I need help teaching about RACE. - Mothering Forums

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Old 07-25-2009, 11:06 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Please, please no one be offended by this, I am just trying to make sure my son learns to be a kind, loving, accepting person--and need advice. This is kinda long, but want you to know all the details.

The Son, Lordy I do not even know how to tell you this without it sounding so horrible--so I am just going to tell you, The Son has taken to calling African American people "Chocolate."

It started about two weeks ago, we were sitting in the car outside of Target trying to navigate our way through the parking lot. An African American Dad and his two super cute little boys were sitting on the bench out front, and The Son pointed and said "Look Mama, Look Daddy! A little chocolate boy, and anuder chocolate boy and a chocolate daddy!" The Husband and I just stared at each other trying to digest what our kid had just said, and wondering how the hell we handle this. I think I stammered something about how they had pretty brown skin that looked like chocolate, but that it was still skin just like his, and how saying that might make them feel bad. I think, I really was so stunned that I doubt it was that articulate.

I had hoped it was just a one time thing, but then just a day or too later we were curled up in my bed watching old school Sesame Street online, when Grover was having a talk about rhyming with an AA little boy. Again, "Mama! Look! He is chocolate!" Seizing the moment, I paused the video, and pulled out my arm and held it next to his. "See how our arms are not exactly the same color?" "Yes." "That is because God makes people in all different colors. We are all made up of the same stuff, just alike on the inside, but on the outside we all look different. One way we look different is what color our skin is. This little boy is just a normal little boy, his skin is just brown instead of kinda pinky white like yours. Do you understand?" "Yes." "Good. Now we can see what rhymes with toy."

The next day at Wal-Mart. "There is a Chocolate lady mama!" This time I was embarrassed and slightly mad because we had just had this discussion and he said it loud enough for people to hear. "She is NOT chocolate, and it is naughty to say that because it would hurt her feelings if she heard. She is just a lady with skin that looks different than yours, and we do not say mean things about people." "CHOCOLATE IS NOT NAUGHTY MAMA!" I know that other people heard that, but think they thought we were talking about candy. "If you say it again you are going to time out. No warnings. ":

Later the same day I heard him "reading" a book, Knuffle Bunny Too, and saying that Sonya was chocolate. AGH. How do I fix this? He does not go to school. We go to an all white church (it is hard to find a church in the south that is not segregated--sad but true.) There are a couple of bi-racial kids in our playgroup, but he has not noticed there is a difference in their skin, and I am wary of pointing it out. We really just do not have anyone in our circle right now that is black, we did but one family has moved, and another has gone back to work so we never see them, our LLL is all white--not that minorities are not totally welcome.

Is it a phase? Should I punish him? We really truly have NEVER said anything even slightly racist that he could have over heard, so I have no idea if he thinks that people a different color than him are really made of something different, or if he is just being silly. What do I need to do? Oh, he will be three 8/31:
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Old 07-25-2009, 11:24 PM
 
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FWIW, if a little one around that age noticed me and called me chocolate, i wouldn't be offended. He's just at that age where he is noticing color differences and similarities and stuff. I think you could start teaching him manners about it now but don't expect him to really get it until later. I don't think it's anything that you should teach him to be ashamed of though. Not sure what to say. It does seem like you are making this into such a huge hush-hush issue when really it's not. and if you're in the south, i know what you mean. I live in the south and the people i know who are white like totally avoid anything and everything in conversation with me having to do with skin tone, hair, or anything. When i lived in the north, my friends talked about my skin tones and hair like it's nothing, just part of what makes me me. it's just the culture differences i guess.
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Old 07-25-2009, 11:27 PM
 
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Please, please don't punish him. He is not trying to be "naughty". He is noticing the world around him and commenting on differences he sees. I know it can be horribly awkward for you, but please understand that he doesn't know they implications of what he is saying. Through your discomfort and nervousness when in that situation, think of the message you are probably sending him - that it is uncomfortable and shouldn't really be talked about. And while I totally understand that you don't want him shouting about it in a store, you don't want to send the message that it shouldn't be talked about in general. In order to give him the chance to talk about race, skin color, differences in people, etc, in a more appropriate setting, I would get a bunch of books and read and talk with him about it. I was actually at the book store today, and there was a small section in the kids books on this topic. A couple of good ones I was thinking about getting were The Colors We Are and We Are Different, We Are the Same. There were more, but those two jumped out at me. At any rate, I think if you guys had the chance to talk about it in a calm moment, he would get a lot more out of the exchange and his observations would be validated.
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Old 07-25-2009, 11:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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You are right that I am sensitive. To be honest, my husband and I are both just one generation younger than a whole lotta biggots. We still see rebel flags and hear racist comments on a daily basis, and have worked really hard to shield our son from this because we are committed to raising him as an accepting person even here in our small southern town. I am glad to know that would not hurt your feelings. Maybe I (and my hubs.) are just making to big of a deal over nothing, but it FEELS like something, ya know?
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Old 07-25-2009, 11:45 PM
 
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IMO, you would be doing more towards working toward your goal by just talking about it. In the south things can be so....strained. I understand that, but if you have a friend who is AA and he mentions it, allow him to talk about it with them, and with you if you're comfortable. I think you'd be doing more towards working away from your goal by making it a shameful thing and trying to push it under the rug, and ultimately teach him that being black/brown/"chocoloate colored" is something to be ashamed of and pretended not to notice, like an embarrassing flaw. Let him keep his innocence about the whole matter, you know? He doesn't think it's "anything", but he will pick it up if you act like it.

After all, he's just a baby.
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Old 07-25-2009, 11:53 PM
 
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People

Whoever you are

I wouldn't preface these in any way linked to the chocolate statements but rather just some new books for bedtime or story time.

The first rule of homeschooling: water the plants! :
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Old 07-26-2009, 05:10 AM
 
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My kids' daycare has a unit where they have the kids mix paint to match their skin color. The colors end up different shades of brown, essentially, and dd refers to AA people as having 'dark brown' skin, our family as having 'light brown' skin (when I buy make up, I get colors called "fair" and "ivory"), and people in the middle as "medium brown". I'm OK with that.

Daycare (and our family) has also talked about WHY skin colors are different - if your family came from a place with lots of sun, your skin tends to be dark brown to protect you from the sun. If your family came from a place with not very much sun, your skin tends to be light brown because you need to absorb Vitamin D and don't need so much protection from the sun. We've also talked about how your skin color comes from your parents. So, the reason someone has 'dark brown' skin is most likely because their parents had dark brown skin.

It's also really important to LET children talk about both differences and similarities among people. If you shut down talk about differences, then it teaches children implicitly that difference is bad. So, the next time he says "that lady is chocolate" say calmly "yes, she does have dark brown skin. Let's see if we can find the toothpaste we need to buy."

I think that your lesson during sesame street was fine, but don't be afraid to talk about these things in public either.

And just wait until he says things like "why is that lady so fat?" or "Mom, is that man a monkey?" Tact is a hard thing to teach!

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Old 07-26-2009, 10:26 AM
 
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I had to giggle. My mom told me when I was in preschool, I asked her when I was going to turn white. Apparently, I had a classmate that had freckles, so I assumed her brown skin was fading away or wearing off and was wondering when I'd change color, too!: Honestly, I've never really had to address this with my own kids since my mother is black, and my adoptive father is white.

For my daycare, I make sure I have a variety of books (books with people of different colors, hair types, handicaps, had a couple celebrating different Jewish traditions), different color dolls (action figures tend to have a wide variety of different looking characters) and pictures or movies. Sometimes, it's easiest to address the issue as it arises, and other times you may need to set aside some time to do something multicultural so your child can ask questions freely in an environment with plenty of time to address it.

Most adults understand children observe things and relate them to what they know. Had your son been 27, it might have been considered a different issue. But "chocolate" is hardly seen as a racist term, so you don't have to be worried that people are believing you are raising an intolerant child. Besides, who doesn't like chocolate? You're doing a great job.
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Old 07-26-2009, 11:06 AM
 
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I have to laugh at your DS, because I am chocolate and I use that term to describe DS and other brown children. I don't think that the term is offensive, unless it is used in a demeaning way.


Whenever DS calls brown people chocolate you could simply repeat what he says but substitute another word for chocolate.

+ + =
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Old 07-26-2009, 11:45 AM
 
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I think it's adorable. There's nothing racist or bigoted about a child make a developmentally normal observation that humanity is not homogenous.

My hubby's African, and so all our children our brown, and we all thought it was too cute when our 2 yo started using "Chocolate" to describe what he was seeing. He actually started with my eyes ("Mama! You have CHOCOLATE eyes!!!!!") but moved on to skin color. He knows it's not real chocolate, that is just the word that makes the most sense to him when he sees the color brown. My older ones never used that term but they too went through a stage where they were interested in defining everyone's skin color. They never could figure out why I would be called "white" though. Ds1 says I'm "reddish".

Please don't punish him. I really think being frantically sensitive (punishing an innocent comment for fear of being viewed as racist) about this stuff is not any more helpful than ignoring it, kwim? I really don't think most people, hearing what your son said, would take offense or think that you're a bigot teaching him to be one. Talk with him and read him books about why we have our different skin colors, and let him see by example you treating others with respect and dignity regardless of skin color.
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Old 07-26-2009, 02:06 PM
 
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It sounds pretty normal for the age...kids say all kinds of inappropriate things, don't they? I think most people know not to expect much better from them as long as they don't see you approving. FWIW, I've worked in the school system and by K or 1st grade it seems they get it about different colors being no big deal.
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Old 07-26-2009, 02:14 PM
 
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Another resource you might find helpful is:

www.antiracistparent.com

I'm pro-adoption reform, but not anti-adoption.
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Old 07-26-2009, 03:49 PM
 
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Your son is being totally age appropriate in his race awareness. I HIGHLY recommend the book "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla" which I have found to be extremely valuable in learning about how children process race at different ages and how to talk to them about it.

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Old 07-26-2009, 04:54 PM
 
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I agree with the pp's that it's totally innocent and unliekly to be taken poorly by anyone. My dd is 3.5, we live in MN (fairly homogenous), and she once yelled across the library at me that "that little girl looks like Obama!" I don't think anyone was offended- the girls smiled and waved at eachother, the mom grinned at me, and that was that. Kids make observations based on what they know. Chocolate is a greta, happy frame of reference in my mind (just think of the brown-colored things in his experience that he could have said instead- in that context, I think chocolate rocks!)
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Old 07-26-2009, 04:56 PM
 
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Oh, I feel your pain!! Except, my son is six, and I worry he's starting to get past the age where people find it "cute and innocent" the way they do when a small toddler says it!

Let me share a small taste of my recent public humiliation with you! Living in a small town in the midwest, there's not a TON of diversity here. We have one supermarket, and a few weeks ago, we were shopping and we walked past a black woman who was probably in her late sixties or early seventies. VERY LOUDLY, DS looks at me and says, "MOM! I DIDN'T KNOW BLACK PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO SHOP HERE!!" This would be the part where I melted into a puddle of stammering embarassment on the floor and everyone else in the aisle (including the woman) nearly died laughing! Once I pulled myself together, I just said, "Of course! Everyone can shop here!" And later, when I was able to be a little more articulate, we had a good conversation about the civil rights movement and segregation, etc.

But, given today, it's going to take some more talking! We were at the same supermarket and I stopped in the produce section to pick up some things, and a black woman walked past us with her son (probably 18 months or so) in the cart seat. DS says (again, at pretty much top volume!) "OH MY GOD MOM...THAT LITTLE BLACK BABY IS SO CUTE!! DO YOU THINK OUR BABY WILL BE BLACK WHEN SHE'S BORN??" And again, everyone in the produce section had a good laugh, and we had quick genetics lesson!!

I feel the same way a PP mentioned. DH and I are both just one generation removed from some very bigoted family members, and my biggest worry is making sure my kids NEVER pick up on that! So...I understand exactly how you feel! But I agree....most people are very understanding. They're just children who are discovering the world around them! That doesn't always stop the blood from rushing to my face in the moment though!

Jen...wife to Shawn...Radically Unschooling Mommy to Connor (4/03), Autumn (1/07) Aiden (1/08) and Ella (10/14/09) Just had the of our dreams!
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Old 07-26-2009, 05:33 PM
 
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totally off topic,

but its not race you are talking about.

RACE does not exist. we are all homo sapiens. we are not homo americanos, or homo africanos, or home europeanos.

it is ethnicity you are talking about. even though it feels like race.

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Old 07-26-2009, 10:19 PM
 
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I agree with the pp's that it's totally innocent and unliekly to be taken poorly by anyone. My dd is 3.5, we live in MN (fairly homogenous), and she once yelled across the library at me that "that little girl looks like Obama!" I don't think anyone was offended- the girls smiled and waved at eachother, the mom grinned at me, and that was that. Kids make observations based on what they know. Chocolate is a greta, happy frame of reference in my mind (just think of the brown-colored things in his experience that he could have said instead- in that context, I think chocolate rocks!)
Ha! SweetPotato, I had a very similar experience with my son right around the time of the election. Of course, he had been seeing and hearing about Barack Obama everywhere. One day I took him to the art museum. Just as you walk in, there is a big, open, high-ceilinged, echo-y atrium area where they sometimes display sculptures. At the back of this area is the welcome desk. On that particular day, there was a black man at the welcome desk, and just as we walked in and were standing in the big echo-y atrium, my son (he was 3) turned to me and said, "Mommy! Is that Barack Obama??" The man was very nice about it - he laughed and told my son he was flattered at the comparison.
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Old 07-26-2009, 11:03 PM
 
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RACE does not exist.
Even though it's OT - I really need to address this one!

Race does not exist in any scientific sense - ie, there is no discernible genetic variation that is linked to race. There is likely to be as much genetic variation between any two black individuals than between a black and a white individual.

That does not mean, however, that race does not exist as a social/cultural construct. Race is a very real, very concrete thing, in a social/cultural sense, and it impacts everyone, all the time. If you are white, you have the privilege to not have to think about your race unless you choose to. If you are not white, it is there, with you, every single day - it affects how people view you, it affects your job and educational prospects, it affects how you will interact with law enforcement, it affects EVERYTHING. It also affects white people, but we're back to the privilege thing, we are the norm, so we don't have to notice it.

On topic - to the OP - you have gotten some great advice. race is something that needs to be talked about in an open and accepting way. Get the books people have suggested for your son. But also expand your own horizons - open yourself up to literature, music, food from other cultures. Most importantly, try to expand your circle of friends. I understand that this could be very challenging based on where you are, but it will have such a huge impact on your son to see his parents being genuinely friends with people from other races and cultures. If this is already the case, then awesome, you are way ahead of the game.

I'm also so glad someone suggested the antiracistparent website. It's a truly wonderful resource for parents trying to negotiate these difficult issues with their children.

OP - it seems like you are doing a great job with your little one, especially based on the background you've described. You are doing to much to try to break the cycle of racism. Keep questioning, teaching your son, and looking for support!

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Old 07-27-2009, 12:07 AM
 
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Race does not exist in any scientific sense - ie, there is no discernible genetic variation that is linked to race. There is likely to be as much genetic variation between any two black individuals than between a black and a white individual.

That does not mean, however, that race does not exist as a social/cultural construct. Race is a very real, very concrete thing, in a social/cultural sense, and it impacts everyone, all the time. If you are white, you have the privilege to not have to think about your race unless you choose to. If you are not white, it is there, with you, every single day - it affects how people view you, it affects your job and educational prospects, it affects how you will interact with law enforcement, it affects EVERYTHING. It also affects white people, but we're back to the privilege thing, we are the norm, so we don't have to notice it.
oh i agree with you. yet i would hate using the term 'race' as the US govt does. i would use the term ethnicity. and we have to start doing that. so that we can one day do away with the white race, black race, yellow race thing.

its easier to use the word ethnicity.

it was easier to talk to my dd using ethnicity, saying how her friend c's skin is brown because her gparents came from africa. however as she sees there are 'chocolate' people all over the globe. it has generated interesting conversations. it was easier to explain our own family skin colour dynamics using ethnicity.

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Old 07-27-2009, 12:12 AM
 
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Around 2 my son could sign and he started using the sign for "dirty" for anyone with darker skin than us.

!!

By the way I look as white as anyone can get really, but I'm part Cayuga, so I took it pretty badly. ("Dirty indian" and all that.)

I started being sure to read some good books with him and to talk about differences in different ways (blue eyes, etc.) and now at 4 he's fine. It will be okay, honest.

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Old 07-27-2009, 01:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Can I just say how much I love MDC? : Ya'll have made me feel better about my son, myself, and given awesome feedback and advice all at the same time. Thank you, I love the website, and think it is a great way to teach, and am going to look into some of the books as well.

(not sure how to edit this quote in, but here it is: But also expand your own horizons - open yourself up to literature, music, food from other cultures. Most importantly, try to expand your circle of friends. I understand that this could be very challenging based on where you are, but it will have such a huge impact on your son to see his parents being genuinely friends with people from other races and cultures. If this is already the case, then awesome, you are way ahead of the game.)

As pp said that the best way to teach was to be more willing spend more time myself in different cultures, or with different people. I would really like to do this, but am not quite sure how to in our town. I would love some suggestions about that? I just know that I never want myself or my son to hurt someone by saying something stupid because of our ignorance, yes he has a pass now because of his age, but it will be my responsibility to teach him...to help him change our community for the better in this way. I want him to love and respect all people regardless of race (still using that word despite debate above), or sex, or religion, or sexual orientation, ya know?
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