(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.