A few years ago, I was in a department store with my beautiful, Black children when a white child, from his stroller, examined the skin tone of my children. He then asked (who I assume to be) his mother, "Why is their skin brown?" The lady responded, "That's not nice." This response communicates to the child that recognizing people as different is wrong. The message is clear: Diversity is a bad thing. I felt a need to intervene. I knelt down to the young boy and put my brown hand next to his white hand. I explained that my hand was bigger, because he is still growing and maybe one day his hand will be bigger than mine. I also said we both have something called melanin. I have a lot, which has made my skin darker. He has a little bit, which has made his skin lighter. When I had my children, they also got my melanin. He then said (at maybe 4 years old) "My mom and dad don't have a lot of melanin, so I'm white like them!" Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. The lady still seemed uncomfortable and did not know how to respond to me or for the revelation her child just had. So I said to her, "This is only the beginning." When children have questions, we answer them and my hope is that her next conversation with her child about difference is ongoing and purposeful. I also hope that this child will not silence his friends, family members, or maybe one day his own children when they equate the recognition of difference with something erroneous. The idea of being colorblind is noble in its efforts. Color blindness means that we are ignoring people's identity. Yes, let's see people for who they are, but let's also be honest in knowing that the world responds to people differently. Too many people avoid race as a topic of conversation...until it's too late. It will happen. When there's discrimination, hate speech, bullying or some other act of injustice, it will happen. So we need to prepare our children to have these conversations and here are a few suggestions on engaging your child about race and other identities:
Commit to more than one conversation. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. As you recognize together that Mia has two dads, Kamara's parents are white and she is Black, Michael has big hair, Devin has smaller eyes, Ellen has one leg, Jason's family lives in a big house and Austin's family lives in an apartment. These are the realities of our world.
Different is not weird. Be attentive to the adjectives used by your child: crazy, weird, strange, funny. These comments reinforce ideas of superiority and inferiority. The underlying message is "I am better." Instead, acknowledge the dominant culture (or your way of life) is not the premise for what is right.
Teach your child to be an upstander. America's history has given certain groups and identities more power. You are modeling now what is fair, right and just to your child. If you engage in conversations that insult and demean other people, you are teaching this to your child. Give them steps to speak up, find help, support other people.
We desire compassionate, empathetic children. They will become adults with a skillset to develop personal and professional relationships with people of all backgrounds.When is the best time to talk to your child about differences? Today...and the next.
Dr. Trina Moore-Southall
Director of Equity and Inclusion
Hear more on this topic from Brentwood parents at Parent University's workshop entitled, "Having the Talk with Your Children"...buy your tickets today!