My child is not colorblind and research supports neither is yours

(All names have been changed)

My nearly four-year-old son came home from his first soccer practice excited and exhausted. I had stayed home with our daughter, so he was filling me in on all I missed as he scarfed down dinner. My son is playing on the same team as he did last fall, with the same players and coach, so I already knew the cast and characters. His coach happens to be Indian.

My son suddenly looked up from his meal and said, “my coach is Connor’s daddy!” This was a false statement. Connor is our neighbor, whose father is also Indian. His soccer coach and our neighbor are not the same person; in fact, they look nothing alike other than their skin tone.

I replied, “Honey, your coach is not Connor’s daddy. Your coach is Luke’s daddy. Both of them have brown skin and are Indian, but they are different people.”

Confused, my son responded, “But why aren’t they the same person? They look alike.”

“Put your arm by mine,” I suggested, extending my arm so it was alongside his.

“Look how our skin is the same. We both have peachy skin that we call white.”

“Yea, it’s peachy pink!” he agreed.

“Are we the same person?” I asked him.

“No, we’re not the same,” he giggled.

“Right. We’re two different people with similar color skin. Just like your coach and Connor’s daddy are two different people with similar color skin.”

Our conversation ended there, but it served as a powerful reminder that my child as well as other children are not colorblind. Research supports that infants as young as 6 months old can identify racial differences and by three or four, children can demonstrate racial biases that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the adults around them. Kids are constantly gathering information and drawing conclusions about the world whether they vocalize it to us or not.

Colorblindness is a misguided concept at best. To be colorblind is to believe that race is no longer a determining factor in an individual’s arc of life. To be colorblind is to believe we live in a post-racial America, where society is free from racial discrimination or prejudice. While it is understandable that folks would like for race to no longer matter, that just isn’t reality. Research shows racial resentment is alive and well. Pretending racism doesn’t exist through the framework of colorblindness offers false comfort to the privileged while maintaining the systems that perpetuate injustice.

I started my parenting career taking a colorblind approach. But I’ve learned that pretending my children don’t see color leaves them to create their own understanding of racial differences and that strategy is more likely to promote bias rather than diminish it. It is my job as a parent to help my children name and understand skin tone and race, including whiteness. Rather than sweep my son’s misidentification under the rug, it was important to pause and discuss his comment in a way that wasn’t disparaging, but provided more context for him to understand why he was connecting his coach and our neighbor.

Raising Race Conscious Children has developed a list of strategies parents can use to help children develop their understanding of race and to move away from a colorblind approach to parenting. Naming race proactively as well as reactively with children tops the list.

A great way to learn more about this strategy as well as others is to take Raising Race Conscious Children’s webinar, which offers a deeper dive into why talking about race with children is so crucial. The next one offered will take place on Sunday, June 5th at 8 p.m. ET.

Has your child ever mistaken an individual for someone else due to their race? I’d love to hear how you handled a similar situation below.

 

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6 thoughts on “My child is not colorblind and research supports neither is yours

  1. david says:

    I think the “colorblind” concept was really intended to be an attitude of equality regardless of color. Of course people including children see color in people. it is the attachment of negativity or other value judgments based simply on color that we must avoid–as that is prejudice by definition. Recognizing that people do differ in many ways, including color, is very likely helpful to children–especially when combined with education about the proper way to judge people–based on acts and omissions, values and ideas, not physical or other superficial characteristics.

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    1. strivingshannon says:

      I definitely agree. Colorblindness is largely rooted in good intentions. But the research supports that leaving race unaddressed or unacknowledged breeds biases in children. So a parent’s best strategy is to not shy away from naming race and to talk about injustice in developmentally appropriate ways.

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  2. Allison says:

    I had a really similar situation happen with my boys, who are 5. We were in a dinner eating breakfast, and one of my boys said, “Look, that man looks like Dante!” Dante is a teenaged neighbor, probably the only black family we know.

    I felt nervous that the man in the restaurant would hear and be hurt by my boys’ comments, but I stayed calm and said quietly, “Hmm, that man does have the same brown color skin that Dante has, that’s true. But when I look a little closer, I can see differences. That man looks older than Dante, and his hair is different. He also doesn’t have Dante’s big smile, does he?”

    I’m not sure I responded perfectly, but I’m proud I didn’t get upset and panicky, but that I remained calm. I hope I’m learning from what I read here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. strivingshannon says:

      Thanks for sharing this story. It sounds like you handled the situation really well and for me, serves as another clear example that kids see color and it’s our job as parents to name race openly. To have these sort of conversations proactively, I use books and it’s gotten easier with time and practice. Thanks, Allison!

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  3. Nancy says:

    My daughter is 6 and we went to see our homeopath and his wife greeted us at the door. He and his wife are Indian. My daughter who is adopted and is Hispanic and Native American happily asked her “do you know Nehru?” Nehru is a teacher at my school who is Indian. We both went on to explain to her that although she and Nehru were both from India they had never met and all Indian people do not know one another. She was very sweet in her explaination to my inquisitive daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

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