Should parents call attention to race with their children?

Posted by James, 05 Oct 09

"Remember, everybody's equal." This is what one woman kept telling her 5-year-old son. She thought she was getting the message across until the day -after seven months of her repetitive phrase - the boy asked, "Mommy, what's 'equal' mean?"

This really cracked me up. Many parents just can’t talk about race with their children. They prefer to raise them in a race-free vacuum; always reverting to the very vague ‘Everybody is equal’ phrase. In one study that required parents to discuss race with their children, most parents (especially Caucasian parents) "...admitted they just didn't know what to say to their kids, and they don't want the wrong thing coming out of the mouth of their kids."

They say children as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color. In a study carried out to determine when children develop racial bias, children at 6 months stared significantly longer at pictures of faces whose races were different from their parents'. And even when parents dont point these things out, children as early as 3 years form in-group favoritisms, believing that those who look similar to them are either nicer or smarter or better than those who look the least similar to them.

When children interract in school, they see these things. They even have the ability to pick up on their parents' attitudes towards people of other races. In 2006, Birgitte Vittrup recruitred about a hundred Caucasian families with a child 5 to 7 years old from the database of the Children's Research Lab at the University of Texas. She asked the kids: "Do your parents like black people?" 14% outrightly said "No". 38% said they didn't know. Clearly, if you don't talk about it, they will draw their own conclusions.

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So after raising a child in a supposed race-free vacuum, what is a parent to do when the child makes some improper racial remark like "You can't play basketball: you're white. Baseball is the right sport for you.”?The instinctive reflex is usually to shush the child.

Question is: is it the right move? Should parents let the environment be the message or should they openly call attention to race?

22 responses to "Should parents call attention to race with their children?"

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  1.   Smile4242 says:
    Posted: 13 Jan 10

    Leading my example is the first thing. Kids learn from that the most, especially at early ages. They mimic their parents. I think the youngest children will learn more from your example than by words, since, as humorously mentioned in the article, some concepts and words are not understood yet by toddlers. When they get older, I personally would again lead by example, but be willing to talk about it where appropriate.

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  2. Posted: 20 Nov 09

    Parents should address issues of different races or skin color as it surfaces with positive input. Every race is talked about in a negative manner one way or another; some more than others. Children should be made aware of the negative issues concerning this as well as the positive ones. The world would be a better place if all could just get along & love one another the way we should. Anything negative always resorts into hurt, pain, humiliation, low self esteem just to name a few. Our children are our future. What they learn in young years of growing definitely results in what kind of adult person they will become and plays a big part in attitude. What kind of world will exist when our kids are grown? Definitely something to pray about.

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  3. Posted: 26 Oct 09

    Yes, children should be told about race. The different races are beautiful. What is objectionable is the narrow-minded, polluted spirits inside people that cannot appreciate that beauty because their minds will not expand beyond their own bigotry.

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  4.   SEWilde says:
    Posted: 25 Oct 09

    Faeydust, Both of my children are biracial. Both are grown and have moved away from home. I am black, their fathers are both white. Yes, by 2 different white men. They always knew this fact. I certainly can't hide my blackness as dark as I am, and they can't hide their whiteness. What's to hide anyway? You are what you are. My kids say they don't have a problem with their identities. They both consider themselves to be black. I always told them both, that they have the best of both worlds. They are both proud of themselves and me. (My son's father died when he was small) They are both proud of their fathers. Even though I am no longer with her father, we still talk on a regular basis, and we always discussed issues of race with her. I was worried about their acceptance when they were younger, but I think a lot of how each person deals with acceptance of themselves is the same, no matter their color. It seems like both kids gravitated to "the group" which accepted them, which has always included people from all nationalities. Everybody goes through some form of being accepted or not, growing up. Sometimes it's wearing glasses, or braces. Sometimes it's race. SE

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  5.   Member says:
    Posted: 25 Oct 09

    I agree with SimplySpicy and fkoi that first and foremost children learn through observing their parents behavior whether it is about how to take responsibility about ones behavior or what beliefs or attitudes have about their own race or cultural background.

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  6.   Faeydust says:
    Posted: 24 Oct 09

    I am the parent of a biracial child and I often wonder about this very topic. I don't avoid it or ignore it. However, I have never sat him down to explain the differences between my ethnic background and his father's. I feel that I'll address any of his concerns as they arise. It's important to speak to children on their level of understanding and provide them age appropriate answers to their questions. As my son matures, I believe the questions will be more about "which group do I belong to." As a parent I can only hope to be there for my son when these very challenging social questions arise. I want him to feel comfortable in his skin, while recognizing the need to belong. In an idealistic world none of this would ever matter. But unfortunately others in the world will attempt to force him into a box. My dream for him is to have the inner strength to decide for himself and to find inner peace and acceptance. Ich - you're here too? Nice to see you.

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  7.   SimplySpicy says:
    Posted: 24 Oct 09

    I think that some parents should address all issues or questions that their children may have about race. Even though this is 2009 there are still ignorant people out there who teach as well as influence other peoples children, as well as their own into thinking that it is ok to be biased or prejudiced against other kids just because of the melanin of their skin. I do agree that parents are the best teachers and transmitters of culture to their children. The problem lies in not just what they say but how they act towards people of different races. Even though I am a black woman who is mixed, my parents still made sure that we were accustomed to being around kids of different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. My parents had friends of varying backgrounds hell they are both mixed up. So even though my family is made up of different backgrounds, they made it a point to talk about any and all racial issues. They instilled in their children a sense of pride and appreciation for all people. I think that a lot of people try to ignore the whole race thing all together and just hope and pray that their children will grow up unbiased and cognizant of others. That to me is the problem, until we face our issues head on there will always be that divide. p.s. it is nice seein you ichibod, world class and godiva from the other forum "Why White men like Black Women" I enjoyed all of your insightful posts and hold you in the highest regards..Please continue to be the lights that you are and I am definitely looking forward to hearing more of your insights.:-)

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  8.   triciaxoxox says:
    Posted: 21 Oct 09

    Speaking as a mother of a Bi-racial child(I'm Indian his father is Russian), I think that the child should be made aware of his dynamic culture, and learn about both sides so he can be proud of his heritage just as he would be if he was fom one culture. I really haven't found any issues with my son "struggling" to identify with any one particular group ever-- he's 13 now, and confident as ever it's never been an issue. I rememeber during a PTA meeting last year when I walked up to his teacher, he said "oh, so you're danny's mom!?"( he called me by my ex-husbands last name which is a very russian sounding last name) and Danny (who looks more like his dad and nothing like me) said "yeah this is my mom, and my dad is russian and she's Indian thats how I got my good looks in case you were curious".

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  9.   Violetq says:
    Posted: 18 Oct 09

    yes i think children should know, we all arent colorblind.

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  10.   godiva61 says:
    Posted: 09 Oct 09

    world citizen, Just wanted you to know that both you and your mom will be in my thoughts and prayers. I'm sure that she will be as good as new, and up on her feet soon. If you need anything, please let me know! That was good news to wake up to this morning! love godiva

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  11.   Ichibod says:
    Posted: 09 Oct 09

    I was just reading that. Really cool!

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  12.   Member says:
    Posted: 09 Oct 09

    Dearest friends, my mother is not finished with surgery, but the following GREAT NEWS and your prayers will help her get well real soon! Today PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA received the NOBEL PRICE for - P E A C E !!!! Congratulations to him, his family and all of you supporters who believe in him! Another MILE STONE in U.S. BLACK HISTORY!

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  13.   Ichibod says:
    Posted: 08 Oct 09

    You both will be in my prayers. Take care!

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  14.   Member says:
    Posted: 08 Oct 09

    Dearest godiva61, Ichibod and 'All in the Family' !!! Sorry to have neglected you lately. I may not be present on these blogs, but you are in my heart and thoughts. I have been extremely busy with some Austrian-Hungarian projects. And more importantly, my 94 year old mother, generally in excellent healthy condition, is hospitalized for a new hip! She wants to keep being independent, this is why she decided to have this only problem fixed. Every physician so far encouraged her to go ahead with the operation, as they see a good chance for her to live many more fulfilling years. Tomorrow morning surgery is scheduled. She is already planning to 'jump' and 'misbehave' in Spring of 2010. What a spirit! Thank you for your heartwarming words and please - let's stay in touch! I embrace you!

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  15.   fkoi says:
    Posted: 06 Oct 09

    Ichibod, Thanks for recognizing. I enjoy reading your posts. I can't remember one that wasn't thoughtful and concerned.

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  16.   godiva61 says:
    Posted: 06 Oct 09

    World Citizen, So glad to see you! Missed you my dear sister! How is Mom? Is she behaving(smile). My mom is on vacation in Myrtle Beach, with her groupies, so she is her happy self... I agree with you about how the home and the environment sets the precedence for matters of race relations, and all relationships to be truthfully. We were inspired to focus on the soul, the integrity, and the character of the man/woman. With any teachings, you will be put to the test from time to time, so when the outside world tried to deter us from what was taught at home, we had to rise to the occassion, by denouncing certain behavior's even if it meant that you might be rejected or ostrasized for it, and the flip side to that, was not to allow the world to define you, place labels upon you according to their mindsets. love godiva

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  17.   Ichibod says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    Mother Citizen, So good to see you again. How have you been? And your's too, Fkoi.

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  18.   Austrian says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    From my own experience, I know it is most important for the family to support the fact that there are many features and shades of people all over the world, just as it should be dealt with that there are handicapped among us. When I was big enough to look at story books, but too small to communicate, I had a favorite book which showed fair and black children. I always pointed at one black child, called it my name, which I could not pronounce correctly then - it sounded somewhat like Bussi Gana - and I fully identified myself with this child. My family was puzzled but did not have any problem with this. There were no Black people anywhere near where I grew up. As I became a bit older, my dolls had to be Black, and so was my husband 20 years later. My bi-cultural children grew up in a multi-cultural environment. I pasted many images of children from all over the world onto the walls of their rooms, when they were still babies. I felt, they should be aware of existing differences right from the start. The home as well as the environment have impact regarding this matter.

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  19.   triccinicci says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    Hey James, Could you possibly quote your sources on the material you come across for your discussion threads? Often it appears you are doing "selective research". Now of course all research is selective in fact, but the way you piose the information...One should be given the opportunity to comprehend for his/herself how exactly the author intended the material to be digested.

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  20.   fkoi says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    A child learns from the home first and then from the environment at large. If parents live an ethnically integrated life I think that is the message and that the message doesn't have to be spoken. Naturally kids notice differences. If those differences are treated naturally I don't think they become an issue. Blondes are blonde. Tall people are tall. Exploring cultural and religious differences with ones children is a good thing. Teaching open-mindedness and acceptance through example is the surest way for it to become intrinsic to a child's make up. Of course outside the home a child picks up what they pick up as well. When an inappropriate thought is expressed by a child it is a parent's duty to correct the error the same as the child is taught to stop, look and listen at a street corner.

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  21.   Ichibod says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    I believe the parents should let the environment be the message, however they should never forget that they provide the majority of that environment and should maintain the majority of the influence therein. Yes, I noticed race growing up, but I never saw my parents treat anyone differently under similar circumstances, so naturally I didn't. If my mom or dad were at odds with someone, there were clearly defined reasons as to why. In my house, I never heard any derogatory words spoken regarding a person's race. Even the N-word was simply just another "bad word". Also remember, as early as 3 years old, children start to notice other differences such as gender and disabilities. Not to mention there are differents shades in every race. Imagine how a latino child would view an asian or multatto child having the same skin tone as them. Funny they don't factor that into their studies. Parents should openly call attention to race only if certain issues with their children are specifically pertaining to that. Many problems in life don't occur until someone mentions them.

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  22.   blueswoman says:
    Posted: 05 Oct 09

    I feel that race should definitely be discussed with your children. Do not act like the others that look/talk different from us do not exist. Let them know the different cultures are out there and try to let them experience them and learn. It is important to help your children discover the world and it should begin with your neighbors.

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