Children aren’t afraid to talk about skin tone…Why are their parents?

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by Lucretia Carter Berry

When our children talk about skin color, we parents don’t have to be afraid to engage in their conversations. Actually we can let them lead the way. When children talk about their friend’s skin being brown, peach, pink, etc., they are simply noticing the obvious.

But parents have been shamed into shunning conversations about skin color, opting instead to embrace the seemingly more safe and politically correct colorblind approach.

Colorblindess—the notion, the theory, the language or lack thereof—has made parents a false promise. If we don’t see skin color (or talk about it), racism will go away. I wish it were true. But it’s just not.

Research shows that because children are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism, avoiding conversations about race and skin tone will not produce color-blindness. Instead, the colorblind approach will rob them/us of language and power to address race-based issues when the opportunity presents itself.

The observation of skin tone is not inherently connected to the social political construct of race. So, in our family, we empower our children by giving them language and freedom to talk about skin tones and other obvious differences. For example, the ethnic make up in our family is white dad, black mom, and three multi-ethnic little girls. We have given ourselves a language and narrative to acknowledge our five different ‘hues of brown’ (and five different hair textures) without using race terminology like ‘white’ and ‘black.’

Having conversations about skin tone void of shame and discomfort in their early years has established a safe space and frame work for educating them about the complexities of race ideology. Our then seven year old articulated her understanding of race as a terrible idea created a long time ago, that if not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have made it impossible for her to be born! She expressed anger about the invention and existence of race and racism. (Yay! We want anger to be pointed towards the idea and legacy of race, not towards a group of people.)

I was amazed at how she formulated this position. She had read Meet Addy: An American Girl series, Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?, Who Was Abraham Lincoln?, both of the Who Was…? series, to name of few. She had lots of questions and I gave her age appropriate answers. 

As parents, we can not allow fear to keep us from having these conversations. Shunning comments about skin tone and race in the warmth of our loving homes, may leave our children susceptible to the conditioning of institutionalized racial narratives. Let’s empower our children to create a more beautiful world.

Here are a few related resources.

In the comments section, please share your resources and practices or any questions you may have.