This past weekend, Jennifer & Tom bought Maggie a pool for the backyard… not anything extravagant, just a little cheap thing she can splash in. While at the store, they also let her select a new bathing suit. She chose one with a tutu ruffle featuring Princess Tiana or, as she calls her, “Da Pwincess & da Fwog.”
She chose Tiana, the brown princess, over Sleeping Beauty & Ariel, the white princesses. To her, Tiana is just another princess.
So then, this morning, Jen & Maggie were hanging out. & out of nowhere, Maggie, in reference to the gym daycare last night, said “There was a black boy on the slide.”
Ok, #1: Jennifer & Tom don’t refer to people as “black people” or “white people.” They’re just people. Tom works at & their family attends what is probably the most racially & socioeconomically diverse church in our area. Maggie is regularly in the company of people who don’t look like her. And this is the first time she’s seemed to notice.
And #2: If Maggie had made this observation on her own, she would have called him a “brown boy.” Which means that she overheard someone refer to this child, & is repeating what she heard.
Jen was thrown for a minute. She tried to figure out where the comment was coming from, but Maggie just kept saying “He a black boy.” Jennifer asked, “Did you play with the boy?” Maggie’s reply: “Yes, I did play with the black boy.” Jennifer: “Was the boy nice?” Maggie: “Yes, the black boy was nice.”
What’s the right way to deal with this? Jennifer called & asked me. And I’m not sure. How do you teach Maggie that the difference between “differences” and “labeling”? How do you teach that it’s ok to notice differences, but not assign value to them? How do you avoid that inevitable moment of childish honesty when Maggie announces loudly in a store “Mommy, look at all those black people!” And what’s the line between addressing it & making TOO big a deal out of it? Ignoring differences, pretending like they aren’t there, isn’t the answer either.
**& just a side note: one of the most well-written, powerful things I’ve read about this topic is this post by Melba.
So what now? My initial thoughts are this:
- Remember that Maggie was/is a blank slate when it comes to prejudice, bias, & discrimination. We don’t have to TEACH her tolerance — we just have to nurture what’s already there.
- Learn the little boy’s name & refer to him only by his NAME.
- Buy Maggie some dolls that don’t have white skin. Name them & refer to them by their names, not their colors.
- Buy some new children’s books for her bedtime story lineup. The ones in my shopping cart at the moment, based on reader reviews, are “The Skin You Live In,” “We’re Different, We’re the Same,” and “Whoever You Are.”
But of course, Maggie’s not my child. And I’m not her mother. So my thoughts ultimately don’t matter that much. But there they are, & there you have it.