When I pictured myself with kids one day, I thought of the cuddles, bedtime stories, dance parties and watching my children’s eyes as they experienced all the world had to offer. I never thought about some of the less enjoyable moments that come with parenting. And, they always seem to happen so unexpectedly, for example, at the dinner table.
“Miss Mandy was my teacher today, Mama,” my 4-year-old said last week.
“Is Mandy the one with a baby in her tummy?”
“No, she’s the one with dark hair like you, Mama. She has a pink shirt, blue shoes, long black hair like you and her eyes go like this (pulling her eyes toward her ears). She’s very pretty.”
I was stunned. As a person who prides herself on respecting all people and being open-minded, I sat in silence unsure of how to respond. She ran off onto the next thing before I could even form a sentence.
That night, my husband and I talked about the earlier conversation and how to address it. Do we tell her not to make that gesture? Do we ignore it? Do we wait and see if it happens again?
I’m really torn. If I tell her to not do that, she will want to know why. Four years old seems a little young to be talking about how that action could be viewed as a racist gesture. She described her teacher with such innocence, not intending to be mean. She would be crushed if she thought she had said or done something to hurt her teacher’s feelings.
I am also proud that she is recognizing every person as an individual and seeing the beauty in how different we all look.
“She’s very pretty,” she had said.
On the other hand, I would be mortified if she did it in front of other people.
Racism is a learned behavior. One that she will never learn from me. We need to teach our kids to respect one another. I need to tell her she simply needs to say her teacher is Asian and how we all look different based on many things, one being where our families come from.
She also has said, “We have a new girl in our class. Did you see her today, Mama? She has black hair, a ponytail, very pretty green eyes, a Hello Kitty shirt and brown skin.”
Is that also something I should correct? Where is the line?
I think I need to correct things that I would be embarrassed for her to say in front of other people. I know this is the best answer, but I am dragging my feet. She is so very innocent and loves everyone. She measures the success of her day by whether everyone played with her or not. Having a conversation about racist gestures is something I hoped would come much later than four. In my ideal world, we would never have to talk about it.
Melissa Cruickshank is married with two children. She works full-time. Read her here on momaha.com
What would you do? Have you had to talk to your children about racism?
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