"brown bodies" unintentional racist remarks - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 04-24-2012, 03:00 PM - Thread Starter
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I have four kids - 6,5,4, and 3. The 3 and 4 year old and more than likely copying their elder siblings. But the 6yr old boy and the 5yr old girl are using the term "brown body" as an insult more frequently.


It started innocently, as I assume it always does, they began to recognize differences in people. They would ask why a person had a brown body and we would answer that people can look all different ways. We aren't by any stretch racist, and they attend a school where multiculteralism is embraced, so I am quite positive they aren't picking it up from friends. Now, however, it has gone from merely noticing differences to using the term "brown body" as an insult to us as parents, and to who knows who else.


We have no idea how to deal with this. We have tried explaining that it isn't a bad thing to have a brown body, that this term may make some people sad or some people angry, when they scream at us that we are brown bodies they have some quiet time away from the other kids to calm down.


But really...any ideas as to how we can stop this? Oh...we have also tried ignoring it.

Lindsay: DS#1 (06/06) DD#1 (09/07) DS#2 (10/08) DD#2 (06/09). AND A BABY DUE NOVEMBER 2013

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#2 of 7 Old 04-24-2012, 03:22 PM
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One of them probably said something about the "brown body" and an adult said "Don't say that, that's not nice".  So, now they had a new insult.  


Maybe you can come up with a more appropriate insult together?  "Brown body" isn't even that insulting...I bet they can do better than that.

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#3 of 7 Old 04-24-2012, 10:55 PM
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I'd try something from Playful Parenting -- make up the most ridiculous insult you can think of -- "I don't like it when you use "brown body" as an insult, but you'd better not call me "banana toes"! They will, of course, call you banana toes. Then you ham it up and over-react. They'll laugh, you'll laugh and you can move on. Do this 2-3 times and they'll take banana-toes (or blueberry belly) and run with it.


The other thing we talk about in our house is that it's just not polite to comment on how people look. People know what they look like and so pointing it out is rude. This covers a multitude of sins (why is she so fat? why is he bald? why is he so short? she's really skinny!).

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#4 of 7 Old 04-25-2012, 06:47 AM
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You could do like my grandmother did with her 1st grade class when segregation ended. One day two students were fighting because a Caucasian child pointed out that the new boy was "Black" and that kid hit him because his mother told him if anybody mentioned it he could. My grandma said "he's not black, he's brown, and you're pink, and look I'm polka dotted [freckled]" matter of factly and kind of like it was silly to mention. And that, she said, was the last anybody said about race.

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#5 of 7 Old 04-25-2012, 09:39 AM
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I think ignoring race is what leads kids to this kind of thing - I agree that an adult probably said "that's not a nice thing to say" meaning mentioning race at all, and the kids decided it was not a nice thing to say as in an insult.

I would explain that some people have brown skin, some people have lighter skin, some people have dark hair, some people have light hair, some people have dark eyes, and some people have light eyes, and that all of those are OK. And that it isn't nice to tell people the way they look is bad, or to use color of skin to be mean to people. You could even use it as a teachable opportunity about racism. Which exists whether we try to ignore it or not, and not bringing it up in no way insulates kids from becoming racist. What they learn is that it's so horrible a thing that you can't even talk about it - it's unspeakable. Like Voldemort or something.

Talk about it!
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#6 of 7 Old 04-25-2012, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by poiyt View Post

We have no idea how to deal with this. We have tried explaining that it isn't a bad thing to have a brown body, that this term may make some people sad or some people angry, when they scream at us that we are brown bodies they have some quiet time away from the other kids to calm down.


But really...any ideas as to how we can stop this? Oh...we have also tried ignoring it.


If they are using it as an insult, they are driven by your reaction. An insult can only be an insult if it insults somebody right? At home, I would continue your same values and principles regarding race but when they say something like that to react I would just blink and act baffled about why it would be an insult. If they are screaming and angry, I would address the behaviour not what they are saying. For example, "You need some quiet time. Please do not come out until you are done screaming." If they say it in a normal tone, I would either say nothing or something along the lines of...."Yes, I think I have a sort of brown body. I would say it is brown with a mix of cream. What do you think?"


Again, do NOT be insulted.


Try reading them this book. http://www.amazon.com/The-Colors-Us-Karen-Katz/dp/0805071636/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335374934&sr=1-1 It is a wonderful book about all of the many different colors of people. I love it for my kids.


Anyway, good luck. This would bother me a lot too.

Joyful mama of 3.
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#7 of 7 Old 05-12-2012, 12:08 AM
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I absolutely agree about talking about this, not in a dramatic way, but in a matter-of-fact way.


What about going to the library and checking out some books?  There are lots of good books for small kids about what it was like for children during segregation, for example.  Maybe some empathy could help the situation.  Do you have friends of color who would be willing to talk to your kids about how much it hurts when they don't get treated fairly because of their skin color?  This one can be tricky because some people of color get a bit tired of always having to do the educating, but it certainly doesn't hurt to ask how they'd feel about helping you with your kids.


Racism is still alive and well today, in unconscious things we say and do all the time.  I don't think anyone is staunchly in the camp of "racist" or "not racist," because our whole culture teaches us so many things so subtly and we don't even realize we're learning it.  As a white teacher I am always checking myself for the ways that I react differently to my students of color.  I _talk_ to students about it, as a class and in individual interactions.


Your kids have figured out this is a very powerful topic, as their behavior indicates.  They're just trying to figure it all out.  Delve into it with them.

Mom to ds1 (ASD) born 2004 and ds2 born 2007
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