When I picked my son up from school he seemed a little down. I proceeded to get him and his sister buckled into their car seats to begin our commute home. I asked my normal questions to gauge how everyone’s day went, but I wasn’t getting much response from my four-year-old. After asking more questions, he finally revealed that some kids were teasing him. I asked him why and he said, “because my skin is different.”
My heart was crushed, but I mustered the courage to ask a few more questions to figure out exactly what happened. The details were fuzzy, but I didn’t need details to know that my child was hurt. His face and demeanor told me everything I needed to know. I spent the next several days battling sadness, anger, frustration, and disbelief. What made this situation even harder to process was the fact that it happened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I was already consumed with a whirlwind of emotions as I witnessed the world’s response to his death. And now, the reality of America’s history wasn’t just hitting close to home, it was on my doorstep. I didn’t think we would encounter a situation like this at such a young age, but maybe that was a bit naïve of me. I’ve heard and read similar stories from other parents of black and brown kids.
I called the school as soon as we arrived home. Unfortunately, my son’s teacher did not hear the comments of the other children, but my son did communicate that some friends hurt his feelings. The next day, the teacher was apologetic because he didn’t realize what happened. He also took immediate action, completely changing the curriculum for the day to focus on diversity, kindness, and equality, topics that had recently been covered in the classroom through the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges. He wanted to reinforce the idea that no one should feel less than because their skin is different.
Since this incident, our daycare has responded in several ways and put forth effort to include more content related to diversity, equality, and kindness into the school curriculum. There are more books that reflect diversity and the teachers and staff continue to take part in anti-bias training.
I’m glad our daycare has taken these steps to educate their staff and the children they serve, but this situation was a reminder that conversations about race have to happen early and have to happen at home.
As parents we must:
- Have conversations about race, no matter how awkward it is. Not talking about something won’t make it go away. Research shows that children can recognize physical differences in people as young as 6 months old. If our children notice it, we must talk about it to frame their perspective early.
- Educate ourselves. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, and watch films that center the black experience and the history of race and social justice issues in our country. As recognition of social justice issues peaked in 2020, so many lists of anti-racism resources, like this one, were curated. Take time to learn, understand, and act.
- Diversify our community. Does everyone in your circle look like you? If so, maybe it’s time to diversify your friend group, but not just for the sake of diversification. Get to know the lived experience of someone that is not like you and share new experiences together. Our children will never learn to appreciate diversity unless it’s modeled for them and they have the opportunity to get to people who are different from them.
- Celebrate differences. Kids notice differences and often do not hesitate to point them out. Don’t rush past those moments. Take time to acknowledge, affirm and celebrate the unique attributes of others when your kids notice them.
It’s hard to know if my son’s experience will have any lasting impact on him, but we continue to affirm him and his uniqueness. And I like to believe that he will be okay, especially when he proudly proclaims, “I love my skin.”