Race

The color of a person's skin does not matter. Everyone is equal. Right? Well, I think so and it was important to Hugh and I that our kids grew up color blind. We wanted them to choose to play with another kid because they were funny and shared a love for NASCAR (if it were Calder!). We wanted them to realize that the teacher at the front of the class was fabulous because of the things they did, not because of the color of their skin. Because of this, we never acknowledged that anyone with a different color of skin was any different than we were. We didn't discuss race at all. In fact, we ignored it and as it turns out, we were doing it ALL wrong.

I have read the chaper, Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race, from Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman 3 times. I am fascinated by it. In the book, the authors discuss how Dr. Rebecca Bigler ran an experiment with pre-schoolers. She had half of the kids wear a blue shirt and the other half wear a red shirt to school for 3 weeks. The students were never grouped by color, nor did the teacher ever refer to kids as "blue" or "red". The shirts were not discussed at all. On the playground kids continued to play as they normally had, but at the end of the three weeks "when asked which color team was better to belong to, or which team might win a race, they chose their own color. They liked the kids in their own group more and believed they were smarter than the other color." Students would say things like, "Blues are fine, but not as good as us." Students highly favored their own color. "When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they'd answer "All of us." Asked how many Blues were nice, they'd answer "Some".

Bigler suggests that kids categorize everything from toys to food to people. "However, it takes years before their cognitive abilities alllow them to successfully use more than one attribute to categorize anything." Authors Bronson and Merryman state that "Bigler contends that once a child identifies someone as most closely resembling himself, the child likes that person the most. . . Kids never think groups are random." Physical differences - whether they be race, or skin color, or age - are plainly visible to kids and are the easiest way for them to categorize people.

Dr. Phyllis Katz did a study with 100 black kids and 100 white ones. When the children turned 3 she showed them pictures of other kids and asked them which person they would want to be friends with. 86% of the white children picked another white child. When the kids turned 5 and 6 she had them sort a deck of cards with pictures of people on them. She didn't prompt them as to how they should sort them. 16% used gender, another 16% used a variety of other factors (age, mood, etc.) and 68% sorted them by race. Kids see color.

This chapter opened my eyes. I want Calder to be "color blind", but I quickly learned that ignoring color is not the way to do it. Calder sees differences and associates himself with those he thinks are most like him (and the obvious ones here are race and sex). I have made a concerted effort since reading this chapter to talk to Calder about different color skin. I address skin color when we read books together that depict kids of different races, we talk about race when we watch football or hockey, and when we are in public I try and point out kids doing things he likes and then acknowledge the color of their skin (I want to show Calder he has something in common with these kids even though he doesn't share the obvious (color of their skin) with them).

I was pretty pumped last weekend at the zoo when Calder saw a white parent with two black children. He asked me how black kids could have a white mom. I began to explain a little about how there are all different types of families. I may have been a little overexcited about the opportunity to discuss race and subsequently rambled on a little too long, because when I paused to get Calder's take on what I had been saying he said, "I hope the bear isn't sleeping anymore." Sigh! Regardless, he noticed race and felt like he could talk to us about it. Bronson and Merryman talk about the fact that if you don't talk about race with your kids, they won't know where you stand on it - and don't assume that they will think you are colorblind, because research has show that left to figure it out on their own, 50% of kids will not be aware that you are colorblind (and 14% of these kids will actually think you are racist). Oh, and don't just tell your kids, "Everyone is equal." They have no clue what that means!

I feel like this chapter made me a better parent and a better person. I always felt that in order to be "colorblind" I couldn't or shouldn't talk about race, but that is not the case at all.

Food. For. Thought.


I highly recommend Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. I have discussed it before. Check out Praise and Sleep

Comments

  1. Right on! Thank you so much for sharing this! Man... I need to just raid your bookshelf sometime (or get a list of the books you checked out from the library! :))

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  2. I so wish there were more comments on this - I'd like to hear what more people think about it. I love this and I completely agree - I'm always so tempted when I hear someone with an accent to ask 'Where are you from?' because I'm fascinated by other countries and I have been almost nowhere in my own life, but I'm afraid to 'point out' differences like that because I don't want the person being asked to feel discriminated against (because honestly - it would be discriminatory because I would be commenting because of the difference). I personally am a really open book - ask me about my immediate family, I'll tell you that I have a step Mom and step brother. Ask me where my Dad is - dead; and I'd love to tell you how he died. Ask me where my birth mother is? She ran off, and if you're curious to know how that has affected my life, I'd be glad to tell you everything... but I know that not everyone is like that, so I usually assume that anyone I meet is a 'closed book' and would rather keep their personal life private, and so I keep my mouth shut after all. I think our differences are beautiful and fascinating, and they are what makes life interesting, but for some reason we've been trained to believe that 'everyone is equal' which is only correct if you add 'in value' to the end of that statement, because we are certainly not the same.

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