According to my five year old in any given scenario where there is a group of people, people with brown skin are the boss. We don’t talk about skin color in our home, I just make sure the kids’ screen media, toys, and story books show diversity so it is not something I have to “teach” or strive for but rather something that is just completely normal to them. They have a somewhat diverse group of friends at school and their after school program. When Benny was three and was introduced to our new pediatrician he fell in love with her “brown fur” and spent the appointment stroking her hand. He told me he wanted her colors to rub off on him.
We live in a mid-size Wisconsin city so our lives could certainly be more diverse. We take the kids to Milwaukee and Chicago regularly to widen their horizons. We never really comment on race or ethnicity unless the kids ask a question, usually about what someone is wearing or if they hear a foreign language. So I was surprised when my kindergartener and I had the following conversation after I noticed all of the people in the picture we drew together were white….
Me: “Benny, I really like our picture but I noticed something. You colored all of the people with peach skin. I just thought you should know when Daddy was in the Navy his two best friends had brown skin, so maybe our picture should show that. What do you think?”
Benny: “Dee boss always has brown skin.”
Me: “What boss honey? It looks like the Chief in the white uniform has brown hair.”
Benny: “Dat is his brown skin. Bosses always have brown skin.”
Me: “Oh, well I can think of many bosses who have brown skin but someone who is a boss can have any skin color.”
Benny: “No, bosses have brown skin. Like Presthedent Obama, Mike Tomlin, Martin dee King, and Oprah.”
Me: “Do you mean Martin Luther King Jr?”
Benny: “Yes dee one who gives speeches and sells rainbows and was born on Amelia’s birfday.”
Me: “Right. Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t think he sold rainbows. His speech was about helping people understand that skin color doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t mean people are treated differently. He worked very hard with many people to make sure people of all colors were seen and treated as equals. He had to teach our whole nation that because it is something we didn’t always do.”
Benny: “Why would he teach people dat? Dey should already know dat in der hearts when dey are born.”
Benny is right, we are born without the knowledge that people could be considered less than because of the color of their skin. It is difficult to introduce to a child the concepts of inequality and racism, why they matter, and how they hurt people. I realize as a white boy, Benny has the privilege of not already experiencing these things for himself. What I try to teach my children is not to be color blind, but to see all colors as equal.
Some books we’ve used along the way:
The Sandwich Swap – about understand different cultures
Me I Am! – celebrates individuality and diversity
Whoever You Are – journey of cultures from around the world
The Crayon Box That Talked – teaches about being different colors and working together
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – gorgeous picture book, perfect for young kids
Cultural guide/activity books, like A Kid’s Guide to African American History
Reference books like Scholastic’s Encyclopedia of Women in the United States