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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I thought I had this one down, but I've come to a roadblock.

Dh and I have always been pretty relaxed about teaching dd about differences among people. We have been explaining things simply ("Skin comes in lots of different, beautiful colors") and finding teachable moments, making sure her books and toys reflect differences in skin color, nationality, age, size, etc. But lately we seem to be in need of "labels" for people, because dd will often call someone "dark-skinned," and I worry that someone could be offended by this.

The thing is, she usually will use other characteristics to describe someone, i.e., "the lady with the blue dress" instead of "the lady with the dark skin," which I think is great. I do this myself, because honestly, race is not the first thing I notice about a person. But on occasion dd will refer to the person's skin color as an identifying characteristic.

So, is this offensive, or am I being crazy? And if it is, then I'm at a loss, because I'm not sure what terms to teach her and how to explain which terms belong to whom. After all, skin color and race are not the same thing.

Tonight we were reading a book called "Amazing Grace" about an African-American girl who wants to be Peter Pan in her school play, and the kids in her class tell her she can't because she's a girl and she's black. Dd has never heard the terms "black" and "white" used in this way, so I called the girl "African-American" and explained what it meant, but later in the book the Grandma talks about being from Trinidad and dd was very confused! And then another character in the book was named "Raj" and had darker skin than Grace, and...

Ugh, I feel like I sound like a total idiot. I never thought this stuff would feel like a problem! We have all sorts of people in our lives, black, white, Asian, straight, gay, disabled, old, young, fat, thin...and now there's a question about labels and I hate it and I just don't know what to do! Help!

And sorry this is so LONG!
 

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My dd is biracial: half East-Indian and half caucasian. From a very young age she's been aware of skin color differences. She has shown how she will think someone is her daddy from far away because he has dark skin. She has observed that "Daddy's hand is brown, Mommy's hand is pink." I told her that her hand was beige and she seemed satisfied with that. She'll pick out kids in her storybooks and label them with her friends' names based on racial characteristics. Mommy is always the blonde lady (even though I have brown hair! lol!) and Daddy is always the darker man.

I think you are doing a GREAT job talking about it in frank terms, being open. Many people try to preted there are no differences and it's a colorblind society but kids know better.

I think maybe you are at the the point where you can talk about people being from different countries, or that their grandparents are. Maybe start reading books about kids from other countries. Like that in the book you mentioned you can say that Raj's mommy and daddy are from India and in India many people look like Raj. And that the girl in the story has ancestors from Africa, where people have those certain characteristics (and name them). Show a map of those countries.

You could explain in a simple way how some people think that African Americans don't deserve certain rights because of their skin color, and you can point out how wrong it is. Just keep explaining until your child stops asking questions, because when she stops asking, she is probably satisfied on her level.

Good luck!
Darshani
 

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I think Darshani said great things. My ds will periodically comment on the appearance of others, but rarely on skin color, although I've waited for that too. The couple of times he has said something like, "Oh, that lady is black." I just say, "Yes, she is." What I've found highly embarassing are the times he's found something to admire in another person that the person might not be particularly excited to hear discussed in a public arena. For example, not too long ago we were leaving a grocery story and an obese man was walking in simultaneously. Liam said in a very admiring voice, "Hey, look at that man's great big booty!" He thought it was awesome. I was mortified for the man, because I didn't want him to be embarrassed or have hurt feelings, and if he heard I hope he understood that ds truly liked what he saw. But anyway, I explained that sometimes people's feelings are hurt when we talk about "how they look" to them and that such things are better said in quiet voices. I guess I see these are similar topics because it's about appearance, such a small, yet inescapable part of our being and who we are.

I know what Darshani means about the different skin colors too, because DH is hispanic, although fairly light-skinned, and I'm frighteningly white with freckles. Both of my children have determined at some point that I'm really just a dirty sloth with so much dirt on me :LOL and even now, if I haven't shaved my legs, ds tells me, "Mom, your freckles are too prickly for me."


Good luck with the quest. I think most people (with kids anyway) understand that kids comment on what they see in innocent ways and that hopefully their parents will seize those opportunities to foster openness and goodwill.

Leah
 

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Good question. So far, I have been waiting to see what comes up, I am interested to see when she(and he too) will notice skin color differences. DD is 3.5 and ds is 2. We are VERY white, and when dd was born one of my neices said, "That is the tiniest and whitest baby I have ever seen" (And this neice is blonde with blue eyes). One day we were at the park, I was pushing dd on the swing and there was a boy about her age with his dad and they were black, out of nowhere my dd says "He looks like Little Bill", to which I got embarrassed and then she said, "Danny boy, you look like little Bill" (talking to her brother), the dad of the boy and I both laughed really hard about how we had assumed she was talking about his son.

The other thing we have run across is that she has noticed sizes of people, and it worries me that she will ask someone if they have a baby in their tummy or something like that, so I have been careful to tell her that people come in all different sizes and not everyone with a big belly has a baby in it, and people might feel bad if you say something about their size. (we had to stop picking on my mom about how short she is to try to set a good example
)

My brother has recently adopted 2 sons from Guatemala, and they are quite dark (esp. in comparison to us) and my dd has not seemed to notice them being any different from her other cousins
:

I am very interested in how kids realize certain differences. I was in my senior year of high school and talking to the girl who had been my grade school best friend (we were not close anymore, but we were reminiscing). We were talking about our 4th grade teacher and how he was such a jerk, there was one kid in the class who he always picked on, and we were wondering where Rondell was now (we never saw him after that year) (Oh- and a little background- I come from an almost all white small town), anyway, we were talking, when all of a sudden I said, "OMG- Rondell was black!" and this girl was just laughing so hard, she couldn't beleive that I didn't know that until then, looking back.

OK, I'll try to get to something useful here- I have my BA in Early Childhood Ed., one of the best things I have ever seen done on the first day of kindergarten was, during circle time, the teacher tells the group that they are going to decorate the room with self portraits, and that she wants them as realistic as possible, so she has all kinds of yarn for hair (all colors, some curly, some straight, etc) and how she has paints she will help them mix to get their skin color right, she picked fabulous paints with great names like cappacino, and vanilla, etc. Each child would go up and work on "their" special color with the teacher, and then they all compared, "I am vanilla and cream", "I am a tiny bit of peachy mixed with hershey" etc. The kids made life size portraits (by laying down on the paper and then tracing around), so different body shapes were covered too. It was a wonderful way to start the year. The kids realized that none of them had exactly the same color (And that some of the black/white kids were closer in color to the opposite group than to their "own" group), and that they all had their own special combination of paint colors which made up their color. It was a beautiful lesson, and I am not doing it justice with my explaination.

It is a tricky thing, teaching kids about differences, but I think a simple, "God makes all people specially" has worked well for us so far, and the hardest part is explaining how some people will be insulted if you comment on their appearance, even though strangers find it perfectly fine to comment on the kid's appearance
:

Good luck, be honest, and even if your child says something that embarrasses someone make sure they know their curiosity is not a bad thing, and that it is a complicated thing to learn what you can say to whom (most adults don't even know
)

PS- Crayola makes a nice pack of skin color crayons which are really nice IMO.
 

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My dh is black--very dark--and I'm about as white as you can get. Dh prefers using "black" to "African American"; truthfully, he can't stand the term AA, very because of what you described in reading Amazing Grace. My kids were aware of skin color from a very early age; they usually describe themselves as brown right now, but my 8-year-old is using African American and black with increasing frequency. She could probably teach the entire civil rights unit in school, at least through fifth grade. My husband and I were both teachers and think her interest sparked when we were discussing ways to, um, enrich existing curriculum. She started asking questions and hasn't stopped yet. We have a very close extended family. My sister married into a very sheltered, priviledged family in TN and I think we've given her husband and in-laws a bit of culture shock--but in a good way. They've learned to listen with an open mind. So, what was my point
: ?

Aah--respect. That's the most important thing you can teach your child. Keep reading about children of different cultures and races; don't shy away from questions. There is nothing wrong with noticing skin color--it's part of a person--the difference comes with attitude. Teach your child respect and, yes, please teach terms because otherwise she could pick up the wrong terminology somewhere. That's happened to us and it stings.

Jess mentioned the teacher who had the kids do self-portraits--very cool. When I was teaching, there was one teacher who had a similar activity. Only she provided the kids with one color paper--peach. Every time she did an activity that required construction paper figures, she only used peach paper. There's plenty of choices out there, entire packets of multicultural paper colors, but she always chose peach. Disrespectful.

I wish all parents were as concerned as you! It would make my children's world a little nicer.

Missy
 

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Okay, is it strange that my DD age 3 years and a couple months has yet to ask about any of this? We live in a serious melting pot. There has not been an ethnic majority in Hawai'i in decades or longer. Should I bring it up if she doesn't notice or wait for her to take the lead?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you all for the great replies!

Missy, can you elaborate a bit on why your dh hates the term "African-American"? I've never felt quite comfortable using it myself, and most of the black people I know seem to prefer the term "black," as your dh does. It makes me think of something George Carlin said in one of his books (I love him - he can be so political in such a biting way!), except it was about Native Americans - he said that not one "Native American" he has met wants to be called that, because that name was given to them by the people whose ancestors massacred them and stole their land. He said we should call them by the names they gave themselves, their tribal names - Cherokee, Susquehanna, and so on. Makes perfect sense to me.

Kama'aina mama, I don't think it is odd that your dd hasn't "noticed" differences yet - my dd didn't either at that age, and it must be because her books, toys and dolls reflect all the colors, because our neighborhood (and those surrounding it) are not very mixed at all, I'm sorry to say.

I'm aware of those great "multicultural" crayons, markers, paint and construction paper, and boy, too bad they didn't have those when I was a kid. I always hated trying to find the right colors in my Crayola box for myself and my friends.

And the teacher who only gave out "peach" paper? Yikes, how insensitive of her!
:
 

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We live in Hawaii too and have friends of all different races and ethnic backgrounds. My ds has never noticed anyone is "different" and has never asked. We are caucasian. I'm just going to wait and see what happens, I can't see pushing "we are all equal" since he already believes that. I mean, hair color isn't really a big deal, why should skin color be?
 

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I am not a fan of the term African American either. then again, I don't like black, white, Spanish, etc. but admit to using them. To me African-American is to broad and so assumption based. DH is often called African American and akthough he has some African routes, he has responded "Will you please introduce me to any African American ancestor/relatives...as he is from Puerto Rico. With that said: I am what the ycall White-mostly european decnet, pale, etc. DH is what the ycall LAtino but is asumed black or African American by most Americans (his parents are of PR, and Dominican decent-a mix Spanish, natives of the 2 islands, African, Italian, and more). DH has faced many issues, most from his own families b/c he is dark brown skin, they are quite racist. Whole diff. thread.

As for our kids, DD is 6 and is assumed "white" by the avg. American. She has been labeled this by friends. How do I know? When she began saying "I am white, like you Mommy. And Daddy is Black" PRior to that she was just really into knowing she was Puerto Rican...we really saw outside influence. Now DD is a pale olive tone with slightly wavy, almost straight very light brown hair (We both have dark hair). We taught her not to judge, etc. yet she is learning the labels from outside influences, it is a daily struggle. She draws herself peach in school too, which is fine, she is not brown. DS is medium brown and DD has said he "is black like Daddy". Strangers have asked me in front of tehm (he is just 2) if they have the same Father!!!! (They are identical besides color!!) My point? It is unevitable and in our society-uncomfortable to talk abotu, isn't it? Our labels make no sense, just look at my family. Heck as an infant DS was assumed Filipino! Even a child of parents of freakin' opposite colors-my DD-once yelled "That can't be that girls Mother, they are different colors!!" Yes, my pale lil girl who has a dark brorwn Daddy did this in ref. to a friend who is brown and her Mom is white! Apparently, she assumed girls are the same colors as their Mom!

So in our life, we chat about this alot. I am waiting for someone to say "HE can't be your REAL Dad, he isa different color!" OR "Why are trying to be White, when your are Hispanic/Latino/Black/etc.

Fun...but stay honest and teach it at an age appropriate level. My main lesson-don't be so quick to label!
 

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We have neighbors who just moved here from Hawaii and they've said the same thing--it's such a cultural melting pot that skin color isn't an issue.

bebesho2--my older kids are frequently assumed to be Puerto Rican by Puerto Ricans. They have an olivey-mocha skin tone, dark curls, and black eyes. My baby looks just like the other two, but his hair is blond. We're the only ones who can tell their early pictures apart unless the clothing is really gender-specific.

Dh has such a hard time with the term African American in part because of what bebesho2 described--it's too broad. But also because he is a history/government teacher, very politically minded and doesn't like the idea that the term was "assigned" to him in large part because of Jesse Jackson's push. He can't stand having Jesse Jackson as spokesperson for all things black. His objections are very strong and very specific but this probably isn't the forum for that discussion.
In short, he'll respect the choices of others, but to him, black describes color and culture. We live very close to D.C. and usually we see African American being used in formal settings with a mixed audience or among whites who are trying very hard to be politically correct. In casual gatherings or even more formal ones that are primarily attended by African Americans, most people use black. A lot of the preference is probably regional. I'm a writer and I tend to use both in my work, but black IRL among friends and family.

NAK and getting finger cramps, gotta run!

Missy
 

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we also live in a mixed society and the issue of color has never been brought up. when my dd describes one of her friends from school she will say " the girl with tan skin".by that i know she means darker skin than her own,took me a while to figure it out though!
Is that weird she has never mentioned skin colors to me? she does have 2 black cousins.I wonder if that has anything to do with it?
 

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Oh, the whole African immigrant thing too. When I lived in NYC this was a big deal in my neighborhood which hada growing number of African immigrants. As most immigrants due, the ypreferred to be called American once they became a citizen. Many other immigrants of color from the Caribean and African took the term "black" as offensive. I worked fora Bronx nnon profit and we had the stae require we write employees "race". It got bad, people flipped. They asked each of us personally and wrote wha twe said. Anyway, what I learned is that many people from other countries associate the term black with the negative stereotypes the ysee in the media. Drug dealing criminals...GRRRRRR! But tha tis our countries influence! So many people then refused to be associated with "black Americans", the ywould yell "How dare you! I am Jamaican/African/West Indian/etc." It was a wild experience.

As the articles shown say, race is crap. HEll, when I live in NYC Iwas always assumed Puerto Rican or Jewish...REALLY! I hada neighbor who hated me for "pretending to be White" umm, if ya wanna group me that is the lil box ya check. I lost a job b/c iwasa "damn Jew". (THESE ARE NOT MY TERMS, THEY ARE MY EXPERIENCES!) And there are alot of Cuban JEws (so maybe I could be that?> lol But I just saw how STUPID this racial assumptions we have are! I had a coworker who hated me b/c she knew I was white, but when she learned Iwa not rich, did not live downtown, and lived in the South Bronx-she became mortified of me! (She was from Guyana of ? decent)

My Dh has seen the worst. He hasa VERY Spanish name yet has had people say "You CAN'T be Spanish, you don't look it! OR you are too black-you lie!!!!!!!!!!" No kidding! "How did you REALLY learn to speak Spanish?" I could go on and on. But Iwill stop.

Teach love, tolerance, etc. but not race, it is a phallacy. BTW, I have checked a box for my kids, so the state has for me. None of their documents match...some they are white, others, latinoo, I have only seen black once....
 

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As an african american I would not be offended by your DD describing me by my skin. She is a child and children see things on very simple levels, anyone should understand that IMO.

Labels rae hard as a few people pointed out. For example my son looks AA so that is what he will be considered to everyone. But what about my girls? I have three colors of the rainbow going on with three varying hair textures. That's why I think that simply describing someone may be the best bet for a child at this point.

How to teach them about it I haven't figured yet. My son still doesn't get the whole balck white thing. Afterall according to him "we're not black we're brown and they are pink or peach".
 

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I'm mixed, and my son and his cousins (my brother's son and sister's 2 daughters) are four *very* different colors. When my nephew was born, my sister referred to him as "a little white baby" because he had blonde hair. He now has much darker skin, and his eyes have always been *very* dark brown (think espresso), but his hair is still blonde. When my son was born, she referred to him as a little white baby, because he had blue eyes (still does) and no mongolian spots (a particular birthmark which, before my son was born, I would have said all mixed babies have). When he was a few months old, she tried to explain this to a white co-worker and it sounded very racist to her, so she stopped. I think my niece calling the two babies (one of whom is blonde and the other is dark skinned & haired) in her babysitting Barbie toy "the baby" and "the little white baby" might have played some small part in this too! :LOL

When my older niece was very young, she thought that any black man (even the picture of Michael Jordan at the mall) was "Daddy". Not that they were necessarily her father, but that "Daddy" meant "black man". None of the black men we encountered were offended by this; most of them thought it was pretty funny, and maybe a little sad that she didn't know too many other black men. When she started spending more time with her uncle and cousins, she finally came to understand that they meant different things.

It seems to me that kids who see many different skin tones in their family & extended family are less likely to ask about this at a very young age, especially if no big deal is made of it. They can still ask hard questions and come up with very strange ideas, but it's less of an issue for them. My neice never describes her friends or anyone else by skin color, unless she's asked "is her skin like yours or like aunt Rynna's or like Nanny's or like Daddy's?" We've had many fascinating discussions about it, but for the most part she is "chocolate", her sister is "chocolate milk", my nephew is "peanut butter" and my son is "playground sand". Works for us!

About the whole AA/Black thing: I know lots of black people who vastly prefer "black" simply because "they've never been to Africa". I also know lots of mixed people with very light skin who call themselves "black" because it helps them own their "black" identity. And I know many other black people who couldn't care less one way or the other. *shrug* I've never met one who was offended when a little kid described them by their skin color, though. *shrug*
 

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My dh has the same problems. He's a darker skinned puertorican so alot of people just assume he's black. That's why to me a child decribing someone by their skin tone may be better. As all brown skin isn't black. I've even had a lady ask me if I was babysitting my own DD(the baby). No she's mine made the woman stare. Tahan she replied that my husband must be white. Um no is the only reply I gave. The woman apologized and told me if it wasn't for my daughter's dark dark hair she'd swear she was a white baby, from her creamy skin to her brown green eyes(which have darkened thank goodness). My son use to decribe us by colors(literally). I was brown , my dad black, my sister red and my mother yellow!
 
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