When to Introduce Race to Child? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 28 Old 10-06-2008, 08:31 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I read that children don't really understand race until the age of 4. That's not to say that they don't recognize physical differences or characteristics, but that the concept of race is lost on them up until that age.

Before 4, they call each other brown or peach and don't realize that people belong to different races. It's more about the color differences, if it comes up at all.

That said, when did you or do you plan on teaching your child about his/her race?

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#2 of 28 Old 10-07-2008, 01:39 PM
 
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What exactly do you want to teach your child about their 'race'? I guess that whatever you want to teach that is age appropriate would be a go.

What is the difference to you? Just curious. Maybe there is something more I need to think about.

Do you mean how other people might classify them based on their looks or about where their ancestors originated? I guess I'd like to know what you are going to teach them about their race.
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#4 of 28 Old 10-07-2008, 03:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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What exactly do you want to teach your child about their 'race'? I guess that whatever you want to teach that is age appropriate would be a go.

What is the difference to you? Just curious. Maybe there is something more I need to think about.

Do you mean how other people might classify them based on their looks or about where their ancestors originated? I guess I'd like to know what you are going to teach them about their race.
My dd is biracial -- I'm AA (Jamaican) and dh is Caucasian (Irish, German, Swedish). She knows that I'm brown, he's white, she and her brother and light brown. She also knows that our family is from Jamaica and that her dad's family is from Europe. That's all she knows. At her age, 5, I'm guessing that's all she needs to know. It really is a non-issue -- only shows up in her artwork, at this point.

What I want to know is how and when most children learn or know that they are Biracial or African American or black or Caucasian or white or Asian or Latino. When do they learn those terms or get those labels? Do their parents teach them right away? Do they learn them when they enter school?

My dd has never even heard the term biracial before. Is this something I should have already taught her? Is it something that I teach her when she asks? Will she ask? What if she doesn't ask and someone asks her and she doesn't know how to respond.

Culture is one thing -- she already knows a lot about that, but race is something we haven't talked about. My gut tells me to wait until she asks but I'm just wondering what other people have done.

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#5 of 28 Old 10-07-2008, 03:16 PM
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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.

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#6 of 28 Old 10-07-2008, 04:48 PM
 
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We talk about skin color. We talk about culture and national origin...but my 5 yr old was very confused and asked why we are called white, when our skin isn't white at all. She knows her best friend's dad is very dark and American and her mom is German and a lot lighter. We've discussed the fact that people look different based on where their family comes from. But "race" (which is a completely inaccurate concept anyway) and racism are things we haven't mentioned yet. I am dreading the day I have to, even more than explaining death to my children. I don't know how to explain bigotry.

I want my kids to know, at the deepest level instead of paying lip service, that people are people. They come from different places and live different ways, but that inherent worth, love, friendship and intergrity don't need you to check a little box next to a color.

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#7 of 28 Old 10-07-2008, 05:46 PM
 
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My cousin who is now my son godmother, is adopted, she's Puerto Riccan, Mexican and a few other things, and dark skinned. I grew up thinking that when babies are born that their skin color can be any color. Kind of like when you don't know if it's a boy or a girl, I thought it was a surprise what the baby's skin color would be. It's kind of funny to think that way now, but I was five or six before someone told me that she was adopted, and I hadn't questioned it my grandmother just told me. If she hadn't said anything I don't know when I would have figured out that people weren't just born another color. I never tell anyone she's adopted just that she my cousin that's how I've always seen her, who really cares. She having a baby in April and I can't wait for our kids to grow up together.
My sister just had a baby that's half black half white, and my step-dad's cousin is married to a black man and although they could never have kids of their own they've adopted three beautiful mix children.
I don't know how I'm going to deal with it when my son brings it up, I never even thought of it as being an issue until now, I've never looked at it as an issue because my parents never made it one. It's always been that's your cousin, and you love her no matter what her skin color is.
I wouldn't bring it up to your kids unless they bring it up to you.
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#8 of 28 Old 10-09-2008, 09:59 PM
 
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My #1son's bio-dad and I are both American Indian and Irish. We're darker than most White people and lighter than most Indians. DS got a lucky draw (well, I think, anyway) from the genetic grab-bag and has milky-pale skin, red hair and green eyes juxtaposed with the spectacular bone structure from the native side. He's just a doll. But I digress... One day he came to me, he was maybe 4 or so, and asked me why I was so brown. (I've since re-married a fully white man) I have to admit being a little floored, because it was never an issue in my house growing up, just the way things were. I told him I was born that way. He's brought it up again with friends from school. I've told him that people just are what they are, and we're all the same in our hearts. It was never anything I thought I had to "bring up," and it frankly makes me a little uncomfortable that it's being made such a huge deal as of late due to the election. I can barely watch the news anymore what with all the labels. Seriously, they're all human beings, leave it alone.

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#9 of 28 Old 10-26-2008, 05:17 PM
 
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I plan on telling DD the "Some people believe..." that race is how we identify people based upon their ethnic/cultural background. I am white and her father is African American and because of that I also want to introduce her to the "Bill of Rights for Peoples of Mixed Heritage" as soon as I feel she can grasp those concepts. I also plan on telling her that personally I believe there is only one race, the human race.

Here is a link to the "Bill of Rights for Peoples of Mixed Heritage":

http://www.drmariaroot.com/doc/BillOfRights.pdf
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#10 of 28 Old 10-26-2008, 08:16 PM
 
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hmmm. i never even thought about it. bringing up race that is.

my dd hasnt brought it up and i wont bring it up till she does.

she has noticed even when she was young that i have darker skin than her and ex.

my dd uses heritage to explain skin colour to friends. and she calls herself american.

but we also have a v. v. diverse group of friends so its what she has grown up with and doesnt question it. we have white friends with dd's adopted from china so she is even aware that children dont need to look like parents.

i though was reading from this history book i was reading (she is 6 and wanted to read me to read what i was reading) and it was about early man and how our skin colour was based on melatonin and why. i didnt even know seh was getting a lesson on race.

but i loved the comment she made afterwards.

she said mom i think its sad we have this kind of skin. we should all have skin like the chameleon so we can change into different colour whenever we want to. apparently our skin colour is so boring. she so wants to be green.

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#11 of 28 Old 10-26-2008, 11:02 PM
 
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We aren't really going to formally introduce it, per se, but she notices that some people look different, and asks about it. We talk a lot of different cultures (she's fascinated), and knows her own different racial background and that she's 1/2 and 1/2 so gets to do stuff from both
yeah:

I remember that I used to say that people were like icecream flavors, that I was vanilla and that my nanny was Chocolate oh and i wanted to be chocolate so bad

I don't think I will explain my daughter about race, except maybe about humans and martians.
I just told her that people from different herritages have different skin colors, but that all of us are important and that we should be treated the same, becuase here we HAVE racism, even at DD's age and I don't want her to be part of it.
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#12 of 28 Old 10-27-2008, 02:49 AM
 
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It'll be interesting to get into this discussion with my DD when she's finally old enough. Especially since her cousins are 100% latino and she's a mix of latina/caucasian. She's VERY fair, and her cousins are tanned, and bake up very nicely under our hot summer sun. The one thing I will have to deal with is my sister's disparaging remarks about "white people" or birthday parties (like one I attended this weekend) where people were counting the white people <<<seem odd to anyone else?

SIGH. So I think OP is right, it's not something you can overlook or teach later because someone else might do the teaching faster and not what you wanted to teach!
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#13 of 28 Old 10-27-2008, 03:02 AM
 
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This is a really interesting topic. Thanks for starting it!

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#14 of 28 Old 10-28-2008, 02:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

I just started this book and so far, the author has asked and answered some of the same questions I had and provided some insight on what multiracial children go through.

"Only by getting inside their world and understanding their racial understanding developmentally would I know how much to say and when I should say it, and how to do so in an age-appropriate way without overemphasizing these issues."

A few of the subjects in the book (which mirror some topics on this board):

Is colorblindness the answer?
Encouraging a Multiracial Identity for Our Kids
Coping with Curious Comments and Supermarket Stares
Stopping Obtrusive Comments in Their Tracks

It's definitely worth picking up.

Baking,, Chuck Taylor Wearing, , SAHMom of 2.
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#15 of 28 Old 10-29-2008, 11:38 AM
 
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Originally Posted by olliepop View Post
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

I just started this book and so far, the author has asked and answered some of the same questions I had and provided some insight on what multiracial children go through.

"Only by getting inside their world and understanding their racial understanding developmentally would I know how much to say and when I should say it, and how to do so in an age-appropriate way without overemphasizing these issues."

A few of the subjects in the book (which mirror some topics on this board):

Is colorblindness the answer?
Encouraging a Multiracial Identity for Our Kids
Coping with Curious Comments and Supermarket Stares
Stopping Obtrusive Comments in Their Tracks

It's definitely worth picking up.
I'm really loving this thread... I know it's a lot to ask, but I doubt I'll have access to that book... If you ever have time could you give us something quick about the four bolded subjects???
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#16 of 28 Old 10-29-2008, 01:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm really loving this thread... I know it's a lot to ask, but I doubt I'll have access to that book... If you ever have time could you give us something quick about the four bolded subjects???
(I'll just take bits and pieces.)
Is Colorblindness the answer?

"What a child needs to know is how to be prepared for non-color-blind peers and people who will query them repeatedly regarding their racial identity - fromt he texture of their hair to the shade of their skin to the family in which they live. What a child needs to know is how to speak up for himself with utter confidence and an unflappable sense of self whether he encounters one incident of race-questioning in his lifetime or one thousand."

I guess in our family we are colorblind, within our own four walls, that is. As I said in a previous post, our differences don't really come up. My dd (5) always colors herself and me brown and my dh and ds white. She said that we're both brown b/c we're girls and they are both white b/c they are boys. I am most definitely brown and dh is white, dd is probably a half shade darker than her brother, but both are light brown. The only time she even talks about "color" is when she is drawing.

I feel that if I don't preemptively prepare her for what's to come...and it's only a matter of time before her peers start questioning her about "what she is," I'm doing her a disservice and setting her up for a rude awakening. Still not sure how to bring it up -- still on first chapter!

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#17 of 28 Old 10-30-2008, 04:54 PM
 
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awesome Ollie! I am really getting this now.

I want Jahmari to be confident in himself -

and I loved the mixed heritage bill of rights, thanks HQ_Fishkiller (that's some handle ) My husband does the part of making his own vocab, he calls himself African Caribbean (unless he didn't make that up- idk. there's a Peter Tosh song where he calls himself an African Jamaican so I was thinking that's where DH got the phrasing from...)
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#18 of 28 Old 10-31-2008, 03:00 AM
 
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DS is 4. last year when he started preschool, he came home commenting that "mommy is white, daddy is black" he called himself "brown" and his sister for reasons unknown to any of us, was "pink.'

We just agreed with him and he never moved the discussion beyond that.

This year, when he started at his new school about a month ago, he came home from about the second day and informed me that one of his classmates is "dark black, like Daddy."

Again I just said yes, he is. Cause well, he IS.

He didn't ask for more details.

Basically all I've done is go a bit out of my way to find books that represent all races---but NOT as a part of the story or anything. Just as matter of fact part of the pictures. something he can see and ask about.

I answer questions as he asks them. I answer EXACTLY what I am asked. When he needs to know more, he will let me know. Before that, I'm just complicating things (in my mind.)

I also let him hear my answers to other people. I think his little friend was just over 4 like he is now when she asked why he was brown. Z was only about 2, but he was right there as I explained that I'm white but his daddy is black and he got a little bit from both of us. (she hadn't met DH yet, she 'got it' when she did, I think.)

I'm sure the day will come when the questions get harder.....

oh and I also turn the channel if there's something I don't yet want DS knowing on the TV, like we were watching a special that really wasn't that kid-appropriate anyway, and someone started talking about believing that interracial relationships were wrong.

how much would my barely 4 year old get out of hearing that? was he even paying attention?

I don't know but I'd rather save discussion of that topic for a few years......

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#19 of 28 Old 10-31-2008, 04:40 PM
 
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Wow- I really enjoyed reading your insights! May baby isnt born yet, and DH and I havent really thought much about when and how we'll start these conversations . . . but I can see it is important. I would hate for someone to regard them negatively . . . It would really break my heart.
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#20 of 28 Old 11-03-2008, 04:40 PM
 
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I feel that if I don't preemptively prepare her for what's to come...and it's only a matter of time before her peers start questioning her about "what she is," I'm doing her a disservice and setting her up for a rude awakening. Still not sure how to bring it up -- still on first chapter!
That's kind of how I feel about Terran. I handle his ethnicity more or less the same way I handle his being conceived by a donor: I don't ever want him to remember a time when he didn't "know" or to feel that it is a subject he can't talk to me about.

When KD and I were discussing this before we began the insems, the parallel he made was that he expected me to put the same effort into educating ds about his AA heritage as I had in educating dd about Women's History and feminism. This works for me.

Terran likes books so we read biographies of AA heroes as an appropriate "jumping off place" and even though he won't remember the stories or the one-sided conversations, i am becoming more comfortable talking about slavery and the civil rights movement in appropriate terms for a small child between the examples of the authors' writing and the practice i get talking to an infant.

kd is maintaining appropriate contact and facilitating contact between us and other families he helped create who desire this.
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#21 of 28 Old 11-04-2008, 04:18 AM
 
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My oldest is 7 and about 2 years ago started to become aware of race as an issue. This year with the election and Obama running, and also some of her school history lessons, she's learning a lot about race. I don't know if there is a proper time to bring it up. I think it kinda brings itself up at the right time and the kids pick up on it and start to talk about it.

As far as when to teach a child about his/her own race, I think a lot of times that goes hand in hand with teaching a child about his or her culture. My family identifies with being Hindu. My dd's both look very Indian like their dad and they identify with being Indian and Hindu at the same time.

7yo: "Mom,I know which man is on a quarter and which on is on a nickel. They both have ponytails, but one man has a collar and the other man is naked. The naked man was our first president."
 
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#22 of 28 Old 05-06-2009, 12:38 PM
 
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Bumping by request

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#23 of 28 Old 05-06-2009, 03:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm really loving this thread... I know it's a lot to ask, but I doubt I'll have access to that book... If you ever have time could you give us something quick about the four bolded subjects???

Still reading the book. Put it down for a while and finally picked it up again. Read something really interesting this morning and wanted to share:

"Being comfortable with one's own ethnic background not only helps to give one's children an understanding and appreciation of that heritage with a personal depth of meaning that can't be provided by anyone else, it also affords a child a parent that understands, intriniscally and empathically, what that child might one day face because she is racially different."

It made me remember a time when I wasn't comfortable with my own ethnic background and went so far as to deny to myself, my family, and all my friends that I was Jamaican. In my defense, I was in kindergarten at the time.

Anyway, here I am thirty years later and I have to say that I'm quite comfortable with my ethnic background and the skin I'm in, and can only hope that piece of the puzzle really does help my two little ones find their way.

Thoughts?

Baking,, Chuck Taylor Wearing, , SAHMom of 2.
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#24 of 28 Old 05-06-2009, 06:05 PM
 
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We talk about ethnicity. Skin color naturally comes into that (just today ds was watching a vid of Ethiopian runners and said "Oh, I almost look like them". He asked dh if he looks Ethiopian and was so pleased when dh said he does )


Racial issues are separate, for me, and they come up fairly naturally without me having to introduce them or initiate a conversation. Ds asks questions, we hear things on the news, we talk about social issues, he learns about history, he hears mention of something in a kid's story...lots of opportunity to discuss it without making it anything formal. I answer questions honestly when my kids ask, and let them direct the conversation.
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#25 of 28 Old 05-10-2009, 02:21 AM
 
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When she brings it up we will answer as necessary. Technically, both my kids are "white" (caucasian) but they are not light. How to explain these absurd categories will be tough but hopefully I can give her a way to deal with questions about race, per se, and her background, without having to explain eighteenth-century encyclopaedists.

It's not that the stay-at-home-parent gets to stay home with the kids. The kids get to stay home with a parent. Lucky Mom to DD1 (4 y) and DD2 (18 mo), Wife to Mercenary Dad
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#26 of 28 Old 05-13-2009, 09:00 PM
 
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Really interesting thread, I'll have to come back to read it thoroughly. We have talked about culture a lot as we have travelled to Asia a few times, and Dh's paretns dont' speak english, so our children are partially bilingual,a nd they knwo that there are differences in language, foods, holidays, etc. We go with the approach of exposing it all to them, and includign both cultures and into our lives. I haven't really talked race specifically, but it has come up in dicussions around inheriting some traits (skin, eyes, what you like to eat, what you like to do, etc) from mom,from dad, to make your own unique self. My son labels himself as white, and he means that his skin is literally white, his dad as brown because his skin is darker( he is Chinese). I don't know if this is good or bad, or if it means more that just the face value of the actual color of his skin (which is lighter than dad's but darker than mine and darker than his brother). Thus far there are many races and combinations of races at preschool, from friends kids, but I worry as he gets older into elementary school if this will be a bigger issue. I have the book being discussed and read it when my 5 year old was about 1/2 years old, might be time to read it again from an older perspective.

On a side note, sometimes kids can say embarrasing things, culturally related, anyones else have experience with this? My 3 year old is going through a good guy bad guy phase right now, and recently seeing 2 muslim women with full covering head to toe, he asked me if they were bad guys. He has also told me and pointed to an older man covered with tatoos and leather "that's a bad guy" when we were at the mall.
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#27 of 28 Old 05-15-2009, 05:31 AM
 
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It really hasn't come up yet, but then my dd is only 3.5.

All she knows at the moment is that mummy and daddy where born and lived in Africa, and that's about it. She asks lots of questions about animals and food and why mummy grew up in the desert but thats about it at the moment.

When questions about her own ethnicity come up, then we will tell her but till then I'm not going to make race an issue.
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#28 of 28 Old 05-29-2009, 04:20 PM
 
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My oldest dd is almost 4, still very young. But for our family, race is no big deal. She knows that Daddy is from India, and Mommy is from America. Daddy is brown, Mommy is white. She proudly calls herself "Indian American." And she can find India on a map. (We've traveled there, but she's too young to remember.) DD herself looks white, like me. Her little sister, 18 months old, looks more like Daddy (actually she just looks like she has a very nice tan).

Also, one of my brothers is married to a woman who is Chinese. So dd also knows that she has "Chinese American" cousins. And we've shown her China on a map. When we make Chinese stir-frys with rice, we tell her "This is what people eat in China!"

For our family, it's not so much a matter of race, as a matter of where people come from in the world. I know that geography is still very abstract for a 4-year-old to understand, but still we talk about it. We have a globe, she loves to look at maps. She asks "what country is this?" etc. We have movies of India, she loves to watch them with us. I love to watch travel channel on TV, and sometimes I'll tell her, "look, that is Spain!" Or "that is Africa. Giraffes live in Africa" (she loves animals).

So for us, race is really just about people coming from different places around the world. Just as she learns that the mangos we eat grow in warm places, like India and Mexico, etc., or that people in India and China eat a lot of rice, whereas people from Europe eat a lot of bread, etc. The question of race fits in with the broader understanding of the world.

Skin color is not so much an issue. People who come from different countries look different, that's all. I hope my children grow up with an appreciation of different places. Really, it's fascinating to learn about geography, history, etc. We're not afraid to address race in our family. It's a fact of life. Underneath their color, people are the same everywhere. It's this understanding that we will try to instill in our children.

Mama to dd born 7/2005, dd born 12/2007 and dd born 11/2009.
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