Parenting Awareness: ‘Race’ Talk #2
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…
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.