Sorry this is so long...it's just my rambling, immediate response.
I certainly DID NOT intend to have to discuss race with my daughter at a young age, but I had to discuss it with her soon after she turned 3 years old.
We live in a diverse community and have friends of various ethnicities, and the first person to bring race up with my DD directly, on two separate occasions, was a Caucasian friend's 4 year old son. Every time he saw us, he just had to bring up race. (We're African American.) When he was talking to us adults, it wasn't much of a problem, as my two year old daughter wasn't paying much attention. But when my second daughter was born, and he came to visit us in the hospital, he insisted she was "black" like my daughter's baby doll. First of all, both my daughters are tan or light brown in color. My daughter's baby doll was medium to dark brown. So my daughter (who was 2 years, 9 months at the time,) probably couldn't understand why this boy was calling either the doll or her new sister "black." In her mind, neither the doll or the baby were black like the crayons she colored with. On top of that, the doll and the baby weren't even the same color, so what was he trying to say, she must have wondered??? The only thing she knew for sure was this kid's tone wasn't very nice. I really didn't even know what to say to my daughter or the boy, I was so surprised. My daughter was crying, and I didn't know how to explain to a 2 year old that we are called "black," even though we are not physically black. On top of that, I was kind of pissed off at my friend for introducing the concepts and language of race to her son before he was responsible enough to use the information with respect. Later, I asked her why her son kept talking about our race, and she just shrugged and said her son liked to get a rise out of people.
How amazing that a boy that young would want to get a rise out of adults. How amazing that he would use race to do it, too.
Whatever the case, I realized after my conversation with my friend, that I would have to keep my eyes open and look for the appropriate time when I thought DD might be able to grasp the fact that we just lived with the contradiction of being called something we are not, and that we need to be comfortable with it, even if it seemed wrong or silly. I can't speak for caucasion people, but I think minorities, in the United States, often can't afford to ignore the issue of race, because even if you don't bring it up, somebody else around you will. On top of that, what your actual ethnicity or race is won't always matter to the world. There will always be people who will treat you a certain way based on what you look like, without regard for the truth. (In this case, I'm thinking of multi-racial people who don't look particularly multiracial. It doesn't matter much that Obama was raised by the white part of his family. Everyone still refers to him as "black." The same would be true for Tiger Woods, if he were not famous.) I know that my best friend didn't think race would matter to her children, who are Indian. Then when her exquisitly beautiful son came home wishing for blond hair and blue eyes, and her dark brown niece didn't want an African American doll I had given her because she thought the doll's skin was "dirty," my friend had to wake up and smell the coffee. Kids aren't color blind, and they pick up negative messages from their environment, that parents don't always intend for them to receive. Even my caucasion friend, who believes people are not different races, they simply have different amounts of melanin, and therefore won't use the terms black or white, but instead uses darker or lighter skinned people, had to deal with this issue with her 4 and 6 year olds. Seems the grandmother had taught her youngest kids that when bad things happened in their neighborhood, it was always those "Spanish people" that caused the problem. My friend has found it hard to change her small kid's perspective.
(Thereby proving that what we learn first, whether right or wrong, sticks more with us than any truthes or additional information that may follow.)
Later on, I realized that there had been a lot of discussions on news programs and whatnot (probably about Obama,) that referenced "black" people. My daughter was paying attention to some of these shows, and I was a bit worried about what she might be thinking. Then, Barney had a show focusing on Chinese culture, and my daughter became a little fetishist of all things Chinese, which included pretending to be Chinese, as Baby Bop had suggested on the show. I really couldn't abide by her living confused about our race, our ethnicity or our nationality, so I explained it all as simply as I could, using a map. On top of that, I explained a bit about Asia and Asian cultures, because I was scared to death she'd refer to Asian people at our church as "Chinese." I don't know all of their ethnicities, but I do know that some are Korean, and I ever since some men in Detroit killed a Chinese man because they thought he was Japanese, I've been sensitive about not lumping all Asian people together and calling them all Chinese. (What a gross and disgusting practice, in my opinion.) So I discussed various Asian cultures with her. We discussed how our best friends came from India, and that her Bilingual Playgroup instructor came from Columbia. We spent a lot of time looking at maps, the globe, the planets, and people and animals and landmarks from different places. Some of this talk must have bored my daughter with the issue of race, and that's a good thing. My daughter will be 4 in December, and I haven't had any embarrassing issues with regards to race. She really does seem to accept that there are all types of people in the world, and that there is no need to label them as anything other than human, aside from using their given names, because talking about all that ethnic stuff just gets in the way of playing together, LOL!
We almost never see other African Americans in our community, unless we make a point to arrange a play date. It's not because there aren't African Americans here, it's just because it's a large community and AA's are a minority within this community. So when we discuss the neighbors who live in our cul-de-sac, I might mention that one is Italian, the other Irish, the other Scottish, two are Jewish families, and the last two homes are Greek and Russian. Ironically...the neighbor who lives next door, whom we never speak to or even see, is West Indian (and black. He goes out the front door, while everyone else use's the back, where our cars are parked.) It's a crazy, U.N. world we live in, and I really hope that by educating my daughter, she can avoid picking up and accepting stereotypes about the race and ethnicity of others. On top of that, I really hope that when she does eventually encounter racism or racial snobbery, that she will be able to handle it with intelligence and grace.