said white. So we jumped into a discussion of how it isn’t better to have any color skin–just like our family has brown hair and his favorite aunt has blonde, or he has green eyes and his dad and I have brown eyes. I probably shouldn’t have phrased the question the way I did, but I wanted to see what he said. We also talk about how some kids have a mom and dad, and some kids have two moms or two dads, and some just have a mom or just have a dad, and what’s really important is that families love eeach other. He’s 3.5, so we tend to keep these discussions pretty short and matter of fact. I haven’t gotten into the idea that some people think that having brown skin or having two mommies is bad. I don’t think he’s old enough to grok that yet.

  67. @Bibliospork – that’s extremely sad. I think that’s a completely different issue though. and one that clearly needs to be addressed somehow.

  68. It’s not a different issue, though. That’s my point. You said something like “I don’t see why it always has to be an issue”, and I was pointing out why it IS always an issue. People of color don’t have the luxury of ignoring race because it’s in their faces all day, every day.I linked to that video because I think lots of white people need to see something like that to understand just how blatant and obvious racial issues still are to people of color. I know it opened my eyes when I first saw it.

  69. @ARC, I got the, “No, what are you REALLY?” too. Over time, the question can make anyone feel less than human. I don’t care if the question is from ignorance or prejudice; it is both rude and hateful.And I agree with Bibliospark that to people of color, race isn’t just an issue that comes up every now and then in awkward situations. Now that I have a child, this is more apparant than ever.

  70. So moms who have been dealing with this in what you think is a successful manner, can you give the rest of us tips for how to have these conversations with our kiddos? I know I’ve tended to shy away from conversations because I don’t feel qualified or I don’t know what to say, but I also saw that video that Bibliospark linked to a while back, and it really made me realize that A–saying SOMETHING is better than saying nothing and letting it all come from pop culture, and B–my discomfort is probably really nothing when compared to the discomfort people of color must face every day trying to live their lives while dealing with the constant bombardment of negative messages from the culture.

  71. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the answer on race. But on disability, I feel like I’m on firmer ground. I teach my kids not to point or make loud comments of any sort about anyone. But if they ask me in a quiet voice, “Why does that man use a chair?” or “Why doesn’t he have any arms?”, then I say, “Because he probably can’t walk very well.” or “Probably he was born that way.” No drama, matter-of-fact. Disability *isn’t* shameful, and there’s no need to treat it that way.(It’s also my experience that most disabled people are not offended by children’s innocent questions, but it’s up to them whether they want to discuss, of course.)

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