This morning, while brushing his teeth, the boy says, “Mommy, don’t I look white?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant–like, was he white from his toothpaste. I asked him to clarify.
“My skin, it looks white, doesn’t it? Not brown.”
“Well, no, honey. It looks brown, and it will always look brown.” I said.
“You mean I’m never going to turn white?!” He cried, upset.
“No, you’re going to stay brown your whole life.” I was beginning to wonder where this was going.
“But, I want to be white! I don’t want to be brown anymore!!”
“Why not, sweetheart? What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Because B—* told me he doesn’t like brown skin and that made me sad.”
Eric walks over and says, “You are beautiful, inside and out. You have a beautiful heart, and you are a wonderful person, no matter what color you are on the outside.”
I tell him that is true, and that sadly, he may always hear people say bad things about his skin. “I think your skin is perfect, and I love it, and I would never want it to be any other color.”
This brings a big smile to his face, and we hug, and things seem to be fine again.
Po Bronson wrote a book recently called “Nurtureshock,” and while I haven’t read the entire book (and don’t know that I agree with everything in it based on what I’ve heard), the chapter about race is excerpted in Newsweek here. In a nutshell, it says that the trend towards NOT talking about race at all or using phrases such as “everyone is equal” have the opposite effect, and do little to instill the colorblindness that they are intended to teach. According to the studies cited, children as young as 6 months see racial differences, and certainly the 4 year olds in my son’s class do.
Still, what does it mean exactly to talk about race? I’ve read the examples in the article, and understand those, but I have to think that there’s more than that. It’s easy to talk about religious differences and say how people believe different things, but it’s not quite so easy to do that for race, is it? I think the take home point is to make sure that you teach your kids that people DO look different, DO have different skin colors, but are all the same on the inside.
I’m not sure exactly what happened in the classroom. The boy tells us that he told one of his teachers what happened, and we’re going to ask her about it tomorrow. Depending on what she says we may or may not talk to B’s parents, but the truth is that the boy has an excellent memory and doesn’t make stuff like this up. B’s parents are very nice people, and my guess is that they may fall into the category of people who simply don’t talk about race at all, and that it may not be something that they have to deal with much. I mean, I was recently called “the prettiest little colored girl she’d ever seen” by a VERY elderly patient, am asked on a regular basis “where I’m really from,” and have had people comment on how I “don’t have an accent at all”! I’m quite certain that neither of B’s parents, both Caucasian, have ever had anything like that happen! Bronson mentions a statistic that most white parents don’t talk to their kids about race, and most non-white parents to. He fails to mention that this is because if you are the majority race, you simply don’t have to deal with the same racial issues as someone of a minority race, and the questions are less likely to arise.
I think we handled it okay so far, but we’ll see how it goes with B’s parents.
And, on a side note, if there is a patron saint of parenting, could you PLEASE slow down on the difficult questions? What’s next? Where do babies really come from?
*name changed to protect the toddler.