As I was writing this post I started to wonder, at what point do kids start asking their parents about race? The more curious question though is, when do parents bring up this question of race to their kids if they do so proactively. How early do white parents speak to their children about these differences in their home ? How does it look in African-American families? Or how frequently are other white mothers of biracial children asked if they point out the difference in color, the injustice in our country too early or that they even speaking out too loudly on this subject matter?
My oldest daughter at age 2 could already tell the difference between her and my own skin color. And just like that, conversations about race started in our home. I'm not sure if I was prepared at the time but I knew that the color-blindness approach was just as wrong as giving the explanation that, "we should only see good in people". Yes. We should treat them with love and kindness but not to be blind to the fact that there are mean and cruel people around us.
At the age of 3 she went from predominantly white daycare center to a private catholic school with mostly white kids as well. She would come back home and tell me the stories of how some of her friends are getting braids just like Elsa ( yes, that was the season ) and one particular girl would always say 'that she can't have it done because of her puffy hair'. There were tears and my hardest attempts of putting a French braid in her hair to prove her friend wrong. From an early age we encouraged her to kindly speak for herself and to always know that she could do and be anyone, no matter her background.
At the age of 4 her younger sister was born and we moved her to a near by public school. It was within walking distance from our home (which made a huge difference when you need to make a drop while dragging around an infant in brutal Chicago winter weather ) and it offered a more diverse environment. She liked it but as it turn out after a while, she started to feel lonely as one of the few English speaking students. She would tell me frequently that she is not included in the free play because she doesn't understand Spanish. And so conversations continued. I would often bring up my own background and the fact that we speak Polish at home and at different gatherings. I remember telling her that as people we sometimes just forget others in conversation because we need the ease of expression. That the other children really aren't trying to be insensitive it's just that they lean on what they know. I encouraged her to try and speak Spanish but to also connect with her class mates in other ways to help bridge the gap.
At almost the age of 5, I started my research for a very well diverse public neighborhood school that would also include African-American teachers. A school where any child could see their self in the crowd of students and where they could learn about multiple cultures and heritages. We got lucky! After a heavy search I got lucky and to my own good fate, both of my daughters got in. 3 years into it, I'm happy to say that not only are both of my girls getting an excellent education but becoming well rounded humans. We still have ongoing conversations about race, human nature and various injustices that my oldest child sometimes hears and asks questions of. My husband and I try to navigate through this subjects gracefully but with the honesty that a 9 or 5 year old can comprehend.
February is a Black History Month and during this month I make sure to ask my daughters about what they learn at school and I try to extend the conversations at home. Last year we celebrated it by talking almost every day about the most influential African Americans in our history. The girls mostly loved to hear stories about great African American musicians and athletes but also some activists and politicians. It was the girls who made decisions about who they would like to hear about. When I think about African-American history I believe that it shouldn't be only taught in the classrooms and extra activities at home just around this time of the year. All parents should participate in regular, honest conversations surrounding different cultures and spending time on showing real day to day activists. There are so many people worth talking about that are fighting injustices of our day and making current history that it would be simply wrong to live in privilege and not to acknowledge it.