So a white girl walks onto the subway...

Thalia and I were riding the subway this week when she confessed with disappointment that they didn't get to have Share Time in class. I asked her why not.''

"Because we were not paying attention when Mrs. M was reading us a book. It was boring."

"And what was the book?" I asked.

"It was about Kwanzaa."

"Oh!" I said, now uncomfortably aware of ours being the only white faces on the C Train. "Well maybe I should get you a book about Kwanzaa that you will actually enjoy. I think you'd really like to learn about it. It's about family, and creativity, and love, and all the things you like.

Did you learn anything at all about it?"

She paused for a moment and considered this.

"Well," she said, "I think it's a holiday that people with brown skin celebrate."

Once again I gulped and explained a little about African culture while looking around the subway car and preparing for narrow-eyed glares. But none came.  Because she was right. It is a holiday that people with brown skin celebrate.

And of course all along I was praying that this conversation wouldn't end up with her blurting out some racially insensitive equivalent of MOMMY WHY IS THAT MAN SO FAT?

Which, of course, she didn't.

But you know. Five year-olds. Unpredictable.

Only the day before, I was grabbing a bialy (I'll have you know that bialies are God's carb) from the deli in our office lobby. The clerk, an Indian gentleman, called to the African-American security guard outside the doorway, do you want your bagel toasted my color or your color?

They both had a good laugh and I thought that was kind of great in every way.

I tweeted it, and @thmazing on Twitter offered a lovely response: Once we abandon  fear of being seen as racist, a whole new world opens up.

We haven't quite started talking about race with the kids yet. We acknowledge that there are different skin colors the same way there are different hair colors and they are all beautiful. We talk about how some skin color can give you some cues about where the person's family might have come from. But we've mostly stopped there. My girls are growing up in a world of multiracial friends and neighbors and cousins and of course, White House denizens. Skin color differences--at least now--are simply not surprising or interesting to them.

Which is awesome.

I'm inclined to keep up that wonderfully innocent colorblindness as long as we can. But the end is nearing. I have to figure out the next conversation--if I can somehow intuit the next question from their mouths.

How do you talk to your kids about race?


Anonymous Selfish Mom said...

I'm always getting weird looks for talking bluntly about race, but I don't have time for meaningless PC crap. I grew up going to a completely integrated school and have noticed that the people I know who grew up in the suburbs are the ones giving me the stink eye for not being "sensitive" (their word for lumping everyone into one big group so as not to offend).

Jake didn't seem to notice race until he was about five, whereas Fiona seemed to be aware of it from the very beginning. I answer their questions when they have them, and have busted Jake a few times for saying things that were incredibly racist (he didn't know what he was saying, he was just repeating things he overheard).

But honestly, I'm not worried about it. One of the reasons I wanted them to grow up in Brooklyn was for the diversity, and they've got it. Hopefully they'll grow up thinking that this is normal, like I did.

12/22/10, 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

We teach our kids that people are all the same inside. Since they have friends of all backgrounds, it is not a hard concept for them. Challenges come up sometimes though with my oldest being one of only a few brown people in his school. (i.e. last year a little white girl shared with everyone in class except him "because he wasn't white".) I just take a deep breath and deal with things situation by situation...

12/22/10, 10:10 AM  
Anonymous sam {temptingmama} said...

We live in a very multicultural area as well. I love, LOVE, that my children are unphased by the differences in skin, accents, smells, etc.

We've discussed race only very little. Basically that some people just have different skin colour, just like we - Carter and I - have different hair colour (I'm blonde, he's dark brown). I hope it never has to be more complicated than that.

I truly believe we are all the same and as important as history is, I'd really much rather both of them see people for who they are and I will do anything I can to instill that in my children.

I hope that came across as I mean it....

12/22/10, 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Lisse said...

I loved your friend's Twitter response. There is something to be said for "fear of being seen as..." creating barriers instead of knocking them down. I know it's created problems for me.

My kids have multi-racial cousins and I remember one year stressing about whether or not to buy a "doll of color" for one of my nieces - would that make too much of a big deal about it? When my SIL got wind of it she thanked me for acknowledging that not everyone looks the same.

I have asked my older son to refrain from asking questions about people (why is he so tall? why is he shaking?) until we are no longer near the person he's curious about. Interestingly, he has never asked about skin color.

12/22/10, 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

Have you read Nurture Shock? Excellent chapter on this topic and studies that have been done regarding children's perceptions.

In light of the coverage in that book, we make an effort to discuss racial differences openly - appearance, heritage, culture - and to emphasize commonalities as well, like humanity, love, and the fact that both brown people and white people (and any other color) can be whatever they want to be in life.

12/22/10, 10:22 AM  
Blogger Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I just posted about this earlier in the month (Link:Any Colour You Like")

We talk about color ALL the time in our house - my husband is from India and those folks are normally talkative when it comes to particular shades, hues and tones of skin. So, sure when it comes to actual skin color, we are frank about it. However, I learned in a conversation with my own 5 year old that racism is a trickier topic. It's been a learning process for me because quite simply, I have not had to face it before.

I do think ALL of us being up front about the topic and actually saying the words OUT LOUD is the first step, though. Pretending like it does not exist does not help anyone. Also, I'd like to second what Julie said - Nurture Shock had some valuable insights on this. It is NOT enough to just put your kid into a diverse environment - you have to TALK and ACKNOWLEDGE the differences.

Great post, Liz!

12/22/10, 10:30 AM  
Blogger DeeTree said...

Loved it - as the mother of a multiracial child I often wonder what to say and when but I let her love and will figure it out later. She knows other kids are different but because she herself is diverse I figure maybe the adults are the ones hung up on it. My daughter is in an inclusion class and a neighborhood daycare and the diversity presented to her makes all different kids ok with her!

12/22/10, 10:32 AM  
Blogger Goddess in Progress said...

Ditto on Julie's comment re: Nurtureshock. There's a chapter entitled "why white parents don't talk about race." Very interesting, and the takeaway message I got was not to be afraid to talk about it and notice differences while also emphasizing similarities. Still uncomfortable for white parents to talk about sometimes, but ultimately much better than staying silent and pretending differences don't exist.

12/22/10, 10:33 AM  
Anonymous MDTaz said...

We talk about race the same we talk about sex. Simple, plain-language words. Answer the questions asked without over-explaining. Stress how it's a natural and it's a good thing (diversity, that is).

12/22/10, 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

I don't know. I tried when Obama ws sworn in but I ran into a wall with it when my kids had no idea what a white guy was.

They have kids with darker skin in their classes and it only seems to come up when they are describing them just like they would say "Sally has brown hair" they say "Jack, the one with the brown skin".

Maybe it is better that way - for now. I'm not sure.

12/22/10, 10:40 AM  
Blogger Danielle-Marie said...

You know I've never really thought about this because our extended family is so diverse that I figure our children will be exposed to all kinds of different races and just accept them as our equals because that's the way we do it in our family.

I think going to school will give our children a lot of exposure to different races and cultures as well.

I guess I'm just waiting for my kids to ask me the questions. And I'm hoping I have the right answers.

12/22/10, 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Boston Mamas said...

Well, are you surprised that Jon and I have a tendency to over-talk things? So Laurel -- as a 6yo -- has probably been involved in way more conversations about race than I experienced up through high school.

Because Laurel is a hybrid, and because we live in a very diverse community, it's been important for me to talk to her about different places that people come from and how that impacts skin color and family traditions, but that yes, ultimately, we're all just people -- breathing the same air, living this life together.

12/22/10, 10:45 AM  
Blogger Danielle-Marie said...

One more thing I wanted to share.

When I was three my parents took me to the Toronto Zoo. A black man walked by with his children. A two year old ME exclaimed "LOOK MOM IT'S BILL COSTITY!" (The Bill Cosby Show was very popular then). My parents were mortified. They think it's hilarious now.

Do I think they should've been embarrassed? No. I didn't mean it as an insult. In fact, I probably meant it as a compliment!

Kids say the darndest things.

12/22/10, 10:46 AM  
Blogger Liz@thisfullhouse said...

Explanation for when they were little: well, flowers come in all sorts of shapes and colors...so do people.

Explanation to date: well, imagine if everyone looked like you, how boring would THAT be?

IMO, kids mirror their parents so tend to keep life lessons like this, you know, simple.

Great discussion, btw.

12/22/10, 10:55 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Lots of good food for thought on this subject at the blog Love Isn't Enough (formerly called Anti-Racist Parent). As someone else mentioned, simply living in a diverse area isn't enough. Your kids aren't colorblind - they may be blind to racial categories and what those categories mean right now, but they can certainly tell that their skin color is different from other people's skin color. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

12/22/10, 11:00 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Another Nurture Shock fan here. There is also an excerpt from that chapter on Salon. It is also important to me to share historical information on race and prejudice in an age appropriate way. American Girl has a few good historical narrative fiction books that my 6yo found interesting. There is an easy reader called A Lesson for MLK about his boyhood experience with a white friend that is a good intro in that realm.

12/22/10, 11:14 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I use Anti Bias Curriculum - written for teachers of Early Childhood Age children. It's my favorite and was the basis of one of my two Masters Thesis-es..Thesii? At any rate.

You can get it at NAEYC's website and it is Very affordable.

But yeah, we have to talk about it - and we talk about it all the time in our house, because we are a racially mixed family with a child who falls inbetween skin tones.

And Yeah, it is Hella uncomfortable to talk about, because as liberal white girls we were just raised to know Better than that, right?

Until it was the White Jewish daughter of the Director of the Children's Alliance ( and professional colleague of mine) who told my kid that no body liked her because her skin was brown at the exceptionally liberal independent school they both attended.

Then I knew that I could take nothing for granted, no matter where I placed Emily, or how well I thought I surrounded her with other "Nice" liberal white people - I had to confront the hard and difficult facts about racism - Not only as a woman who believes that we have the same rights as every other human on the earth, but Mostly as Her Mother who needed to prepare her for life.

12/22/10, 11:26 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Such awesome comments! I guess it's time to crack the spine of my Nurtureshock book I've had for oh, two years now...

@Liz fair enough. Of course they're not blind to color. But they're blind to racial issues. Differences aren't bad of course, but they can be complicated to discuss.

Perhaps I like this phase, the times before the hard questions become, simply because it's easy.

12/22/10, 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Erin H. said...

I think it is an ongoing discussion. Kids should know that it is okay to talk about it and shouldn't be ashamed to do so. I don't know if colorblind is the best approach because you miss the great things that our differences offer as well. Being different, looking different isn't bad and we should embrace that as well.

12/22/10, 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Gia said...

I've never commented before, so hi! I am the mom of a multi-racial 12 month old– my husband is half Thai and half black, I'm white. Our son is a gorgeous mix of the three, but a bit hard to place ethnically (not surprising). So while I haven't had any occasion to talk to my son about race yet, I know it will come. How will people respond to him? How will he construct his own identity? How can WE best reflect all elements of his background in the way we raise him so that he doesn't ever have to choose one over the other? They're big questions and I think that a natural, open, un-loaded approach to all of those conversations will best serve us as a family. The bagel-toasting conversation is so right-on in that way. It's just the truth– your color or mine?

At the same time, it's also important to us to acknowledge that race isn't always so matter of fact. The real challenge is (and will be) finding ways to confront the more insidious elements of race and racism in a way that feels natural for us and (eventually) for him.

12/22/10, 11:43 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

You've got to read this article, it is great! It is called, "See Baby Discriminate"

12/22/10, 11:49 AM  
Blogger Marketing Mommy said...

Don't have anything to add, but I wanted to add my name to the chorus recommending NurtureShock--particularly the chapter on race.

12/22/10, 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

My family of four is transracial, multicultural and interfaith. Three of us are Caucasian; one of us is Asian. Three of us are Jewish; one of us is not Jewish. Two of us are male; two of us are female. Three of us were born in this country; one of us was not. Two of us are straight; we don't know yet about the other two.

We talk about everything.

I wish my kids were growing up in a world where no one would judge them according to their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., but it just isn't true. So while I do everything I can to raise them to see and treat people as equals while simultaneously valuing diversity, I also try to introduce to them--in age-appropriate, gentle ways--that not everyone holds the same views. I don't want my kids' first introduction to anti-Semitism to be some epithet spit at them on a playground; I'd prefer to equip them with a tool or two myself, in advance, so that they're at least a tiny bit prepared when they hear that epithet. Similarly, the first time someone taunts my adopted Korean daughter for her features or her origins or the like (and I've heard comments about her, so it's only a matter of time before she gets them herself), I don't want her hurt to be compounded by the shock of having heard such mean things for the very first time. I'd rather discuss it with her carefully, in an atmosphere where she is surrounded by love, before she has to deal with it in the world.

I'm not saying it's easy to talk to kids about these topics. It's not. It's unbelievably hard. But if we don't start these conversations, someone else will. That's why I try to write about these topics when I can: to begin the conversations in a productive manner.

Sometimes, by the way, kids will surprise us. One of my all-time favorite personal anecdotes originated during the last presidential campaign. My son, who was then six years old and had just "voted" at school, was watching some news coverage on TV around the NH primary. He asked me to explain what they were talking about. I took a deep breath.

"Well, they're saying that most white people will only want to vote for Hillary because she's white, and black people will want to vote for Obama because he's black." (I had to put this in terms he could understand, and that's pretty much what they were saying.)

"That's silly," he said, not bothering to lift his head from his applesauce. "I'm white, and I voted for Obama."


12/22/10, 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Well, this seems like the perfect time to share one of our parenting moments...

Middle son (youngest at time) was about 3, getting on toward 4 when he announced randomly one day, in the car, "black people are bad."

Panic abounded, this is not something he learned in any way at home! Hhis older brother was in a very racially mixed magnet school and he was there visiting all the time, we're good liberals, -- what was he talking about?!

Can't remember exactly what we talked about that time, the usual, people have all different colors of skin and hair, but how they act and are as people has to do with their insides and choices, etc.

But, we ended up feeling like we had to warn people -- at the nursery in the health club, for instance, when we weren't going to be around we didn't want anyone thinking that he'd "learned this at home" -- because where else would it have come from?!

He said it twice more, though -- and the second time when I was naming people he knew well and obviously didn't think were bad, thought we'd gotten past it.

Finally, it all came out when I asked if he knew any black people? No!, he responded, horrified at the thought. Who are black people then, where are they? I asked...

Like that Darth Vader guy! He's a black guy! He's bad!

Ohhhhhhhhhh. That. It was when one of the newer movies had come out and his older brother had finally seen the first one, they had a book, etc.

Same kid has been in the minority in terms of skin color in his class since kindergarten and is a perfectly lovely liberal on his own. :-D

12/22/10, 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 4yo son told me that, around Thanksgiving, he learned in preschool that the pilgrims were afraid of the Indians because they looked different. I decided to probe and said, "well, that's silly, just because someone looks different from you is no reason to be afraid of them. I look different from you - I have brown hair and yours is blond, but you're not afraid of me." He said, "yeah, but you have the same skin as me so we look the same."

He then claimed there are no kids in his class with different color skin than him (not true, it's actually fairly diverse for our area, which is to say maybe only 65% white). So I asked him if he thought President Obama looked different than him (he's a big Obama fan). Right away he said, "oh, yeah, his skin is brown." I asked if he was afraid of him and he said he didn't know because he never met him. So I asked him to imagine if he met him, then would he be afraid? He said, "well, yeah, because he's a stranger."

So that conversation didn't really get me anywhere but at least it got him talking a little. I feel it's really necessary because he's going to be among the 95% of white kids in his public school next fall...

12/22/10, 12:47 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I grew up in the North and now live in the Deep South - yes, THAT part of the Deep South. I sometimes still overhear comments made by people around me that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up and require my mind to re-convince me I am living in 2010 and not 1965.

For that, I am terrified at what my children will be exposed to and know that I will have to have the conversation that reaches their heart on this subject. At 4 & 3 I know they are too young yet, and so when Jack tells me that Ms. Ashley was helping in their classroom today, "the brown one", I know for now it's ok he acknowledges there is a difference in appearance and I simply can use that as an opener to teach him about ALL appearance differences, hair color, height, eye color, etc.

But I am somewhat afraid to acknowledge it too much for fear of making a point of it at all - sort of along the lines of Selfish Mom and the PC comment - I want my kids to NOT be sensitive to diversity.

However, I think at the appropriate age it's very important he understand the history of what different cultures and races have overcome.

The one shining light is that I see the generation I am in and those behind me completely deaf and blind to such overheard comments. I can only hope I can raise mine with a heart for the person inside regardless of all other factors.

12/22/10, 1:01 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

We were inspired by the Nurture Shock chapter, too, and have started having "mini conversations" about race with our 3.5 year old. To be honest, Dora has provided our best opportunity to date- we've talked about how Dora's skin is browner than ours, but how that doesn't really tell you anything about her except give you a clue about where her family comes from. THAT started a line of questions, and we ended up finding a book with pictures of kids around the world, which helped a bit.

I give us a solid C for that first conversation. But the good thing is, we'll get more chances, and hopefully we'll get better at it.

12/22/10, 1:07 PM  
Blogger Bailey said...

At three, my daughter has never mentioned race at all as an adjective while defining her world, and this from the kid that never stops talking. (She's much more interested in gender norms, which makes me wonder what I'm unconsciously projecting.)

I feel like as a child, my very Chinese-Hawaiian father's side of the family wanted me to appreciate the culture and heritage of those groups so strongly that it came across as reverse discrimination. I'm half white, but I can't check the "Caucasian" box on a form without feeling a small surge of misdirected animosity. That's my own demon though.

I'm sure the race conversation is coming. I'm heading down to Powell's to pick up Nurture Shock in the meantime.

12/22/10, 1:45 PM  
Blogger Muskrat said...

I got sent to the principal's office in kindergarten for telling a little black boy in my class that he was brown from drinking chocolate milk. So, maybe it's best to talk about differences in skin tones BEFORE the child jumps to his/her own conclusions.

12/22/10, 2:42 PM  
Blogger Muskrat said...

See? I wrote about it here!


12/22/10, 2:43 PM  
Blogger JBirch22 said...

When a friend of mine was about 5, she was at a hockey game with her parents and asked "Daddy... why are black people so ugly?"

I think you can imagine her parents' reaction to that one!!! LOL

Basically her Dad spanked her in front of everyone at the hockey game. lol. Whether he was right or wrong to handle it that way is not for me to say, but clearly he was shocked and didn't quite know what to do/say. Especially since both her parents are 100% German with thick accents! I guess he felt he had to make an example :P

Kids surely do say the darndest things. lol.

12/22/10, 2:56 PM  
Blogger My Kids' Mom said...

Well, this is a good time of year for it. Get a book on Kwanzaa, and while you're at it, get something on MLK. Our book had a rather ugly scene of a riot and another showing a lunch counter incident. It forced me to explain the history of prejudice. I treat the issue much like you do, but when I mention something like Don't Ask Don't Tell, I equate it to when blacks didn't have rights either.

We can't know if we're doing it right. We can only try.

12/22/10, 3:07 PM  
Blogger Issas Crazy World said...

Ah, in my family this is an easier one. See, our family comes in all colors. My kids don't think there is a thing wrong with it. They don't find it odd. When brought up, it's been in a simple way, like what Thalia said.

My mom used to say (because my generation came in all colors too) that life would be so boring if we all came the same. That on the outside everyone is different. It's what makes life interesting. It's part of what makes people unique. But on the inside of our bodies? We all look the same. I was eight years old, before I knew that not everyone believed like that.

I think some people get over offended and others try to over think it. Especially with little kids. Some people are big and tall. Some people are short and wide. I have one blond haired kid and two brown haired kids. Some people's skin is white, others are light brown, some are a deep brown.

You live in a multi-cultural area. Your girls will be okay. They will (and probably already do) not see a thing wrong with differences.

12/22/10, 5:56 PM  
Blogger Elaine A. said...

We haven't really talked about it that much either. BUT. I went to my son's little holiday party at school last Friday and his class is very diverse. He and his African American friends were comparing skin color and they all decided that my son was made of white chocolate and they were made of milk chocolate. I quite prefer to think of it that way myself... ;-)

12/22/10, 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've discussed race with my 5 year old. She's aware there are different colored people just like there are different heights, weights, and hair color. No big deal to her so I'm trying not to make it a big deal. She's asked why people have chocolate colored skin in public before.I've told her that's just the way they were made. Thanks God for Obama (for many, many reasons) because for once I have an example of a well known public figure that is highly regarded and looks different but isn't different (you know what I mean?). She loves Obama so anyone that looks like him is admired. I made a conscious effort to enroll her in a school that has ethnic diversity (a rarity in my southern state) so people of differing races are just 'people' to her. Let's hope it remains that way.

12/22/10, 9:11 PM  
OpenID letmestartbysaying said...

My 5yo's PreK class year was like a very short collection of UN reps. So when he had to draw pics of his classmates, he needed every shade from pale peach to reddish brown to maize to mahogany.
I used the Martin Luther King lessons he had in school to inspire me to make People Rainbows: we'd draw stick-figure people in every (human) color, tall & short & heavy & thin and everything in between all holding hands.
I told him MLK was a very great man because a long time ago lots of people who were peach like us didn't treat people who were brown like (xyz in his class) nicely. But MLK put his foot down and said everyone should be treated as nicely as the next, no matter what crayon you need to draw them with.

12/22/10, 11:13 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

My older nephew has always been pretty aware of color differences. Or at least that's the way I remember it. He was fascinated with blond haired girls for a couple of years before he started kindergarten. But then we had a discussion about skin color and hair color and texture and eye color and body sizes and concluded together that we all look different but we still all have feelings and don't want to treat anyone better or worse than anyone else just because they don't look exactly the people in our family.

Simple enough, right? Wrong. Somewhere in all of that he gathered that "white" was a bad word and that he'd get punished for using it in reference to anything. Luckily, I picked up on it pretty soon thereafter and realized maybe going into the history of equal rights for African Americans was a bit too much for a 5 year old to comprehend.

Now he has friends of both genders and different skin tones and doesn't really think too much about blond haired girls or girls who wear braids. He's much more interested in why brown skinned people "speak funny English" and so now there's a new lesson be taught about the changing face (and language) of America. He even stands up to the older kids at school who make offensive gay jokes and I couldn't be more proud.

Who's to say when his open-mindedness will start to close in on itself, if ever, but it's important to ME that I'm consistent about sending the right kinds of messages to my nephew. And it's a very simple message. Some call it tolerance, love, kindness, respect, the Golden Rule or the Platinum Rule.

Don't ever think you know someone's story just by looking at the color of their skin, their sex, their income, their education, their partners, their jobs, their neighborhood, their style of dress, etc, etc, etc. Get to know someone, then judge them.


12/23/10, 12:27 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

I was going to mention Nurture Shock, but I see Julie has already. After reading in that book that kids make up their mind about race by the time they are five, and that by not talking about race we teach them it is something to NOT to be talked about, we have taken a similar approach to Juile's approach. The book Martin's Big Words is a great jumping off point for discussions about race, even with younger kids.

12/23/10, 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Rita Arens said...

We've actually had the full-on talk at our house. On Columbus Day, we talked about how Columbus didn't really "discover" America, and how the Europeans with white skin were pretty mean to the Native Americans. We've talked about how in our country's past, white people were very mean to black people, and there was a whole war over it.

She couldn't figure out why anyone would be mean to someone else because they didn't like the color of their skin. We agreed it seems pretty dumb.

Her class is half and half white and black, no other races. So far, race has been a nonissue for her. I hope it remains that way.

I've been very open in discussions of race with her since she was a baby, giving her dolls of all colors, reading her books (from Cool Mom Picks!) about people all over the world. If I don't know the answer to the question, we look it up or ask someone who would know. I have to let my ignorance hang out all over the place to ask those questions, but I've found most people -- if I ask with sincerity -- aren't offended by almost any question about race or religion.

Great post. I hope to see more open discussion in the blogosphere about race. We're raising a new generation here, yes!

12/23/10, 9:54 AM  
Blogger Randi Skaggs said...

The book, Nurture Shock, actually says that it is crucial to speak to your kids openly and honestly about race as soon as possible. It says even if kids are raised in a diverse area, the tendency is to think that those who are similar to you are better than those who aren't, even if your parents aren't openly racist, or even if you're parents are as flaming liberal as my husband and I are. And, as a former teacher at a diverse, very liberal school in Brooklyn, I can tell you that even my amazing students segregated themselves, especially at lunch and on the playground. Stella and I already talk about how our skin is pink, somebody else's is brown, etc. And I always talk about how beautiful all our differences are.

I love how your conversation on the train went. I think that's the kind of talk that helps kids grow into open-minded people who not only tolerate others but celebrate them.

12/23/10, 12:38 PM  
Blogger Randi Skaggs said...

Oops - just realized others brought up Nurture Shock. Sorry. I was rushing through this like the harried mom that I am.

12/23/10, 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Paula/adhocmom said...

I have no idea how to have this conversation. . but I've been told by many moms with older kids it's necessary. Hmm, I thought I just had to worry about the sex conversation.

12/23/10, 7:20 PM  
Blogger Gray Matter said...

I went with the "humans are like chocolate m&m's, they may be different colors on the outside, but they're all the same inside."

12/23/10, 7:52 PM  
Blogger Clayton Thomas said...

I lost track of caring about people's race years ago. I don't care who's black, brown, or pink. For that matter, I don't care I am white. I have a family to raise and a life to live.

Clay Thomas
Author of Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures

twitter @claylauren2001

12/23/10, 9:41 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...


I hope this doesn't come across wrong, but I find that a little simplistic. I think the commenters here have made outstanding points about the importance of acknowledging, celebrating, and discussing differences. Do you disagree?

Isn't that very thing an aspect of the raising of a family that you're so busy with? What is raising a family if not teaching our children how to engage with and understand the world around us?

12/23/10, 9:49 PM  
Anonymous Brenna @ Almost All The Truth said...

I struggle with this and I know it is in large part due to the area we live in. It is about as lily-white as you can get, so there aren't as many natural opportunities to discuss race. We do talk about through books and stories some, but I haven't yet found my footing.

I will have to go check out Nurture Shock. It's the second time today that book has come up. Must be a sign. ;)

12/24/10, 12:18 AM  
Blogger Backpacking Dad said...

I tell them the White Man stole our land but we're getting it back one slot-pull at a time.

12/24/10, 3:25 AM  
Blogger Sarah at The Stroller Ballet said...

My daughter is half Chinese, half white. Living in New York, in particular, Queens, I'm hoping that race will just be part of life - something she grows up with. I think that's the most wonderful part of growing up in New York - she will never need to be the only "minority" in her class, or on her street. She's not quite talking, yet, though, so we'll see what happens when she actually does!

12/24/10, 8:16 AM  
Blogger Cloud said...

@Clayton, respectfully: I think that the only reason you get to have that opinion is because you ARE white. I don't think people of other colors ever get to not care about race.

I'm sort of hoping that you were doing a riff on Stephen Colbert there and that the humor just didn't come across in the comment.

12/24/10, 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've never really had a "talk" about race. My oldest has been attracted to dark-skinned black people from day one. In church she would reach for them and many times go sit with our Hatian friends and stroke their faces. When we moved our neighbors were black, though not dark-skinned and she wanted to know if they were going to try to get tanner because it's "prettier". Because her openess has always been met with amusement, it never became a "talk".

When she did learn of the history of slavery she was heartbroken and cried off and on for 3 days. We talked then, but more about the capacity for humans to love and hate. I made it a "global" talk so that she would understand that we all have the choice between good and evil.

12/24/10, 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Liza said...

What a great discussion -- between you and your daughter, and in the comments. I'm totally ordering Nurture Shock.

My kids go to a city charter school in a central city neighborhood; the school is ~65% African American. (They have an affiliated toddler program where Josie goes, too.)

The first time Noah brought up race was when he heartbrokenly announced to me that only brown people can be McDonalds people. When I told him I'd worked at McDonalds as a teenager, he asked if I'd been brown, and he was very excited to learn that pink people could also work at McDonalds.

We talk about differences pretty often. But where I have NOT been comfortable with the discussion is around language.

His closest friends in his class are 3 African American boys, 2 of whom are lower income, and they speak differently than we speak at home. I'm not comfortable with Noah's use of non-standard English. But I haven't found a way to correct him without sounding like I am making his friends' language wrong.

I feel uncomfortable with that, but more uncomfortable with the language he uses.

12/25/10, 10:47 PM  
Blogger Elissabeth said...

An echo of the "Check out the 'Love is Not Enough' blog"-- You should definitely read this post:


12/27/10, 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Growing up, I didn't really know that my best friend was black. I knew that her hair could do cool things. I think that's what all young kids notice, exactly as the other commenters have mentioned: a value-neutral respect for diversity.

But I also noticed, eventually, that my best friend got in trouble a lot more often than I did. And she got shunted into the classes for less-smart people, even though I knew she was smart.

She dropped out of high-school and, last I saw her, was working in a bagel store. I got a PhD and am a professor. In grad-school, I knew several white friends who all had a similar story: we watched our non-white friends steered by racism, but -- as kids -- we didn't have the language to discuss it.

So let's give our kids the language. Sure, it's great not to notice race, and it's great to appreciate all the different hair, but it's also worth learning to point out the racism that is still all around us.

12/30/10, 12:00 AM  
Anonymous Susanne said...

I'll also give a shout out for Nurture Shock. It's an amazing read. I work at a private school and it was the faculty read this past summer.

I feel fortunate to have my daughter in a school where diversity is openly talked about. We're white, but not everyone else here is. At 3, she is incredibly comfortable talking about skin color.

I also realized that so many of our books had only white faces in them. I've made a huge effort to diversify what comes into our house. I'm a huge fan of Barefoot Books which are global in perspective.

This is a wonderful conversation you've started!

1/6/11, 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Abby said...

I am a little late to this convo but here it goes. I grew up in a primarily white existence and now teach at a black school. I have learned from my students how to be frank and honest about everything from skin color, to hair texture, to cultural differences. White people are the worst at being nonchalant when it comes to race, but my kids are great at it. They grew up talking about race because they didn't have the luxury of ignoring it.I appreciate so much the humor they bring to the conversations about race. I do not appreciate the only person who can readily blush in a room with 30 16 year olds!

1/14/11, 10:41 PM  

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