We received the following email this week asking a very interesting question about talking to your child about race. Read the email and our response below. Also, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and comments!
You are always my go-to gals on all things adoptive that stump. My soon to be 6year old Ethiopian daughter announced that she wanted to invite only “chocolate children” to her birthday. When I asked why, she said “There are so many white people in the world.” I reminded her when we arrived in Ethiopia we were the only white people surrounded by “chocolate” Africans, this suprised her. I asked if her father and I could come to her party and she said yes, all African parents can come. What would you have said to her and should I be introducing more of a “how about we invite all kinds of children to your party?”
Really interested in your thoughts.
The following is my response:
Dear Birthday Mom,
What a great question! I think the answer really comes in two layers. But let’s start with the layer that really hit me right away. When I read your email the first thing that occurred to me (and probably you too) was that even more important than what you should say to your child is what she is saying to you!
Your daughter’s comment that “There are so many white people in the world.” really illustrates that she has a very real understanding of the fact that she is part of a minority group in this country and I assume in your community. First order of business is of course to acknowledge this fact. I think it was great that you tried to relate to her by pointing out a time when you were the minority, and I also think it will be helpful to go a step further by exploring with her what it actually feels like to be a member of a minority race every day. (By the way there ARE positives and negatives to being part of a minority group so explore both.)
Besides just exploring her current feelings about this you should also consider yourself how “white” your world really is, and if you are offering her plenty of exposure to people of varied races. In our Race and Culture course Katie talks about this. You can view a sample of that section of the course here for more ideas.
The second layer to your answer is about teaching acceptance and inclusion of all races and of course that there are many more important things to focus on when we encounter and interact with people than the color of their skin. It’s important to point out to your child that while seeking to surround yourself with “like” people is somewhat of a natural impulse it makes for a very generic life and more importantly is actually the foundation of prejudice and racism.
One great resource I like to spur conversations with kids about celebrating differences is the book People by Peter Spier. If you don’t already own it I highly recommend it! The pictures are amazing! The main idea is impacting, and my own family and countless classrooms of my students have had many many meaningful conversations surrounding it.
In the case of your specific question about what to say about having only “chocolate” children at her party I would suggest a “what makes a good friend” or “what makes a good party guest” conversation. And I would overtly point out that the things that you are talking about have little or nothing to do with race. But remember, your child will be more receptive to these kinds of conversations if the reality of the first layer (she is part of a minority group) is acknowledged , she feels good about herself, and has been exposed to positive role models in all races, particularly her own.
Hope that helps a bit and thanks for letting us answer your question on the blog so others could think about this too!