Proactively naming race with my infant

Last week, I wrote about the online course, “Raising Race Conscious Children” I completed with my husband. The course is designed to equip parents with tools to proactively name race with the understanding that taking a color blind approach when rearing children is not only ineffective but can be harmful. I have followed the blog, Raising Race Conscious Children, since I started A Striving Parent and many of the strategies discussed on the webinar are fleshed out and modeled in the author, Sachi Feris’, blog posts.

Thanks to reading RRCC, I was better prepared to discuss skin tone with my toddler when he mistakenly thought a picture of a black toddler was one of his new classmates. And while this interaction was leaps and bounds better than that time he called me a racist, I still had not discussed race proactively with my children. I was only being reactionary. Speaking about race is a new endeavor for me, so I decided to practice one of the strategies learned in RRCC’s webinar called “narrating it” with my 11 month old daughter.

When it comes to child development, parents are encouraged to walk around and name everything for babies so they learn from their surroundings. As I read to my daughter, I point out that “the ball is red” or “the sun is yellow” or “look at the baby smiling.” RRCC’s term “narrating it” asks parents to matter-of-factly name race as you would any object and then take it a step further and describe the entire scene.

I selected Helen Oxenbury’s book “Say Goodnight” to narrate race with my daughter. This is a wonderful book for several reasons. The words are simple and the book itself is very short, which is perfect for a baby. The pictures show racially diverse babies involved in different activities and two of those activities are with adult men who I assume are Dads. In my experience, it’s pretty rare to find Dads as the only adult characters in children’s books and “Say Goodnight” show’s two fathers joyfully interacting with the babies.

Here’s how “narrating it” went:

I read the text of the first page that shows three babies crawling over and playing with a father who is lying on the ground. Then I said “Look at how much fun these babies are having with this daddy! This baby is pulling up on the daddy’s leg, just like you like to do. He has brown skin that we call black and is looking right at us! Hi, baby! And the baby with peachy skin that we call white is crawling over the daddy. That’s so silly! And look! This baby is flying through the air! He has pale skin and looks like he is what we call Asian. And this daddy is having so much fun, he’s laughing. He has light brown skin and he might be Latino, it’s hard to tell.”

I have to admit, this was hard for me! For one, I realized I wasn’t sure how to appropriately describe the Asian baby’s skin color. And I also wasn’t sure what to do if a person’s race was ambiguous like the dad pictured. Is it okay to describe him as I did and admit that I wasn’t clear what his race was? These are the questions I need to research so I can improve and do better the next time I attempt narrating race to my daughter or son. Any and all suggestions are welcome. I went on to name, to the best of my ability, what was happening on every page and made sure to include naming the race of the characters.

Research indicates that toddlers, and even infants, recognize racial differences and display preferences for their own race. This is why naming race for our children is a powerful and important tool. Children notice race, so we as parents have an opportunity and responsibility to help shape their understanding of what race means and avoid reinforcing biases and stereotypes.

I decided to have my first proactive conversation about race with my infant because I wanted to really hear myself before encountering any potential feedback from my toddler. Naming race still feels clunky on my tongue and definitely does not come naturally to me just yet. And this particular incident revealed I still have much to learn. But I recognize I’m building a skill and need to continue to practice. After seeking answers to my above questions, my next step is to name race proactively with my toddler in a similar fashion. I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.

Has anyone out there started discussing race with their children? I’d love to hear your stories!


7 thoughts on “Proactively naming race with my infant

  1. Sachi Feris says:

    Thnks shannon!! Love this post. Will add link to your post scheduled for sept 15 and try to answer your questions if i dont go into labor before i have a minute!


  2. Hayden says:

    As you know, we live in a very diverse area, I wouldn’t be suprised if ‘white’ was the minority now. I love reading your posts because I am learning so much myself too. Janie’s best friend is Brazilian and she has Indian and Korean and African-American and a few mixed kids in her class (of 12 kids) The other day she mentioned that she didn’t like the triplets in her class (Korean), bc according to her, she didn’t like their eyes and they smelled funny. It really opened up a good discussion for us (as good as a 3 year old discussion can be haha) Im going to start the dialogue with Allie now too now that i know how to start. Thanks for your posts, Shan.


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