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Would you explain race to a five-year-old?

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
I'm coming from a place of privilege here. Dd is 5 and has grown up in a Caucasian family. She has friends that have different skin and hair colors, of course. She has never asked why. She may have mentioned that people have lighter and darker hair and skin and I have simply acknowledged that without categorizing people.

She knows that people speak different languages sometimes, although she has just started to realize that. She looks like the dominant group in our area but other parts of our city are much more diverse.

I've never explained race to her because I don't want her to see people in different categories. I don't believe people come in specific categories anyway. The lines are more blurred than that. Then again, maybe it is a useful discussion point to talk about social inequities, because that discussion does come up sometimes. In general, we talk about being kind to people but we don't talk about racism - again, because she has not experienced it, coming from the background that she does.

Sometimes she talks about "black" people and "white" people, but she is always talking about the clothes they are wearing (a black person is someone who dresses all in black). This is why the question came up in my mind.

Would you open a discussion about race with a five-year-old? If so, where would you begin?
post #2 of 33
Yes. In fact, I plan to explain it to my 3 year old if dd hasn't brought up the topic before then.

http://www.newsweek.com/2009/09/04/s...criminate.html

Now, to read the rest of this thread and see if there are spiffy ideas for having the conversation.

My inclination for responding to things like "that man has brown skin!" would be to say "yes he does, just like your dolly "

Where I'm going to have trouble, is explaining racism and such. I've got a friend who's much more up on all sorts of social issues, I'll probably have dd have a nice chat with her.
post #3 of 33
We've just started talking about because she just brought it up. We live in a very multi-cultural neighbourhood where many different languages are spoken. I'm actually quite surprised that she hasn't mentioned things like skin colour before. I hope she just realizes that diversity is a given and not worth commenting on.
post #4 of 33
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the interesting article, Sapphire. I wasn't sold until about halfway through, when the children started dividing people based on skin and hair color automatically.
post #5 of 33
I think discussions of class, race and priviledge are important and go hand in hand with awiareness of justice, a key value for me. These factors affect all of our lives and are things I think about and discuss with people around me on a regular basis, so I hope my dd will ask questions. If she doesn't, I'll surely bring it up in response to things happening in our community.

I know there are some pretty great books on these subjects out there, but I haven't explored them enough to recommend any specifically.
post #6 of 33
Absolutely.

I don't want my children ingesting their values from the surrounding culture. I want to get to them first.

Honestly, it's been unavoidable anyway. We're a biracial family. We're obviously "unusual" in some parts of the States. We don't get into really heavy stuff, but I have talked with them about history (and how our family would be "illegal" in some places in the past), why our current President's election was such a huge deal and emotionally fraught for many people, and the nature of human beings to classify and divide according to different traits, whether skin color or heritage or class.
post #7 of 33
Thread Starter 
We've absolutely had some discussion, but we haven't had much about discrimination based on race - or about the fact that people have races. We've definitely talked about the fact that people have different hair and skin tones, but I hadn't classified people into groups. However, from the article Sapphire mentioned it sounds like classifying people into groups is valuable because children are doing it anyway. We started that discussion yesterday. I talked about how everyone is part of many different groups and how some people who have x,y, or z hair or skin likely had grandparents (her understanding of ancestors) who came from different places. We talked about where our grandparents' grandparents came from too.

Social justice is very important to me and we talk about that frequently. However, when I talk about poverty and need I don't talk about poor people as a group, and when I talk about people with disabilities I don't talk about them as groups. I've always considered people to be part of a continuum of race, wealth, abilities...etc etc.

As someone with a chronic illness, I get really irked when I'm classified as that illness, so I've done the same thing with race - avoided classifying. But if children are classifying and ranking races in their heads anyway, I'd better start being proactive about it.

Please excuse my thinking processes!
post #8 of 33
My daughter is 2 and we talk about race. I very specifically go for books/dolls that are not just representative of white people even though we are white. I have (with permission from the specific people who are very close family friends) talked to her explicitly about how the different people we know are different colors. Heck, I'm talking about how most of the difference in skin color is because of where our ancestors lived around the world. It doesn't mean that the *people* are different, it means that their skin adapted to where they lived. She doesn't fully get it yet (she is only two and all) but she seems to be picking up pieces.

We live in a very diverse place. I am absolutely not ok with her picking up ambient floating ideas about race/sexuality/ethnicity/whatever. As was said upthread, I want to get to her first.
post #9 of 33
Honestly, I wouldn't bother. I believe that when teaching children, things don't become a big deal until you make them a big deal. And I don't want to teach my children that race is a big deal, so I don't plan to make it a big deal. I have no problem recognizing differences and discussing them as they come up, but I have no plans to make it a point to discuss race in depth or anything. Race and differences are a fact of life, they are things my children are going to experience in every day life. I see nothing good from making them bigger than any other every day experience.
post #10 of 33
My 3 year old explained it to me a couple of years ago.

Our Montessori teacher talks about race with the kids in her primary class every year. They do a unit on Martin Luther King for his birthday and talk about race.

My 3 year old son came home and explained it to me. He thought being nice to people or mean to people because of their race was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. He belly-laughed the entire time he was explaining racism to me.

I love Mrs. H.

I think it is important to talk to kids about race and racism early, because many social psychology studies have shown that kids and adults tend to identify with and like people who look like ourselves and sound like ourselves. If people are made made aware of it, we side-step that tendency pretty easily, but if it's not addressed, we tend to fall into preferring people who are like ourselves.
post #11 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RiverTam View Post
I think it is important to talk to kids about race and racism early, because many social psychology studies have shown that kids and adults tend to identify with and like people who look like ourselves and sound like ourselves. If people are made made aware of it, we side-step that tendency pretty easily, but if it's not addressed, we tend to fall into preferring people who are like ourselves.
You see, that makes sense now that I think about it, but I always thought the default human condition was: if you're taught to be kind to everyone, then race isn't that much of an issue.

However, it seems like the default is: if you're taught to be kind to everyone, you still prefer people of your own color/sound. This does make sense, since little children would choose people who are like them and therefore feel safe. Therefore you need to point out that races exist and explain them in order to teach your child that everyone's color/sound is good.

Am I getting it?
post #12 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RiverTam View Post
He thought being nice to people or mean to people because of their race was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. He belly-laughed the entire time he was explaining racism to me.
Dd and I have had these discussions a bit and she thinks it's weird too.
post #13 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by happysmileylady View Post
Honestly, I wouldn't bother. I believe that when teaching children, things don't become a big deal until you make them a big deal. And I don't want to teach my children that race is a big deal, so I don't plan to make it a big deal. I have no problem recognizing differences and discussing them as they come up, but I have no plans to make it a point to discuss race in depth or anything. Race and differences are a fact of life, they are things my children are going to experience in every day life. I see nothing good from making them bigger than any other every day experience.
Unfortunately research does not go along with your line of thinking. Not discussing things is problematic.
post #14 of 33
Yup, the research shows that not talking about it, especially if you and your child are in the priviledged group, is the worst thing you can do (well, I guess promoting racism is the worst ). We have always gotten books and dolls with different races and ethnicity portrayed, and we have talked about skin color a bit here and there, and now that DD is three, we make a point of talking about it actively, saying it comes from your family, just like DD's blue eyes from daddy. We talk specifically about skin color not making a difference about a person being nice, and we'll keep adding to the conversation as DD grows, in developmentally appropriate ways, I hope.

Last week DD attached herself to one other girl at the playgroup and played with her for a good half hour-- something she does VERY rarely, especially with strangers. The two girls' skin was as different from each other as can be, but they clicked and had so much fun-- it was a nice to see
post #15 of 33
How do you avoid talking about race? I don't get it. Granted, my child has dark olive skin and we live in a very white area, so we get comments about his skin color that make it impossible to avoid speaking about race, but even without that, I remember being horrified when we walked through the grocery store once when he was 3 or 4 and he said loudly, "I don't like that man. His skin is brown." OMG - it is still one of the most horrifying moments of my life as a parent, but it did lead to a lot of good discussions about race and skin color. And this is a child who has gotten the "Outside appearances don't matter" message consistently since birth, and a child who himself is identified by the people around him as not-white.

In 4K, he had a teacher who discussed Martin Luther King Jr. and slavery with the children. At the time, I had mixed feelings about it (did he really need to know at that age how ugly people can be to one another?). Now that I see where he is on race issues (at age 6 1/2) in relation to other the other kids we know in the area who did not have the same curriculum, I feel more comfortable that it was an appropriate subject to cover with preschoolers.
post #16 of 33
Thread Starter 
I have to clarify, we do talk about skin color and hair color. Dd also has dolls and toys and books that portray those different skin and hair colors and plays with a diverse group of kids. We also go to different cultural celebrations and have visited a number of different countries.

However, the initial question was more about talking about race as it connects to ancestry and culture, I suppose. Talking about racial groups. To use a rather crude example, we might play with people who have dark hair and skin and talk about how they speak a language from another place, but I haven't generally said to dd, "And people who look like that are from XYZ country or have ancestors from that country." I didn't group people in that way for dd.
post #17 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by happysmileylady View Post
Honestly, I wouldn't bother. I believe that when teaching children, things don't become a big deal until you make them a big deal. And I don't want to teach my children that race is a big deal, so I don't plan to make it a big deal. I have no problem recognizing differences and discussing them as they come up, but I have no plans to make it a point to discuss race in depth or anything. Race and differences are a fact of life, they are things my children are going to experience in every day life. I see nothing good from making them bigger than any other every day experience.
Saying race isn't a big deal is *usually* the privilege of someone who is white. For most non-whites living in the US, it is a big deal. Please consider reading the article linked to above. The discussion of this topic in Nurtureshock was a clarifying eye-opener for me. Though we mean well, we do our children a real disservice by pretending race doesn't exist.
post #18 of 33
Thread Starter 
Thanks to everyone for having this conversation. I don't have many places to have this sort of conversation with folks who are interested!

Ok, so when I talk about classifying, isn't it also somewhat of a privilege and assumption to classify people into a certain race / country of origin based on what they look like? For my friends who are immigrants from a specific country, perhaps this makes sense. However, if I see someone with dark hair and dark skin who looks like they might have African ancestry, as a white person do I tell my daughter that person is black? One of the reasons that I asked the question in the first place is that I do not feel comfortable explaining that a person is black, white, Asian, etc...when that is not how that person might define him or herself.

Challenge me on the above, please!

FWIW, I fall into several "minority" categories (not racial, but other sorts of categories) but would not want someone to classify me as any of them.
post #19 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by widemouthedfrog View Post
I have to clarify, we do talk about skin color and hair color. Dd also has dolls and toys and books that portray those different skin and hair colors and plays with a diverse group of kids. We also go to different cultural celebrations and have visited a number of different countries.

However, the initial question was more about talking about race as it connects to ancestry and culture, I suppose. Talking about racial groups. To use a rather crude example, we might play with people who have dark hair and skin and talk about how they speak a language from another place, but I haven't generally said to dd, "And people who look like that are from XYZ country or have ancestors from that country." I didn't group people in that way for dd.
I do actually talk about the fact that people are different colors because their ancestors lived in different places. I make an effort to point out that for the people we know, they all come from pretty much the same place (the US) but a long time ago people in their family lived far away in a different place and their skin adapted to that location. I haven't really gotten into cultural stuff yet (she's two) but we will as she ages. I have mentioned that if someone has a very different accent than us it might mean they were born in a different country but maybe not. Maybe they were born here and they have an accent because their parents were born somewhere else. I mention that people speak different languages in different countries but that's still awfully fuzzy for her. She's just barely starting to grasp that we live in one city and Daddy works in a different one where Aunt Laura also lives. It is all so very complicated. Once or twice she has asked me questions like, "Where is that person from" but I take that as meaning where do they live right now because she is still in that 'town I live in' vs 'town we drive to a lot' stage.

Mostly I'm trying to very consciously set it up so that she doesn't feel bad/weird asking *me* questions. I do talk to her about the fact that it isn't polite to talk about people right in front of them, but that doesn't mean that asking questions about them is rude.
post #20 of 33
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