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This is Why You Need to Talk to Your Kids About Race

Photograph by Twenty20

In case you needed to hear it, it's okay to talk to your kids about race. In fact, you need to.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. Some people say they "don't see color" and promote color-blindness to their kids, which is is a huge mistake that could lead to bigotry and intolerance.

As the mother to biracial children, I recently experienced a situation that really hit that point home for me.

My daughter and I were headed home from dance class when her friend asked me, "Why are you brown and she's tan?"

"That's a great question. God made us that way," I responded. This isn't the first time a child has asked me why my daughter and I are two completely different skin tones. In fact, I hear it more often than you may think.

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I notice the inquisitive stares from some children, while others blurt out anything about our skin color that may come to mind.

In this most recent situation, I answered the little girl the best way I knew how at the time. Her mom was there and I wasn't sure her position on the matter, so I tried to answer truthfully and to the point without causing a scene.

I noticed a few prying eyes in the dance studio lobby in response to our encounter, so I waited until we got to the parking lot to speak with her mom.

"Oh, I don't talk to her about race," she said.

"Why?" I asked. I was shocked by her response. I went on to explain why I thought it was important for parents to speak with their kids about race. I could tell the topic made her feel uncomfortable, but I felt the need to address the issue.

Truthfully, I don't understand the stigma about race talk these days. Are people offended? Why are they uncomfortable to discuss it? I just don't get it.

When I gave her all the reasons why I felt it necessary, the girl’s mom said that she doesn't have a problem speaking about race. However, she doesn't want to talk about color. I'm still confused by that statement.

The reality is that children notice different skin tones as they get older. For instance, I remember attending a craft-themed birthday party with my daughter who was four at the time.

Talking to your child about race at an early age is important. Really important.

All the kids were at the table with their pottery and paintbrush in hand. One child asked for the “skin color paint,” which happened to resemble caucasian skin tone. I picked up the paint and noticed the all white cartoon characters on the bottle. I then canvassed the table to see if there were any other flesh toned paint that represented other races and ethnicities, and didn’t see any.

When my daughter asked for the skin color paint by name, one of the other guests pointed her in the direction of the regular brown paint. It was a bit awkward because of the lack of diversity with this particular brand of paint. But at the same time, I certainly appreciated the little girl referencing that we are all different colors. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, which brings me back to my original point:

Talking to your child about race at an early age is important. Really important.

Silence gives the impression that the subject shouldn’t be addressed at all. This type of mentality often leads to accepting racist remarks. That’s why it’s up to parents to provide moral clues to children and lead by example.

If you're still feeling unsure about how to broach the topic of race with your young children, here are some tips;

Be truthful

If your child asks about race, tell them the truth. There’s no need to sugarcoat anything or get into the complexities of science and whatnot. Keep it simple.

When it came to explaining our different skin tones to my then preschool daughter, I simply told her, “Mommy is black and Daddy is white. You are a perfect mix of the both of us.”

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Expose your kids to people of different racial backgrounds

Being around different kinds of people teaches tolerance. It also encourages kids to learn about backgrounds. If you don’t live in a diverse community, consider taking part in events that expose kids to a wide range of people. You can read books with your children that feature people of different races. And when it comes to buying dolls, make sure they represent different races as well.

Monitor what your child sees in the media

Children are often influenced by what they see in the media. My husband and I monitor what our children watch on television and what they read in books. Sometimes programs may include stereotypical language. If this happens, use it as a teaching moment. Talk to your child about why these messages are inappropriate.

Be careful how you label people

There’s nothing wrong with describing someone and identifying their race within the description. We often hear news anchors describe missing persons by including their approximate height, hair color, eye color and race. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, it’s not okay to refer to someone as “that black boy over there.” Encourage your child to avoid judging people based on skin color.

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