At what age do you think a child recognizes the differences in skin colors?
At 27 months my youngest was recently playing with Barbie dolls. She was insistent two of the dolls were sisters and had to sit together to eat. Not unusual, except she was using a white Barbie as the big sister and a black Barbie as the baby sister. This is significant to our family for so many reasons, but for this purpose, I am pointing out that she ALREADY recognizes skin color and self-identifies which Barbie resembles her. Does your kiddo identify skin color? Have they mentioned it? Have you?
If you are white, I want to say thank you for just reading this title and clicking because YOU can make an impact. If you are any other race, I want to apologize to you for all of the times I was afraid to talk about race.
If you are white, have ever felt like you can’t talk about race because of your whiteness? Did it occur to you that because you don’t talk about race, you are teaching your children to NOT talk about race? I’m not judging. I didn’t use to either, because I didn’t realize I HAD to.
In case you haven’t guessed yet I am white, but I have a black child. Feel free to make a crazy look on your face or roll your eyes. It is 2019, and at a table of 8 people, 75% of them will instantly reject me based on my family makeup. For now, I will let that be because my purpose with this post is to get the attention of just one white parent.
Leading by Poor Example
Hair in black culture is significantly important. And touching it is never ok. Frankly, touching anyone’s hair without permission should not be acceptable, but so frequently I am standing up for my child by asking another child or adult to remove their hands from her hair. The following paragraph is the inspiration for this post because it is the perfect example of how NOT teaching your children to see and value race can define the choices they make, even at age 2.
The mom watched smiling proudly at her son as he played and tugged on my daughter’s hair. Clearly thinking “isn’t it so nice to see my white son interacting with a black child.” She ignored me stating loudly and emphatically “No Touch” and “No Touch Please.” My daughter pulled away after hearing me, but that still wasn’t enough of a signal. Instead, you let your child wrap his hand again around her hair and pull. Your child does not know better because of you. But you should. Curiosity is not a reason or excuse. It took me a half second to jump in, parent your child, and unwrap your son’s hand from my daughter’s hair. Then you gave me a dirty look for touching your son and quickly reassured him. Process that for a moment. Do you think that’s a big deal? Why or why not? If it does bother you, what about it does?
Talk to your children about race. The above example is so small, yet clearly illustrates so much. Your children are never too young to see the difference in skin color and hair texture. If they can see it, they can talk about it. Talk about the beauty in the differences. Talk about the strength. The joy. The power. The knowledge that comes from the difference in cultures and societies. If you only talk to YOUR child that small wave will ripple through generations.
Ashamed to be White
More food for thought. We provide age-appropriate books and discussion opportunities to my oldest about race, discrimination, as well as powerful historical examples of great leaders of all races. One evening she started crying continuously and eventually drew up enough courage to share that she felt ashamed to be white. She simultaneously broke my heart and made me feel proud all at the same time because SHE STANDS FOR CHANGE. How does that make you feel? What would you say to your child in that situation? I’m asking because I want you to face your whiteness. I do every day because of my fiercely beautiful black child. I have to because I WILL stand for change. Will you?