From the time my daughter was born, I have tried to be conscientious about the messages she's getting about race and ethnicity. I know all too well what kinds of messages she'll be getting from society and from the media, and I want to make sure that our home is a place where racist messages are combatted and questioned. She has dolls of different races and ethnicties, and I make sure that the books and movies I get her represent a variety of different kinds of backgrounds, cultures, and colors. She attended a preschool where the curriculum was taught entirely in Spanish, and she was fully bilingual from an early age (unfortunately, she has lost most of her Spanish since we moved away and had to leave that school, but my hope is that it laid an early foundation for picking up other languages and for embracing different languages).
Tonight, my daughter noticed I was upset and asked me what was wrong. She is almost five and I feel she is too young to get into the details of a murder case with, so instead, I sat her down and pulled out one of her storybooks. I pointed to a picture of two little girls, one white and one black. I asked her, "Do these girls look like you?" She thought about it for a minute and pointed to the little white girl and said, "This one looks like me." I asked her, "What about the other girl?" She looked and said, "No, she looks different." I said, "Okay, what's different about her?" She thought and said, "Her hair is different. And her face." I asked, "What's different about her face?" She said, "It's brown." I said, "Right, and what color is the other girl's face?" She looked puzzled. "It's like my face." So I asked, "What color is your face?" She thought for a moment and said, "It's pink."
So I told her, "Listen, as you get older, you might hear some people who have pink skin like us say things that aren't nice about people with brown skin, like this little girl. What would you think if you heard someone say something like that?"
She said, "I would think that's mean, and I would tell them to stop."
I told her, "Good. It's important to understand that people come in all different kinds of colors, but that doesn't mean that anyone is better than anyone else. You must always speak up if you hear other kids saying something mean because someone looks different, right?"
She said, "Of course."
I don't know how to explain to my child that we live in a world where a brown-skinned boy can be killed just for walking down the street, but I feel I have to start somewhere. I want her to live in a better world someday than the one we live in now, and she is going to have to be a part of making the changes we need in order to get there. I want her to be prepared. And I want to make sure that I am teaching her what she needs to know so that when she does start to encounter racism, she will know to question it and to speak out.
So do you talk to your kids about race and ethnicity? Do you teach them about racism? Do you try to offer guidance on what to do or say when they encounter it?
I am especially interested in hearing from non-white mamas and mamas of non-Anglo/European ethnicities. What is your advice for a white mama trying to teach her kids about racism? What things do you worry about or go through with your kids that white moms never have to think about?
Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.