Sunday, August 15, 2010

The country of my birth, Belarus, was practically 100% white at the time of my childhood. Maybe that’s why the message of equality was very easy to absorb – of course people are good independent of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. At the same time anti-semtism seemed to be quite normal and accepted. In other words, I was growing on the Orwell Animal Farm where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
Fast forward some 30+ years, and I am raising my German-Russian-Jewish daughter in America. We read multi-cultural books, we watch Dora and Sid, her favorite little Einstein is brown-skinned Quincy. Her preschool is predominantly white, but some kids are Asian, and there is also a couple of mixed-race kids with darker skin color. Imagine my surprise when my little angel frowned at the mention that our adult friends will come to visit on the weekend.
I don’t like P, she said, she is different. She is loud and her skin is dark.
Immediately I thought of a CNN article I stumbled upon recently – the study discovered that despite all the efforts of the last 50 years to desegregate America, white and even black children still have preferential bias towards white. The article made an assumption that this bias is born by attitudes of parents at home. Well, I don’t think this is the case in our home. I think that what appears to be racial prejudice is more of a reaction to someone who is different. I am sure all of us have our own “hang-ups” dealing with people whose opinions, lifestyle or fashion choices go beyond our own notions of what is “normal”. But kids have a huge advantage over us, adults. Their notion of what is “normal” is still very much in a flux. And that’s why adults in their lives do have such an important role in forming their attitudes. I dropped what I’ve been doing and sat down for a talk. It’s not the first time we had to have “differences” talk, and it always boils down to the same thing – we have to get to know people and open up to people before we form our opinions about them. This seemed to work – Anna was happily interacting with P (who, by the way, is from Southern India) and appeared to have completely forgotten her previous concerns. I know that the lesson will have to be repeated again and again, but I feel very passionately about raising a child who is not defining a person by his or her race. Of course, I am also hoping that Anna will have friends of different races and backgrounds as well – there is no better way to move past prejudices than to make a friend with someone who you perceive as different.
Do your kids notice racial differences? How do you handle their questions and what do you want them to know about their own race and background?


Christie - Childhood 101 said...

I vividly remember the first time Immy truly noticed difference - she was about 18 months old and we were at the shop and we walked past a very tall, very dark skinned man of African descent. She stopped walking and just looked in wonder. You are so right, we have to have these conversations often with our children in order to truly change the attitudes of the future generation.

TheRockerMom said...

Robbie has never commented on "differences" of that nature. He notices things like a gentleman at a restaurant with an eye patch (he called him a pirate)and cool (to him) hats, but he's never shown a preference at the playground or otherwise. I don't know what the future may hold, but he hasn't commented on skin color yet.

I don't think that I have anything that I want him to learn about his race per se. I've never really thought about it. Living in a small, rural community in Tennessee, my goal is to keep him away from the racial biases and stereotypes that can still be very prevalent in our area. Yet another reason we'll homeschool.

Now I'll have to sit and talk with RockerDad to see if we have anything that we feel he should know. Thanks for the food for thought! I suppose it'll come up more as we move into some light geography/culture studies this year.

Debbie said...

Neither my older children nor Selena has shown any reaction to people of other race. All three have had friends with different skin color, and tend to carry the attitude of it is no different then hair color. It isn't a subject I have ever really had to talk about in our home.

Most all of Selena's Drs are Asian, and she has never brought up the difference of her skin color nor that she doesn't speak clear english. She doesn't look twice when walking through a store to hear another language being spoken.

I know that she watches me closesly at times in situations like this, but I treat these people no differently then I would another white person, so she does the same thing. I remember my son, making the comment to me at one point, "Mom, I learned from observing you interact with people, that all people are the same no matter what color their skin. You never made mention of skin color nor treated them differently, you didn't shy away, nor make a huge fuss, so why should I?"

I agree it racial attitudes do come from the home, but I also feel strong that the less emphasis placed on this subject in the home, and more action towards acceptance is a huge key towards raising children who just except that people are different. Again leading by example.

Joyful Learner said...

I used to think kids were colorblind until shown otherwise. What I learned was that kids notice differences early on. It started sometime last year with differences from boys and girls and then differences in color of the skin. JC used to think the African American girl in her ballet class had painted her body and wanted to paint herself blue. She wouldn't play with her because she was different. We read books and talked about how we're all diffferent and the same. But I think what it takes is developing true friendships. Once they see that you have friends of all nationalities, they'll think that is "normal". Right now we are dealing with JC calling herself Korean and saying she is not Chinese. She's mixed and already having identity issues! I don't worry about it too much right now because she's said she doesn't play with boys a year ago and now has good friends that are boys. We're lucky because there's a good mix of people here but not as mix as New York. I don't think I can live in a place where it's not diverse because I'm used to the diversity having been raised in NY.

Joyful Learner said...

I ditto Debbie!

Mom and Kiddo said...

This is NY, so of course there are a million different skin colors and I just figured that since Kiddo had never said anything he took it all in stride. One day he came home from school and I was horrified when he told me he "only ever wanted to be this color", pointing to his skin. I asked him why he said this and he made a reference to someone in his class. His pre-K had a lot of children of middle-eastern descent because it is designated as an Arabic-language school and 2 of his teachers were Muslim. His comment made me see that he was mad at this other child and so he focused on the difference between them. It was a good lesson for me to not just assume that since he is in a multi-cultural environment he will automatically be color blind.

In this instance we talked about the other friends and his teachers who had different skin colors and how he liked them, so that it wasn't the color that mattered. It was what the other child did.

Kim said...

Crumpet hasn't noticed differences in race yet, but he already makes all his toy characters dressed in black bad guys and the white clothes are good guys. We never taught this - it just happened. I found it really interesting. We talk often about people being equal, and treating everyone fairly, and seeing the good in everyone. I know it's a long process, but raising an open minded, accepting person is one of the top things on my list of parenting goals.

Ticia said...

I love when you do these Hot Topic posts. They're so fascinating to read your opinions and everyone else's.

As far as I've seen my kids haven't really commented on skin colors. When we read about Tombstone they wanted the American Indians to be the bad guys, and were struggling with them not always being good. But, then they sit there and in a different situation have them as the good guys. So, that to me seems more like they want a clear cut group of bad guys and good guys, and they want them to look different so it's easily obvious who is bad and who is good.

I was putting together a bunch of pictures of fairy tale characters, and found Tiana (the latest Disney princess) and almost didn't include her because I was trying not to use Disney specific images in that instance. But then I thought I should to include other races. Oh it's so complicated.

April said...

My daughter is 2 years old, so if she is noticing the differences between races she isnt able to communicate it well enough yet. But her dad (and all of the family on his side) have dark skin color and I have light skin color. So, for now at least, skin variations between people probably does not strike her as odd.

When I was in college, I remember a summer that I spent working at a children's day camp. I worked with an African-American and there were kids of different races. One time we were doing an arts and crafts project and a 6 year old girl started complaining that another kid had taken her glue. When we asked her who, she responded by saying, "the little brown boy over there". She was referring to an African American boy. The guy that I worked with was so angry. He was saying, "you know she only picked that up because she heard it at home! You know that her parents must be racist". Well, I'm not sure about racist people, but I'm guessing that they don't usually refer to African-Americans as "those brown people". I'm guessing the girl wanted to describe the boy and decided to use skin color rather than shirt color.

Just a side note about the Disney characters, I remember the controversy over Aladdin. The "multicultural" characters offended people because Aladdin and Jasmine had more "white" features but Jafar (the bad guy) definitely looked middle eastern.

Lisa said...

My son made a comment a while back along the lines of "hey look at the brown boy with the cool toy over there." I was initially mortified, because I was afraid the boy's mother might be offended. She either didn't hear, or was gracious enough not to say anything.
When I really thought about it, he was just being descriptive. We've never made an issue of race either way, and as someone else said, I'm sure he thought it was the same as saying "the boy in the green shirt." We subsequently had a talk about how God makes everyone different, and made people in all kinds of colors. He then pointed out that I was "pink," (caucasion,) and so were he and his sister, but their daddy was "brown," (hispanic.)I think it was the first time he ever really noticed, lol. I did say that he shouldn't refer to people by their color, since it might seem rude and hurt their feelings.

Eva said...

yaa.. my daughter noticed a difference within our own family! I was pretty surprised when she came to me one day and said that her and I are yellow, and her father is brown... it's a little hard to pin point our colour since my daughter and I are both mixed, but she definitely knew that her father was darker than us.. I just shrugged it off since she was just sort of stating a fact. I don't think we will really have a problem with this since my daughter has relatives whom she sees often who are european, vietnamese, pakistani, native american, malaysian, .. our family is full of different races! so I think she really feels it's a normal thing for people to be different colours, just as she feels it's normal for people to have different eye colours. :) very interesting topic!

Pathfinder Mom said...

I can't remember TB ever saying anything regarding race, but he definitely does notice when people speak with an accent. Several times I've heard him say (unprompted) "Hola" or "Adios" to people that we encounter who are of Hispanic origin. He also once asked a girl with a decidedly Russian-accent if she spoke Spanish. That could have been embarrassing, but she handled it well.

Jackie H. said...

Interesting post. My son is too little to notice or at least address differences in skin color or any other differences really. His cousins are chinese and also have hand and foot deformities but he's never commented on it to me. I know at some point we will have to have conversations about accepting people for who they are and not what they look like. I think you handled the situation really well. What a great life lesson.
On another note, I did not know you were from Belarus. My Grandma LOVES Belarus. She intially went there on a mission trip from church but she met a family there and fell in love with them. She now visits Belarus at least once a year and the kids in that family call her grandma. She is 79 years old and has begun taking Russian lessons.
She has done a great job of leading by example and showing all of her grandkids to embrace other cultures. In fact, many of my cousins have married people from other countries! Our family reunions are very multicultural!