Race questions

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kaliquen's picture
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Race questions

Lately Sylvia has been noticing different skin colors. When she talks about other kids sometimes she'll say "That brown boy" or "that dark girl". I've told her that she shouldn't identify people like that but I'm not sure what to say when she asks why. In her mind it's no different than describing hair color or clothes or whatever. She's also been using words to describe people like old or fat which is a lot easier to dissuade and explain why, but how do you teach racial sensitivities at this age? Should I even worry about it?

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Hm, that is a good question. From what I have read about race, when I was a teacher in an urban school district and we were studying it as a social issue for us teachers, race is a human construct. Meaning, we humans made it up as a way of organizing people into different groups and make some seem better than others. There really is no such thing as race. There are no biological differences between the races, as far as I understand, that make us significantly different from one another. Skin and hair color are more a product of where your ancestors are from and how much sun they were exposed to and cultural and religious differences are not related to that at all.

So, with that in mind, what is wrong with her referring to them by the color of their skin as a way of remembering who they are? That is significant to her. It makes sense to her just like fat or old does. And really, they are all descriptive words, not put downs. It is just that some people don't like being called fat or old. You can help her learn their names so she has a way of referring to them that feels better to you.

Otherwise, I don't focus on race at all but rather cultural and religious differences. I know that race is important to some people but if feels more respectful to me to focus on people for who they are than what they look like. I guess that is also a good lesson. Teach her to focus on who they are rather than limiting to them to a one word descriptor. Be a role model of how to refer to people respectfully and she will follow suit.

For little kids, these one word descriptors are not put downs. We learn to put people down but I doubt you are teaching her that so for her these are just simply descriptors.

I hope that helps. I remember Paulina, my oldest, telling me when she was about 4 that a very dark skinned neighbor looked scary to her because she could not see her features very well. Her skin was so dark that her lips and nose did not stand out. That bothered me a bit but then we talked about it and I realized that, being a preschooler, she was just not exposed to many people of color. Now, she is in a very diverse elementary school and has friends of all colors and she does not feel that way at all.

I'm_a_pepper's picture
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Austin does that too. He will describe someone as "that man with a brown face". For now, I don't try to correct him or get him to use another term of description, because you are right, the kiddos are simply describing how the other person looks to them, with no connotations attached whatsoever. That's why it doesn't bother me, I guess. I know that he has no pre-conceived notions or discriminations built into his little mind, they are all friends to him, and that makes me happy. Austin has never asked why some other people look differently, but if he does, we'll have the discussion that some other people have different colored skin or may look different than us, but that doesn't make them different from us. I don't know...just my thoughts on how we handle this type of situation.

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Race is always a tough one. I did my masters work on perceptions of race and it was really fascinating to see/hear my first graders' perceptions of race. They pick up those things early and not always directly (think the media). At their age, though, it's quite common for them to focus on some kind of physical attribute (weight, skin color, etc.) to identify someone by.

I haven't encountered that issue with Brandon yet, but he's coming from a multi-racial family so I don't know if that has something to do with it. If/when he does start referring to people in that manner I will talk to him about why that's not appropriate but in a way that he will understand.

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With my older kids, when they were noticing the difference in skin color, age, weight, etc. we just sat them down and had a talk with them about it. We explained how some people look different on the outside, but on the inside we are all the same. We all have the same blood coming through us, we all come from God, we are all people. They got it, asked a few questions about skin color and we wxplained about those heritages. They were around 4 when we talked to them about it and they never talked about someone's skin color again. They would address other people by the color shirt they were wearing instead. It probably helped that Zach's Godfather (and my DH's best friend) is Black, he is called Uncle Chuck and is just part of our family. We have friends with kids that are/were disabled and they were exposed to that early on so they don't stare at kids in wheel chairs, they have been known to go up and talk to those kids and will ask them questions. My friend who had 2 handicapped kids once said she would rather people ask her about her kids rather than stare at them, I bet people with different colored skin also feel the same way. When I was in Richmond and volunteering at an all black daycare center, I was the one the kids looked at oddly, I just went up to them and let them play with my hair, and look at my freckles and explained to them why my skin was different like I did with my kids. They all got it and I have to say I was shocked that some of the kids there had never seen a fair-skinned, white, red headed girl before! My hair color and freckles were really amazing to them, they just couldn't get over it! I personally believe if you are open with your kids and discuss it with them when they start looking or mentioning it, it won't become an issue and they will accept everyone as they are.

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Red hair and freckles is really rare, Kathleen!