Last weekend, I was eating dinner at Qdoba with my daughter T, age 5.
She looks at me, and asks, "Why are there so many white people?"
"Here at Qdoba?" I asked.
"No," she says, "in America."
I was kind of floored that she would even question why there are so many white people in America. We went on to talk about how this is a complicated issue. I told her about how some people came here from different places, and how white people aren't even really "from" America.
As we talked, I realized that even at age 5, she does have some complex ideas about race. To her, it's mainly about whether you're brown or white. It's complicated to explain to a 5 year old - because I don't want her to think race defines us, but I also can't pretend that it doesn't exist. We talked about how no one actually has "white" skin - the color of paper. She uses the word brown pretty broadly to describe people who are of African ancestry, and South Asian ancestry. In some ways, we're really lucky because her preschool is extremely diverse - she has kids in her class who are immigrants - from all over the world, Europe included.
But, she insisted that her skin is white. Not white like paper, but light. And while she is fairly fair-skinned, I told her that other people don't think we're white. It hurt me a little to already involve her in a discussion about what other people define us as - because I don't want that to matter so much. But it does.
She brought the issue up in the car this morning, and I asked her what she thought different color skin meant. Right away, she responded, "It means you're from a different place." I hope she knows that this isn't just something that applies to people who aren't white. I hope she does - seeing as we know some Irish people from Ireland, Italians from Italy, etc.
I think at the end of it, I am surprised that we are having these conversations. I hope that I have laid a good groundwork where this is something that she will always feel comfortable talking to me about. But, I am also surprised at how challenging this is for me.
What challenges have you had around talking about race with your kids?