1. Ronda Smith says:

    October 3, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Thanks for posting this! I have always tried to have conversations with my kids when they ask questions about any kind of a family that is different, from color to two mommies, or one parent, whatever. But do you have any advice on what to say to your child when they use color to differentiate between kids or to describe kids? Like “That brown boy didn’t play with me” or something like that. I’ve said “Oh, you mean the boy in the yellow shirt” to try and show a different way to identify a person. Should I just come right out and say we don’t use skin color to describe people? Or point out that yes he’s got darker skin but let’s ask his name?

    • Martha says:

      October 3, 2013 at 8:22 am

      Hey Ronda! Oh, I definitely think it’s okay to use color as a descriptor when they are young. I even think it’s okay to do it as an adult, as long as it’s not the *only* descriptor. If your child says something about the “brown boy” I think there can be more than one way of reacting. Yes, say something like, “Yes, I see he has brown skin, let’s ask his name.” I wouldn’t say, “don’t use color as a descriptor.” That sends the message that it’s not okay to talk about skin color. And you definitely WANT to be able to talk about skin color.

      I also think that you could use it as a teachable moment. Save it for later conversation. Bring it up again, maybe at dinner, so your husband can be part of the conversation. You can bring it up by saying that you noticed he talked about the brown boy’s skin color. And then launch a positive conversation about all the wonderful differences in the world. And how skin color is just one of them. I’d bring up ways that we’re all alike, and also ways that we’re different, in this conversation.

    • annie says:

      October 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      DH and I argue about this often. He is always trying to get me to not use skin color to differentiate people. For example we were talking about the Daily Show correspondants. I think I said “the black girl.” He was annoyed by that and wanted me to say something else, but I was like “I could say ‘the young girl,’ but there’s a white young girl and a black young girl. I could say ‘not Samantha Bee,’ but that still leaves two.” Anyway, it’s a stupid example, especially because she’s called “the African American issues correspondant” or something on that show as a joke on the way black journalists are typically used in the news, but my point is that we have a hard time with this. I think not being “allowed” to mention someone’s skin color is part of trying to ignore race, which is not going to work. At the same time, I would love to live in a society where there isn’t just one or two darker skinned or “minority” people you might see in a given setting, so that it would no longer be the most obvious identifier. And, yes, trying to find out kids names is good. Kate loves to call kids “that kid” right in their face, so we’re always working on that.

      • says:

        October 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

        Toyin and I argued/discussed this a lot years ago when we first met. He pointed out that often, it’s just the easiest identifier and it’s not that people of color mind being referenced to by their skin color, it’s just, as he put it, “Why is it always the first thing people say?” I think it’s a really, really fine line.

        Never mentioning skin color, ever, is a signal that there’s something negative about discussing it. But I think along with that, it’s healthy to examine how often and in what situations you are using it as an attribute when something else might be just as valid, like, say, the color of the person’s shirt, or a hairstyle, etc. just like we would do with white people.

        Of course, Toyin and I always agreed that it’s certainly easy enough and the most obvious qualifier when there’s only one black person around, which is often enough. But then when you begin to notice that, you start to ask yourself, “why is it that there’s almost always only one or two black people in a room full of white people?”

  2. Ronda Smith says:

    October 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Yes, there is one boy in Nathan’s class that has dark skin. I’m trying to see if I can get together with some of the moms and kids after preschool one day, and help Nathan learn their names. Ya’ll are right though, we can’t ignore skin color, and we have to be ok talking about it. Thanks for your blog Martha, and helping us all figure this out!

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