That Time I Feared My Child Was Racist
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That Time I Feared My Child Was Racist

That Time I Feared My Child Was Racist

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The other day, we were riding home from my daughter’s little dance class (3-4 year olds) when she said something that sounded racisty: “Mama, the little black girl wasn’t at class.”

Feeling somewhat panicked, I said, “What!?” We have all heard that saying — “children are color blind” — and I was trying to figure out how I got the broken one. (Which was confusing because I can attest that her outfit choices seem to prove the color blind theory to be all too true.) To say I was shocked on several levels would be an understatement.

She said again, “She wasn’t there. Was she sick?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but Sophie, we call people by their names.” She didn’t know her name and again said “little black girl.” Yikes. This was not going to fly in my fantasy “I’m The Best Mother Ever” world.

How could this be happening? She seemed like such a sweet child for all of those 3 years. In my head I began running through where to start on this. Ok, so physical attributes are not what we use to refer to people. That’s good. Let’s make that the jump off point.

Next, um, equality. We are equal. Hmm.

And we are like a rainbow. She loves rainbows…. that’s good.

Learning people’s names is kind and shows that you care about them. I want my child to see the beauty in people

But wait. If I’m saying she can’t call someone black, am I saying black isn’t beautiful? Because that isn’t how I feel. Am I giving off the impression that we shouldn’t talk about such a thing because it’s negative? I don’t view it as negative, but am I inadvertently communicating that it is a negative?

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Ok, one more thing to do before we go down this road and I attempt to make my child a better person (as soon as I figure out exactly what I want to say.) Let’s verify that we are talking about the same thing… just in case.

I swallowed the hysterics in my throat and asked in my calmest, most nonchalant nobody’s-calling-you-racist voice, “Why are you calling her black?” Sophie responded, “She has black hair and she mommy has black hair too. Hey! You too! Mom, why do you have black hair too?”

Whew! Thank you, Jesus. I think this is going to be fine. She may be disappointed down the road when I explain that she is Caucasian because I did not correct her on my hair color, and by not doing so I may have lied by omission about our heritage, but hey. I can’t tackle everything in one night.

I was lucky this night. Well, and depending how you view white privilege, I am winning the lotto every night.

But here is the thing: I am not an expert on how to make the world a better place through race relations. I want to be. I want to do something to help heal the hurt that is happening in the world and in places like Baltimore and Ferguson. I want to make sure I am raising the generation that is part of the solution and not the problem.

When we come to this subject again, I have decided instead of flowery speech, I will dust off a history lesson. Let her know that the country’s past is filled with a history of division due to the color of skin. That it was unfair and we are still recovering to this day.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” says Edmond Burke. And no matter who we are and what our circumstances may be, I think those are wise words to spur any conversation forward.

Especially when it comes to creating a world that’s a lot less racisty and a whole bunch more loving than the one in which we currently live.