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Teaching about race

I came across this excellent piece of MLK Day reading this morning by a guest writer on Ta-Nahisi Coate's blog:
Of course, I think it's important that she know this history. I think it's absolutely crucial that, at some point, she understand how race works in America, not the least of which is because she'll inevitably learn it the hard way (and I suppose it says a lot about how sheltered a life she's had thus far that she hasn't been confronted with it)[3]. Most importantly, I want to raise her with an investment in social justice and that means she's going to have to intimately understand the history and function of race and racial inequality.

I just hoped this would all come "later."
I have thought a lot about Owen's future as a mixed-race kid, particularly because he'll likely be attending public (read: colored) school. But I haven't yet had a conversation about race with him. I guess, like the TNC guest blogger, I've been hoping this will be something we talk about later.

I think I'm enjoying Owen's current state of innocence about race. One day he was talking about one of his friends from school. I asked which friend he was talking about and, not thinking, I asked, "Is he black?" Owen said, "No! He's not black! He's brown, like Papa."

Duh!

It's really too bad that I can't preserve for Owen the notion that people just come in a continuum of shades, ranging from "kinda pinkish yellowish brown," as Owen describes his grandmothers' skin, up to dark brown like his grandfather. He'll eventually have to learn the "adult" notion that there are "clear" borders that make this guy black:

and this guy equally black:

Now, is that clear, son?

Comments

blissful_e said…
Thankfully, this is one of those things that's not as difficult outside of America.

When I was a kid, I was taught "black" and "white" but as an adult it's quite obviously a beautiful colour spectrum (and oh how I wish I had a perpetual tan and lower risk of skin cancer like many of my friends...).
Code name: 1% said…
You've shared this guy's blog before - I like his writing. My family was always in the weird situation of trying to explain this all to my sister while simultaneously having no first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be on the "more tan" end of the spectrum. The first time she came home crying from school after being teased for having a white family, I cried, too. But I guess the kids got used to it after a while. I say the more mixed-race families, the better!
Leah Bennett said…
Ha Ha! So true... I remember being against the use of "black" when I was little as well. I always wanted people to say brown. Seemed (seems) obviously like the appropriate color!! :)

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