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Kids talking about skin color

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

What should somebody do when their child talks about skin color, specifically other people having different skin colors than they do? Nothing? Something?

 

Ds1 is in a multi-cultural school, where well over half of the students are visible minorities. We are white. One of his friends has very dark skin, and he's mentioned her skin color a couple of different times. None of these have any negative thought on his part, btw.

To give you an example, my ds, his friend and her older sister, an older boy we babysit and another girl from his school were playing together at his friend's house. They were playing basketball, and were trying to determine teams. Some ideas they had were older kids vs. younger kids, boys vs. girls, and ds1's idea was brown skin vs. white skin. His friend's mom pointed out (I should add that she was smiling) that ds1 would be the only person on the "white skin" team. That was that, and they figured out the teams and started playing the game.

 

In this situation, should I have said anything to him? Should I say something to him after the fact?

 

I don't know if these things make any difference, but in his school, there are a lot of families who are actually from other countries (as in, the parents moved here from their country of origin), and speak english as a second language. So discussions about "where are you from" are relatively common (and people ask me as well, as it seems to be apparent that I'm "from the south" lol).

Secondly, many of the kids are Japanese or Chinese, so I think that ds1 doesn't see their skin as very different. His friend is quite a bit darker, so he seems to see her as looking different, where he doesn't think that of most of the other kids, apparently.

post #2 of 26

We talk about skin colour a lot here.  My dh is of Indian heritage (parents both born in India) with medium-brown skin and I'm pasty white.  Dd and ds have figured out exactly the "order" of our family: daddy is darkest, then dd, then ds then poor mommy who gets sun burns (lol).  They point out other families and people that we know too - "so and so's daddy has skin even darker than daddy", or "so and so's mommy is pale like you and his daddy has skin like our daddy", etc.  There's nothing wrong with those kinds of conversations in my book.

 

ETA I don't see anything wrong with what your ds said.  It obviously came from a place of "Oh, I just thought of another difference (like boys vs. girls) that could indicate teams", not "I think white people should be against darker skinned people", yk? 

post #3 of 26

Kids notice skin color, just like they notice hair color, height, weight and tattoos. I don't find anything wrong with noticing it and talking about it. Its us adults who like to pretend that race doesn't exist.

post #4 of 26

We're going to do a unit on people around the world here, probably sometime soon. I really feel this is needed as ds(4) asked me at the grocery store if the bagger, who was a very dark african american man, why the man was so dirty and mentioned he needs a bathjaw2.gifBolt.gif

post #5 of 26
We talk about it! We are overwhelmingly white so it's awkward for me and dh but we suck it up, lol. I read the worst thing you can do is not talk about it, that statistically results in the most biased kids later! We talk about it, what it means and doesn't mean, and we have dolls and books that show diversity too. I like antiracist parent and incultureparent for learning about how to raise my kids to be respectful and loving of all people, and eventually aware of their own privilege.
post #6 of 26

We talk about it.

 

For a while my kids attended a school that was 40% white, 40% African American, and 20% other. Many in the "other" category were mixed, the school was seen as a bit of a safe haven for bi-racial families.

 

I would just open a dialogue with your son and see where he takes it. It really isn't that big of a deal. My kids found it vaguely interesting for a while, but quickly moved on to which kids they actually liked rather than what race (or combination of races) any one was.

 

We did a few funny things that happened --- one of my DD's was convinced that one of her friends was Japanese because he was born in Japan. The child was African American and his dad was in the service. But no amount of explaining convinced her.

 

I'm a yogi, so I've raised my kids with the idea of Namaste, which means "I can see that place in you that is of love, of light, and of truth, and when you are in the place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are the same."  Whatever YOUR belief system, it surely includes a concept that all humane beings are worthy of respect, and that we all have more in common that we have different.

post #7 of 26

we dont talk about it at all. dd asks a question. i answer it. like at i think 3. mama you have darker hands than i do. 'yeah i know dd'. but mama ryleighs hands are darker than yours. 'yes they are.' end of conversation. 

 

the reason is coz dd is living this reality. that is plus of living in a v. diverse city in CA. she has grown up with children from every skin colour group. friends, ps, school she has seen a diverse group of people. not just skin colour but even immigrants. like the difference between a person who is an american of african american heritage vs american who came directly from africa. or that brown skin could be from mexico or could be from pakistan. 

 

in your example even if the mom had not said anything they would have tried to split the teams and realised they wouldnt be able to do it on skin colour grounds. your son is living the reality just like my dd is. 

 

the key here is he is making an observation - and to be honest a pretty smart one too. there is nothing racist about it. 

 

the concept of racism was brought up in first grade with rosa parks and MLK in the curriculum. what left an impact was attending a play. AND talking to gpa. gpa was brown but he lived through those times and he told dd a lot of stories how he faced racism depending on which colour of his friend he was going out with. 

 

so no. i didnt have to talk to dd. this year dd told me some kids were being mean because they were making fun of black people and also gay. 

 

however i have had to talk on a parallel subject this year a lot. yo mama jokes. the subtleties of cultural jokes and why they are wrong. i think dd is finally just getting it. they tried really hard to figure out how to not make the jokes mean in my books... but i think one of these days dd will get it. it has been an ongoing discussion in our house with dd asking tonnes of questions and me asking her questions too. which is good because in the beginning i got the typical eye roll and accusations of being too old fashioned. 

 

if you are in a predom single colour area then yes you have to talk about it. but if its present all around you - there is no reason to draw attention to it. 

post #8 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

 

if you are in a predom single colour area then yes you have to talk about it. but if its present all around you - there is no reason to draw attention to it. 



I agree.  It's never really come up here because our area is so diverse, so it's just the norm.  It's not like I've avoided the topic, it's just never been brought up.  I've never really thought about how to answer the question if it was asked.  

 

 

post #9 of 26

This reminds me of a story. When my son was little, he went up to a man at the bank and asked him "Why is your skin so dark?"

 

The man looked up from his paper, smiled and said, matter-of-factly, "I was born that way."

 

The answer satisfied my son and he went on his way.  :-)

 

I have tended to realize that lots of attitudes about other races not only come from lack of diverse individuals in the child's world, but also in their literature and movies/TV. I heard a story on NPR a while back, where a man came to this realization because his little daughter said one day during make-believe...."no Daddy, I have to be the nurse; you have to play the doctor." And something to the effect that girls can't be doctors. The dad realized that although he had never SAID that to his daughter, there had been no female doctors in the books she read and shows she watched. So the child was drawing conclusions of her own, quite separate from the parent's intention. Wow.

 

That instilled in me the importance of making sure that my son sees people of all orientations and all races in positions of leadership, compassion, heroism, creativity...you name it. 

 

And my favorite story about my son, just earlier this year (he is 8), when he saw in a kids' picture book, a person in a crowd all running after the little dog in the story--this particular person was a black man in a suit. He said "Look! Even a president is running after the dog!" Because our president is a black man and is frequently seen on TV dressed in a suit, he just made the connection naturally. Prior to Barack Obama's election, it would not have occurred to my son to make that connection. So it matters who & what they see all around them, near & far, known & unknown, spoken and unspoken.

 

I am so grateful that our church and our friends and his homeschooling groups are diverse so he is getting to learn about all sorts of people in all sorts of roles, and it really gets the conversation started around different countries and cultures, too. He will NEVER have the problems and prejudices that I was raised with, and which I happily shed once I got out of the stifling mindset of my family of origin.

 

 

post #10 of 26
I've done a bit of reading on this because we're a multicultural family. The literature encourages you to talk about it as you would any other physical characteristic. By pretending it doesn't exist, we're not teaching our children to be "colorblind"; we're teaching them that we can't talk about it. In my household, we talk about it as a spectrum, and sometimes we explain that it comes from your parents or sometimes is related to where your family is from, and sometimes not. If your kids bring it up, it's nice to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss it, especially while they're young.
post #11 of 26
Thread Starter 

Thanks everybody! I've really enjoyed all the responses. I was leaning towards "it's another physical characteristic" but wanted to just...make sure.

post #12 of 26

yep!  like nelliekatz said, the current research points to exactly as she put it... kids will draw conclusions on their own (sometimes crazy ones) if we don't talk about things.  they do notice differences, and they will wonder if we don't discuss them at all!

post #13 of 26

I have something funny to add to this.  We never really talked about it.  My kids would call people peach or brown if they were trying to tell me who someone was and it did help since their school is primarily hispanic.  However last year when I was picking kids up from school my oldest and her friend came to the realization that my oldest was white!  Holy goodness they were shocked.  They ran to me to point that out.  My oldest actually asked me if she was white like she was amazed by this!  It was hilarious!  The other parents were dying with laughter over the whole thing.  But it showed me how little it was an issue and these kids just became aware of their differences.  Kind of cool.

 

Apparently it's taboo to talk about but you find differences in yourselves and you're interested in them when you're little.  I was the only blonde kid in a family of hispanics... Of course there was a huge difference.  Our family pictures were awesome! 

post #14 of 26



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by meemee View Post

 

 

if you are in a predom single colour area then yes you have to talk about it. but if its present all around you - there is no reason to draw attention to it. 



There are a fair amount of studies coming out that directly contradict what you have said-the study referenced in the article below followed 90,000 kids from all over. There was a great article in Newsweek by the authors of "Nurture Shock." Here is the link to the article:

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html

 

 

 

Quote:

 

Moody included statistical controls for activities, sports, academic tracking, and other school-structural conditions that tend to desegregate (or segregate) students within the school. The rule still holds true: more diversity translates into more division among students. Those increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other. And that is what's happening.

 

 

My son is at a diverse pre-school and we still talk about race and ethnicity. We may not always get our answers right, but at least we are having the discussion. And that is what social scientists are finding-the more you talk about it the better. Kids categorize and see differences and wonder about them. Being in a diversified area doesn't make them better able to understand the differences they see without our guidance.

post #15 of 26

We live in a diverse area and the kids have both noticed that people have different coloured skin. They know it's just another physical characteristic, and that sometimes when someone looks different than us, it means that the person,or their parents or grandparents were born in a different place than our own ancestors. That leads in to a discussion about cultures or religion. The kids are both a lot more likely to try a new food if it has some history to go with it. So yeah, we are pretty open about skin colour and everything related to it.

 

My son is 9 and heard the word 'racist' one day. He asked what it meant and I explained that a racist is someone who thinks people with one skin colour are better than people with other skin colours. He asked better how? I was like, I don't know... maybe smarter or nicer. His reply was "That's stupid! You can't know what someone is like from looking at them!".

post #16 of 26

that's a great link, oaktree.

post #17 of 26
My babe doesn't notice tattoos, weight or hair color on people. She does notice darker skinned people and calls them "monkeys", I just ignore it and it has seemed to subside. But recently, during 4th of July, we we walking on the boardwalk and two older girls, who were African American (maybe 6/7) were whispering about how white she is and that it was weird and I immediately was in shock. It brought me to realize that the last thing I want is my daughter to feel insecure about anything in relation to her appearance, she can't change the way she looks, so I think it's important for children to grow up understanding that.
post #18 of 26

 

Quote:

 

She does notice darker skinned people and calls them "monkeys", I just ignore it

 

This is not something I would ignore. It is so offensive and racist that it is something we would talk about immediately. Ignoring it does not give a child the necessary feedback when it comes to unacceptable racist comments. Just because she may not understand all the historical implications behind her comments does not mean that they should pass unremarked on!!

 

 

post #19 of 26

Lurking about this thread because I'm really interested in what you all think about this topic, but haven't had my first kid yet, so I don't have first hand experience with this as a parent.  But I have been working as an educator for a while and have led many activities & discussions about skin color, racism and social justice. For those interested, I thought I'd share a great free online resource that has great talking points and lesson plans about these topics, called Teaching Tolerance. It's a little classroom-focused, but can still be pretty useful information.

 

post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by cassandraz View Post

My babe doesn't notice tattoos, weight or hair color on people. She does notice darker skinned people and calls them "monkeys", I just ignore it and it has seemed to subside. But recently, during 4th of July, we we walking on the boardwalk and two older girls, who were African American (maybe 6/7) were whispering about how white she is and that it was weird and I immediately was in shock. It brought me to realize that the last thing I want is my daughter to feel insecure about anything in relation to her appearance, she can't change the way she looks, so I think it's important for children to grow up understanding that.


Is this post serious?  Your daughter referring to people as monkeys didn't give you this realization, it took someone pointing out her whiteness?  She refers to others as monkeys but you're worried about *her* being insecure about her appearance? 

 

It's perfectly ok to talk to a young child about what is polite and what is not.  A simple explanation: "People usually don't like to be called kinds of animals."  Or even simpler:  "They are not monkeys, they are people." 

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