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

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#1 of 33 Old 07-01-2010, 07:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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?

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#2 of 33 Old 07-01-2010, 11:06 PM
 
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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.
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#3 of 33 Old 07-02-2010, 12:02 AM
 
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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.

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#4 of 33 Old 07-02-2010, 11:28 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#5 of 33 Old 07-03-2010, 01:44 AM
 
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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.


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#6 of 33 Old 07-03-2010, 01:14 PM
 
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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.
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#7 of 33 Old 07-03-2010, 01:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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!

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#8 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 03:28 PM
 
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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.

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#9 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 03:56 PM
 
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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.
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#10 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 04:05 PM
 
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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.
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#11 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 05:12 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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?

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#12 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 05:13 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#13 of 33 Old 07-04-2010, 05:20 PM
 
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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.

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#14 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 12:06 PM
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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
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#15 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 12:25 PM
 
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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.
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#16 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 01:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#17 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 01:28 PM
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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.
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#18 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 02:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#19 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 03:49 PM
 
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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.

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#20 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 08:31 PM
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#21 of 33 Old 07-06-2010, 11:43 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Owen'nZoe View Post
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.

Well, we've managed to avoid it with my 6-1/2yo ds DESPITE the fact that we (who are Cauc) live in a heavily Hispanic town and have fostered children who are Hispanic and AA, had a close relationship with my mixed AA-Cauc half-brother and his family (who have since moved away ), AND adopted a very obviously Hispanic daughter . It just honest-to-God never came up.

Seriously.

That being said, after reading this thread, it's apparently time.

Thanks for the links.

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#22 of 33 Old 07-07-2010, 04:35 AM
 
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first let me get into semantics.

there is a difference between race and ethnicity. and i hate us still using the term 'race'.

there is only ONE race and that is the human race.

ok rant over

we are a biracial family so my dd has noticed that she is lighter skin than me.

i have dealt with it in an age appropriate manner as she grew older. today at almost 8 i dont see her react to different colours at all.

what was fun was that many of her friends parents had emigrated to the US so their gparents were still in the original country. so when she got interested in the globe we would talk about how such and such person belongs to which part of the world.

we have treated it just like how we deal with people with white hair, fat people or girl boy look or two mommy or two daddy families.

she has realised that just coz someone has white hair doesnt mean they are old, or that just because that person has short hair means they are a boy.

at 4 dd watched a program on MLK with her gpa and talked to him about segregation - how even though he was not black he either was discriminated against or not. he talked about how painful it was that he was allowed to enter a bar while his black friend was not allowed to. that one day one time conversation about 'looks and colour of skin' created her foundation.

today at almost 8 we really hadnt had a ethnicity question lately. she has a very mixed group of friends with many different kinds of family.

she has not really brought up or said anything about 'racism'. however what concerns me more is the whole if you are fat you are an ugly and/or bad person not worthy to have friendship with. and thin = good and beautiful.

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#23 of 33 Old 07-07-2010, 05:49 PM
 
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We speak openly about race (just as we do about many other topics.) I'm multi-ethnic/racial.

If anyone's interested in looking at Vittrup's thesis, specifically at the checklist (Appendix H) that parents had such a difficult time discussing with their kids:

http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/b...pdf?sequence=2

After/during each video, the parent was to say things like All people are special, White, Black, Mexican, Asian are all special.

Thanks for posting these. That 2nd link was very powerful.
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#24 of 33 Old 07-26-2010, 02:52 PM
 
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Loved that second article!

Once in a park, I said to my son, let's go look at the pretty bride having her picture taken. We found ourselves in the middle of a very lively North African celebration.

My son says to me "Mom, let's leave. Everyone here is brown".

I take a deep breath and Try. Not. To. Freak. Not as an excuse but we speak a different language (American in France) so they probably didn't catch it. I still had images of hoods and burning crosses (even though we're Jewish lol!)

Time to have This Discussion!

Having a kid go to a diverse school, I thought, would have superseded these sentiments. WRONG. He was used to a mixed crowd, not being a minority on his own. When I realized this was "the problem", I coaxed him into discussing it, adding my "first time to Jamaica" experience (told my friends' father what I was wearing. He stopped me to tell me only that he wouldn't have a problem picking me out at Kingston Airport lol!)

It's kind of a luxury trying to explain "race" (a word I actually avoid) to him and my country's history, while he's growing up in another. For a long time, he's learned to separate people's identities and their backgrounds (another minefield folks! Think adoptions, etc.) He has a half-African president. They made him say "I have a Dream" in his American accent when they were learning about Martin Luther King. He's met other French-Americans who are AA and can relate to them as another French-American, regardless of his different color and religion. Much of the American culture sent abroad is, in fact, African-American. Much of what other French people relate to him as, is not strictly speaking, his own culture!

Being what I like to call, a "quasi-minority" with the Jewish and American thing going on helps. Something different but something fundamentally the same. With some he shares the same culture, others, religion, and with yet others, color, which actually, is a really minor one. Living near several other European countries, we meet white people we can't even speak with lol! So much for relating on the basis of color alone...

My kids were especially delighted when the winning Miss France last year was actually mixed AA and white French.

So they relate on a "mix and match" basis. One diplomatic friend has nothing in common with my son except he speaks French and ice skates. That works for my son!

But my youngest had an incident at school, an altercation with a child and she was hesitant to say out loud that the child, was in fact, black (French girl, unsure of actual origins, which are not relevant anyway). I knew then that we had a problem. I wanted to know which one she was. I actually asked "What color is her hair?" and my then 5 year old blurted "Her hair is BLACK. Her skin is BLACK"... I knew then that we had a problem, although the incident itself had nothing to do with either child's background.

My dd was at fault. She called the little girl "old". The other girl is, in fact, 8 months younger. The fact that my dd was wrong was less important (although pointed out) then the simple fact of calling someone something they don't like. Race card, entirely aside!
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#25 of 33 Old 07-31-2010, 08:18 AM
 
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I would encourage you to discuss this with your 5-year old. Not making race an issue but still explain and inform is IMHO the best way to approach this.

We rarely or eve use the word "race" and home, not rally sure but I don't think it sounds proper.

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#26 of 33 Old 07-31-2010, 12:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Yeah, I don't like the term "race" much either. To me it means classifying people, which apparently kids do anyway...and though it is uncomfortable, I am doing it a little now too.

We had an interesting event the other day. Dd, who is as blonde and blue-eyed as can be, has a new "Barbie-style" doll with dark hair and skin (Only Hearts Club) so she can play Barbies with the other girls. Another little girl commented that she didn't like dd's doll because it had brown skin. Luckily, we had discussed racism when I first posted this and have continued to discuss it. Never expected my daughter to experience dollie-racism, though!

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#27 of 33 Old 08-03-2010, 05:28 AM
 
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. Dd, who is as blonde and blue-eyed as can be, has a new "Barbie-style" doll with dark hair and skin (Only Hearts Club) so she can play Barbies with the other girls. Another little girl commented that she didn't like dd's doll because it had brown skin. Luckily, we had discussed racism when I first posted this and have continued to discuss it. Never expected my daughter to experience dollie-racism, though!
This may not have been "racisim". She might have thought the blond Barbie was prettier! It may have had nothing to do with the color and everything to do with having a preference-which isn't a sin!

I would though explore it with the little girl to be sure but not jump to conclusions.

I must say that I'm very heartened to see the darker-skinned dolls. When I was little, they were ALL white. How undermining that must have been for my non-white peers as a child! They did remove our books though, and give us ones with a variety of people. Also, all the moms were shown as SAH's in the old texts so that was actually more of a problem...
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#28 of 33 Old 08-03-2010, 11:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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This may not have been "racisim". She might have thought the blond Barbie was prettier! It may have had nothing to do with the color and everything to do with having a preference-which isn't a sin!
Oh, I think that's exactly what it is, a preference. But if my child said "I don't like her because she has dark skin" about a real person, we'd have a good talk. The point that someone made near the beginning of this thread is that children DO prefer the skin tone that they have themselves (which makes sense, since as children we look for common ground so we can fit with others), so we need to teach them to be inclusive.

Not that I am being judgmental about the other little girl. I just found it interesting.

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#29 of 33 Old 08-16-2010, 02:19 AM
 
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first let me get into semantics.

there is a difference between race and ethnicity. and i hate us still using the term 'race'.

there is only ONE race and that is the human race.
As a Anthropology major, I am very clear on the lack of scientific racial categories, but I would argue the term should be used in these conversations. The fact is these arbitrary classifications are very present and powerful in our world and when talking about discrimination, usually "race" is the accurate term. I think it is very important to explain the difference between ethnicity (which I understand as relating to cultural affiliation and country/region of family orgin) and race (categories defined by physical characteristics which often, inaccurately, are used as synonyms for cultural groups).
As these conversations with our children progress, we can emphasize the lack of true "races" and the fact that if we were in an ideal world people wouldn't make these separations. I like to allow individuals to define themselves in ways that include their ethnicity, without being confined or labeled by outsiders crude observations of physical characteristics.

Amara ~ Married to my HS sweetheart, we're having a blast with baby Z (1/29/2011)

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#30 of 33 Old 08-16-2010, 02:29 AM
 
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Just another mom who talks openly about racism.

I didn't follow all the links, but maybe one was to the study where children had internalized negative messages about race even though their parents hadn't realized it? It was done in Austin, and was fascinating. After I read that, I decided to talk about racism a lot.

It helps that one of my children is named Luther, so that creates additional interest. Last MLK day we got some books and listened to some stuff on NPR and talked all about the Civil Rights Movement. They might not have gotten that much out of it, but I want to introduce it early so that they're aware of it.

My 7 yo seems aware of racism, she has pointed out to me how the American Girl catalog has lots more white girls than girls of color.

One thing I am concerned about is the "guilty white" tendency to romanticize people of other races, especially because there aren't very many AAs around here for my kids to know on a personal level. I want them to be aware of stereotypes and racism, but I also don't want them to think of black people as this poor, down-trodden group that should be treated differently. Does that make sense?

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