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I Don’t Know How to Talk to My Kids About Race

If you’re waiting for this to be one of those profound truths that gets shared and re-shared on Facebook, it’s not here. Lots of people in my parent and lifestyle blogging circle have written touching posts about everything that’s happened this week with the people of color in America. It’s been heartbreaking and lovely to read through them.

This is not that. This is flailing.

multicultural colored pencils

Kyle and Calvin got back last night after being in Ohio for a week, so Eva and I have enjoyed a lot of mama-daughter time. We’ve had great conversations on everything from Kindergarten to her allergies to why there aren’t plants in space that we know of (and why we don’t know everything about space). We did not, however, have an effective talk about race. I can’t give you the exact word for word conversation but it went something like this:

Me: Eva, you know how some people have different skin colors from you?

Eva: Yes.

Me: What do you think about that?

Eva: I think they have different skin colors than me. And sometimes their hair is different.

Me: You mean like it’s a different texture?

Eva: Like it’s yellow sometimes. Or red.

Me: Ok. Um, did you know there are people who think one kind of skin color is better?

Eva: Yes.

Me: You do?

Eva: Yes. Everyone thinks their own skin color is the best skin color.

Me: (amazed at her insight) Well, do you think that’s ok?

Eva: Yes because you’re supposed to love yourself just as you are and not be jealous because of how someone else looks different. We’re all beautiful in our own way.

Me: (derailed) Ok…but would you like someone more because they had your skin color?

Eva: Like in a crayon?

Me: No. Like, if there were two friends and one had your skin color and one was different, would you want to play with one more than the other?

Eva: Why aren’t we all playing together?

Me: I don’t know. (long pause) Don’t be mean to people who have different skin colors than you.

Eva: I’m not mean to anyone.

Me: I’m just saying. I don’t want you to think someone is weird or going to hurt you because they look different than you.

Eva: (another long pause) Well, it would only be weird if they looked like me. Like if another Eva showed up somewhere and started chasing me. That would really freak me out.

Me: That’s not going to happen.

Eva: What are we talking about?

Me: I don’t know.

Obvious maternal fail. Not only did I fail to get my point across, I think I might win the award for being the person to point out that potentially one could think someone was weird if their skin was a different color. I’m actually the person who introduced racism to Eva. Not a win.

During a culling of baby dolls (we had more than thirty), Eva summarily got rid of all of the minorities, then the redheads, and then the baby boy dolls until we had nothing but Caucasian girls left. I pointed out that she lacked diversity and she proclaimed that the discarded dolls weren’t as good which is either horrifying or literal since the dolls she got rid of were from IKEA or other inexpensive impulse purchases and the ones she kept were white baby girl dolls from Madame Alexander and American Girl. Which, you know, my fault again.

We don’t have any black friends in Utah. I was trying to think if the kids had ever met and spoken to a black person and this is all I could come up with:

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FAIL.

Honestly don’t know what I’m doing here. Should I buy more dolls? Start intentionally looking for characters of color in the picture books? Should I seek out more diverse playmates (NOT an easy task here in Salt Lake City) or is that crossing some line where I turn things into a racial scavenger hunt and fall ass-backward into being part of the larger problem anyway? Is it enough to just keep having the fumbling conversations or do I need to wait until they’re older so we can actually talk about this?

I get that it’s a privilege to decide when we want to introduce racism to the kids. I get that lots of parents have to have those conversations early whether they want to or not. I also get that, unless some recessive genes take a stand with this baby, all three of my kids will go through life with no hint that they’re racially mixed. My kids are white.

I got to enjoy the perks of being a minority (yay, minority scholarships!) who doesn’t look like a minority (hey look, I have to GOOGLE racism for good examples) but there aren’t going to be any minority scholarships on the horizon for my kids because of how white they are. I also get that this whole mom problem isn’t a “problem” as much as it is an exercise in not letting the Morgan kids grow up to be problems for someone else.

I don’t know. I hope we keep this larger conversation going because I need help here.

 

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3 Comments

  • Reply Christine

    My friends recently talked about how their daughters (10 and 11) have no concept of race, despite having very racially diverse friends (we live in the Bay Area). There was just no way for them to tactfully talk about it (without actually *introducing* racism, like you said) because their kids were completely color blind.

    July 10, 2016 at 10:50 am
  • Reply Melissa

    I was lucky in that I grew up in Sacramento, CA, which is currently ranked as the least segregated city in the USA. Not only was I exposed to other races, but I grew up in a neighborhood that was full of children who looked different than I did. It fostered an environment of very open and frank discussions of race and race relations.

    Tackling racism still took some specific tools, though. I related best to books. I had a book from the Golden Books “Learn About Living” series called ‘Why Are People Different?’, which I liked a lot. It’s out of print now, but you can still purchase it used on Amazon. Here are a couple lists of other resources for parents:

    http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-howerton/talking-to-kids-race-racism-books_b_2618305.html

    July 10, 2016 at 11:03 am
  • Reply Natalie

    I’m probably in the same boat as you – it’s pretty white where I live now but I grew up in a much more diverse area so I know the importance discussing race with my kids. I think books and movies are a good way to do it. Disney made a great movie about Ruby Bridges and I also like ‘The Long Walk Home’ but it’s not appropriate for Eva’s age. I also love the books I am Rosa Parks and I am MLK by Brad Meltzer. The important thing is that you are trying – keep up the good work!

    July 10, 2016 at 6:31 pm
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