Monday, July 19, 2010

Same Family Different Colors

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I'm coming to you for your advice and opinion. My nine-year old son seems to be mildly obsessed with skin color these days. Okay, obsessed is too strong a word, but he does like to point things out about different people's pigmentation. As in, this weekend our dear family friends came to visit. Mom's Black, Dad's White, kids are mixies like mine. My son announced to me, in the midst of their visit, "Isn't it perfect, that you and N. are the same color, Papi and M. are the same color, me and C. are the same color and the two little ones are the same color too."

My girlfriend heard this and commented, "I think you talk about race too much."

Yikes! First I denied it and then el esposo raised his eyes at me and said, "You talk about race all the time." I still tried to deny it, but then I realized, 'damn skippy' I talk about race all the time. I write about it, talk about it and think about it a whole lot. And as I came to terms with that, I realized that that is exactly what I didn't have growing up, a conversation about race with my parents or other trusted adults. And because of that, I always felt very uncomfortable whenever anyone else brought up race either. I thought it was a taboo subject and being a person of color, I kind of translated that to mean, "I" am a taboo subject.

I don't want that for my kids.

I don't have a racial agenda to teach my children. And to be honest, I don't even know if I'm feeding them the right mix of racial/ethnic pride so that they will feel comfortable in the skin their in. What I do know is that I am trying to make sure that they know that talking about color and ethnic origins is okay. I think it is a grave disservice to teach your children to be colorblind because they're not. They see the difference and if we don't give them the appropriate language to describe what they see, then we're perpetuating the culture we live in today where grown men and women cannot dialogue about race effectively.

My son came home from school one day this past spring and told me, "Mom, this one girl said all the Black kids in the other class talk too much. And then all the other kids said she was racist. Is that true?" So kids notice. Kids make assumptions. Kids talk about this stuff whether we talk about it at home or not. So I think I'm just going to keep on doing what I'm doing and making sure my kids know they can talk to me about it, with the appropriate language, of course.

What do you guys think? Do you tone down your language in front of your kids when it comes to racial issues? Do you reprimand them for describing someone as "Black, or White or Asian," when they're telling a story? Do you think that by talking about race, you predispose your kids to be overly concerned about being a child of color?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.



Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

I don't have kids yet, so I don't know what I would really say. I think it's also possible that your son might not have really meant anything racial. He could have just been organizing pairs in his head, like little toys: the blue cars together, the red cars together, the yellow cars together, etc. Does that make sense?

I recently read a blog post on this issue. You might find it and the comments interesting to read. Here is the link:

My only gut reaction is that I probably wouldn't say anything about my kid describing someone as black or Asian or whatever. I think it's denying reality to deny there are differences or to pretend they don't exist. But I would put a clamp down on any that was negative due to ANYTHING stereotypical (whether it is race or nationality, weight, sexual preference, religion). And I would highlight positive things you can say about other races, cultures, etc. (Travel and exposure helps a lot with that.) Just focus on understanding what you can be proud of from your culture and what you admire in others too.

I don't think talking about race a lot will make your kids overly concerned with the issue, unless they feel that's the only way they can communicate with you or have your attention (then it's problematic because it goes from a topic of conversation to a tool). I think kids are their own beings and will pursue whatever sparks their interest. And they're not static either. It may be they'll avoid the issue altogether for some years, then come back to it in adulthood. Or vice versa.

BloggingQueen said...

I talk about race a lot. And hair. I'm at peace with being the Designated Black Person, when that situation arises. Whatever. I talk about race to express my own opinion, but also to show my kids that it's normal to do so.

My son has noted differences in skin tone, but mainly just to check with me on which words to use. I think the underlying reason was for the same one Jade mentioned: more as a point of interest that he happened to notice.

If my son were to describe someone by their race, though, I would question that unless race was pertinent to the story. I have older relatives who'll say "my friend Evelyn -- she's Asian -- went to my favorite store..." And that irritates me. What the hell does being Asian have to do with shopping?

Nif said...

I've only dipped a little bit into the book Nurtureshock, but it definitely confirms my opinion that kids need to hear adults talk about race.

Working against racism has to be active. Passive good intentions and shying away from hard issues don't work.

LT said...


Thank you so much for your comments on this matter. Everything you've written validates my gut instincts. Love the article in Newsweek, Nif. I'm luck to have such brilliant blog readers.

Christian Art and Design said...

i am black american but like many we have a little massa irish in us. ( i mean that as respectfully as possible) i mean growing up it used to bother me, because it wasn't like i could say, yeah my mom is white and my dad black, when i got the WHAT R U? question i had to go into a whole dissertation on slavery etc etc. After a while it gets a bit old, but my family chillin's have been asking question, one who's particular light gets the are you white question and since we've never seen any in our family i kind of have to explain. we have dark complexions and light complexion in fact we are the United nations in one family, which can be difficult because of the old house field issue, which i'd like to forget. But somehow with jesus's help we seem to make it and tell the truth. that God doesn't care about our color half as much as we do. i think it was probably so he could tell us apart. Like people with too many children..jane..uh jackie...john, whatever your name is come here! great post.

JK said...

Black Americans seem to be obsessed with race to an extent that is pretty mind blowing for me as a black british woman to fathom.

To spend your whole existence being hyper aware of this one facet of your lives seems like hell to me. Yes, the different skin colours that people have are fascinating but the social value interpretations that go along with it are rather creepy.

I think it's throwback to slavery times when skin colour could be the difference between horrible suffering and a certain level of security.
150 years on, the scars are still very much apparant.
I find it all very sad

Doreen McGettigan said...

I find this post interesting because I really thought we had all moved on. I have 2 grand children and a niece that happen to be (mixed) I kind of hate that word because it sounds like they came from a recipe or something. However when my daughter (white) and her husband (white) were expecting their 3rd child; the 3 year old asked if this one could be brown like Evelyn, Trey and Christian. How foolish of me not to realize that kids notice everything. We just explained to her in our best 3 year old words the (recipe) for making a brown baby. We now all talk about it openly in front of the children and when they ask questions we answer them; honestly. It is just normal for us.

LT said...

Thanks for your story.

Thanks for chiming in from across the pond. it's interesting to hear the perspective of a non-American. But what's interesting is that I'm reading a lot of Andrea Levy's work lately and it seems that Black Brits don't think so much about being Black, but the rest of Britain does. So how does that work? I'm curious.

What a wonderful experience for you. Kids still teach us don't they? Thank you for sharing.