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Parenting Awareness: ‘Race’ Talk #2

biracial identity mixed race bicultural family multiracial

Parenting Awareness: ‘Race’ Talk #2

Some of you might remember not long ago that I wrote the first in a series of ‘race talks’ with my daughter about skin color.  Read it here » Parenting Awareness: ‘Race’ Talk #1

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So today, my daughter prompted a second discussion about race…this one is slightly different than the original skin color discussion.

I was talking with my husband about Latino identity and how in countries like Brazil and Dominican Republic, racial hierarchies and privileges are very different from those here in the U.S.  This discussion came from a recent comment on this white privilege post and also a second reading of Dania’s post about moving from the Dominican Republic to New York City on Multicultural Familia.

Out of the blue, my daughter jumped into our conversation… “Hey, I’m brown too…like daddy.  And you’re white!”  Wow…this was the first time that she defined me as something different than her and her dad.  Usually she likes to classify me as “brown” too.  But she does often identify differently with her father because they have the same color hair and eyes.  Her usual comment is something like, “Look mami, I’m just like daddy!  I have brown eyes/brown hair!”  She loves that she looks like her daddy.

So back to her calling me “white” today.  I asked her to explain what it is that makes me white.

“And why is mommy white?” I asked her.

Her response?  “You have green eyes.”

So then I asked, “And what color eyes do people with brown skin have?  They don’t have green eyes?”

“No, they have brown eyes!”  She told me.

Hmmm…ok, a lot of times that seems true.  Most times if your skin is dark, you’ll have brown eyes and if you skin is light, you’ll have light eyes.

Side Note: This has much to do with SKIN CLINE (also see here) – relation of skin color to our global locations…those groups sprouting from areas near the equator have darker skin, eyes, hair and leaner/taller bodies.  Those hailing from the areas closer to the poles have lighter skin, eyes, hair and stockier/shorter builds.  More on this in a future post!

She went on… “Brown people have brown eyes and white people have green eyes.”

I think it’s smart that she’s beginning to notice these differences, but I also want her to know that they don’t always apply, so I showed her this picture…

brown skin green eyes dark skin light eyes

and this picture…

white skin brown eyes light skin dark eyes

The point being, I want to demonstrate to her that even though social norms may often seem like overwhelmingly accurate depictions of society or groups as a whole, they usually aren’t.  Yes, there are trends within any group, but a trend shouldn’t be taken as a singular and definite statement.  Yes it’s more likely, but it’s not true in 100% of cases.

There are many dark-skinned Latinos, for example, who may be perceived as “Black”…or light-skinned African Americans perceived as Latinos…but that’s only because we aren’t aware of all the variation that exists…even in a multicultural America.

Ultimately, I used this conversation as an opportunity to talk to my daughter about those variations.  The reality is that either of the two women pictured above could be Latina.  There are certainly Latinas who look like both of these women.  So classifying as “White,” “Black,” “Brown,” “Latino,” etc. is kind of nonsensical, since there are clear overlaps…especially when speaking about ethnic communities like that of Latinos or Jewish Americans.  At the same time though, talking about race is nearly impossible without using these terms, since each racial group shares a different experience in our society and stands on a separate rung of the racial hierarchy.

Why is it important to show your children racial variation?  Because I believe that much of the reason why we classify each other into such narrow boxes is because we don’t see or acknowledge the variations in each group.  A lot of this is because of media portrayals of racial groups and ethnic groups as caricatures.  As being defined in only ONE way.  This is something that I want to dismantle and something that I feel is important for my biracial daughter to understand early on.

How about you?  Have you had discussions like this with your kids?  What did you talk about?  How did you answer their questions?  I would love to hear your feedback about how you responded to conversations like this.

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  • Susan
    July 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    This post reminds me of when my kids were really little and learning how to identify and classify things in their world. They would make assumptions, like anyone with long hair was a girl and all boys had short hair. I used to always say to them anyone, boy or girl, can have long hair or short hair, and try to point out to them that there aren't "rules" about the way people look. Sometimes I wondered if I was making things too confusing to them by basically saying that anyone could be anything, but I'm glad I did because they both tend to keep their minds open about appearances.

    The icing on the cake for me is that my ten year old daughter, who is fair skinned, freckled, blonde, and blue eyed, always tells me that she thinks she looks exactly like her Hispanic stepfather. She will hug him and say to me, "Don't we look alike?" He is Ladino, so he's fairly light skinned, but on his palest day he is still darker than she is when she has a suntan, plus he has black hair and brown eyes. But I always say, "Yes, you do look alike!" In this case, I think that she means they are alike in spirit, on the inside, where it's most important. I couldn't be prouder!

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      July 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm

      Hi Susan…thanks for stopping by to comment. I think that's a pretty good comparison. I talk to my daughter a lot about gender too and I remember conversations where I explained to her about long hair not being an indicator for girls. Haha…more recently we discussed this and I told her that one difference is that women have hips…although this isn't 100% accurate either.

      I think talking about stuff like this is great and although it may seem confusing at first, really we're helping them to be more aware and less confused than the majority of society. There are still so many people out there who would never think that a Latina could also be Black or blonde…my daughter will be ahead of the game on this one and less likely to make assumptions that others might make.

      I think it's sweet that your daughter is identifying with her stepfather. :) Kids are so awesome…I just love that they can see things in people that the rest of us don't. Even disregarding skin color, many people like to see the differences before they see the similarities. It's so beautiful that kids can see a story the other way around too. ♥

  • Vanessa, DeSuMama
    July 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    This post is so timely for me! Thank you! My 2 year old classified me as “different” the other day {I’m Latina, my Hubs is AA} and I was at a loss of what to say initially. For some reason, I just assumed she would label herself as brown, like momma, since we are both females. I wasn’t prepared to be the one unlike the rest of my family. Oddly, it stung. {But that’s a whole other discussion.}

    I LOVE your philosophy of exposure and showing your daughter a simple, age appropriate demonstration of race and how people can be different from societal expectations. But mostly, I love that you even engaged her in the conversation at all. After my daughter’s initial comment, I am ashamed to say I shyed away from the conversation simply because of ignorance.

    I will be sure to use your engaging, yet simple, explanation the next time my little one wonders out loud about the issues of race and skin color.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      July 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

      Vanessa, I love, love, love your honesty. I used to feel sad a lot more than now about being "different" too. Baby girl has identified with her daddy for quite a while now. On the flip side though, it is hard to be sad when she is so proud of her brownness (brown eyes/hair/skin) and how much she looks like her daddy. My insecurity melts away when I see her smile and point out all the ways that she looks like her daddy. So today, it was a lot easier to take this in than it would have been two years ago.

      I can totally relate to that "otherness" and it's something that I don't want her to feel for me, but at the same time, I want her to identify with her father..since she does look like him. These discussions definitely need to be balanced, you know?

      It is interesting in your case…especially since your whole family is brown, that she would see you as different, but I think that shows all the more just how aware and sensitive she is. It's great that she's noticing the little differences and definitely do encourage her in those convos, but also take time to point out all the similarities too. :) Sometimes we forget to acknowledge those. ♥

      Please keep me posted on this discussion too! I'm really interested to see how you talk about it as a family, since we're still learning exactly what to say in these convos too. Thanks so much for sharing amiga! I really appreciate hearing about your experience with this and knowing we're not the only ones. ♥

  • Bicultural Mama
    July 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    You did a great job with showing your daughter variations in a teachable moment. This has not come up yet with my 3 year old. She has coloring similar to mine (Asian). The only thing she’s noticed that’s really different about her dad so far is that he doesn’t have hair (ha ha).

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Patiño
      July 16, 2012 at 3:01 am

      Thanks Maria. :) I was waiting for it, because she’s come close to this discussion several times, but I had no idea what I would say when the time comes. Interesting the direction our conversation took. She’s only four, but we can definitely simplify discussions and pictures always help…lol.

      Cute about your daughter noticing that daddy doesn’t have hair…lol! My daughter is fascinated by “bald guys” …lol. My dad doesn’t have hair either and she’s always saying, “look mom…that guy looks like your dad”…LOL.

      I love hearing about these kinds of talks with kids, so definitely share if you ever write about future chats like this with your daughter. I would love to listen in on the convo. ♥

  • Jah
    July 17, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I love that you showed your doctor those two pictures! Great lesson!

    I haven't had to address this yet, as our little one is due until December. I do plan to very proactive when it comes to talks about race with this one and any of his or her future siblings. I think I would be proactive about it no matter what, but I'm even more motivated because my husband and I are in an interracial relationship. Reading books like NurtureShock — and blog posts like this! — remind me that it's important for parents to acknowledge the differences rather than ignoring them and pretending to be color blind.

  • C.O.
    July 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    You’re kids seem more curious than I was. My parents are vastly different races from eachother and I never questioned this as a kid. Now that I’m an adult I feel like most people are pretty much the same, regardless of any variations in appearance. If I had a kid I’d definitely stress the uniformity of the human race more so than its dichotomies.

  • Chantilly Patiño
    Chantilly Pati&ntild
    April 4, 2013 at 1:02 am

    So well said Jah! Thank you for taking the time to comment. :) Absolutely! We do need to acknowledge and embrace the difference.

  • Chantilly Patiño
    Chantilly Pati&ntild
    April 4, 2013 at 1:04 am

    I definitely see what you mean. I do agree that we shouldn't stress the differences. Moreso we need to call attention to the similarities. When a child does ask though, or notices difference, I think it's important to show them why we have difference and what is beautiful about those differences. There is definitely a fine line between the two at some points.

  • Ellie {Musing Momma}
    April 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I love how you found pictures to show your daughter in a concrete way the variations of race. I agree that helping our kids understand there is not one way to "look" black/Hispanic/white/Asian is so important, and something I personally didn't get until I was an adult!

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Patiño
      April 13, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Thanks Ellie! I didn’t feel like I really “got it” when I was younger either, in large part because my parents believed that being ‘colorblind’ was the best way to move beyond ‘race. I don’t think the idea comes from a bad place, but a lack of awareness is a big part of the problem and color blindness doesn’t really help to solve that issue. Really interesting to see how many families like ours are online talking about race. I love seeing all the different perspectives. :)