Talking Race with My 6 Year Old

by Melanie Edwards on January 24, 2012 · 13 comments

in Baby Girl,life

For Whites Only Sign

Every day when I pick up baby girl from school I ask her the same questions: How was your day? Did you have fun? and What did you guys do? The majority of the time her answer to the last question is a simple, “I don’t really remember.” She can tell me all about what games her and her friends made up during recess and who she talked to while waiting at the car loop, but it takes a lot of digging to find out what they did or talked about in her Kindergarten class. However, fast forward a few days, or even a week, and little snippets of what they’ve done come out in casual conversation.

With Martin Luther King day being celebrated early last week, it wasn’t until the weekend that we were able to find out more about what she learned in class regarding the man behind the holiday. Of course, as is customary for my baby girl, it wasn’t a straight “here’s what the teacher told us” conversation. The information almost always comes out in things she says or does; she also has a habit of surprising me at the most unexpected moments. Here’s a glimpse at a couple of conversations we had over the weekend that were sparked by her class’ discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

No More ‘Whites Only’

I’m glad the ‘white only’ signs are gone mommy,” she said as she was watching TV and I was changing baby boy’s diaper.

“Me too baby.”

“But, what happened to the babies?”

“What do you mean sweetie?”

“Well, since people with dark skin couldn’t be in the same house as people with white skin, what happened to the babies with dark skin? Did they take them somewhere else?”

“No! They stayed with their parents. If the babies have dark skin, then that means the parents did too, right?”*

“But, what about baby boy and I? You don’t have dark skin, but we do. So, pretend the ‘white only’ signs were still around – what would happen to us?”

“You don’t think I have dark skin?”

“Well, it’s more like tan.”

“Ok. Well, they didn’t separate the babies from their parents, sweetie. They all stayed together in their house. And, actually mama, if we lived back in those days, they would have thought I had dark skin too, just like you.”

“Oh, ok.”

*I realize this statement is not completely true, but I didn’t really want to get into an explanation of genetics with a 6 year old.

Love Drives Out Love - Drawing by My 6 Year Old Daughter

Love Drives Out Love

She sat at our dining table drawing a picture as I fed her little brother. When she finished she showed it to me as she normally does.

What does this say?” I asked her pointing to the words I had already read, but wanted her to explain.

“Love drives out love.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well, at school they told us that Martin King-”

“Martin Luther King?”

“Yes, Martin Luther King said ‘Hate does not drive out hate, only love does.’”

“Ok. And, do you know what that means?”

“No, no I don’t.”

“You guys didn’t talk about it at school?”

“No.”

“I see. Well, what he was saying was that if someone has hate in their heart, to give them more hate, by being mean or violent, is not going to take that hate away. You have to show them love to take their hate away.”

“Ohhhhh…”

“Do you really get it?”

“I think so.”

“He believed in being peaceful. He didn’t think you could make someone who has hate be better by being violent. You needed to show them love and be peaceful to help them change.”

“Like the people that wanted the ‘white only’ signs!”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“Ok. Well, I was trying to say love brings more love. Love drives out love.”

“I get it. That’s a very nice thought baby girl.”

It always amazes me how much farther her mind takes things. She’ll always have a follow-up question. Or she’ll think of varying scenarios and wonder ‘what if’. She loves to explore and imagine. This is a good thing. It will help her empathize and understand the world better as she grows.

Discussions on race will no doubt continue in our house for a long time. As she learns more and more about this country’s history, she will come home with more questions. It will take a long time for her to fully grasp all that was, all that is, and all that may be. And, that’s ok. I’m still working on it myself.

Top photo by Tim Krepp

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chantilly Patiño January 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

That is so sweet Melanie and at the same time, it’s a reminder of how often we really do need to talk about race with our kids.  I think you’re doing exactly the right thing, encouraging the conversation and providing answers.  It has to be on their terms to some degree, you know.  And I think it’s so special that you and your daughter have that kind of relationship.
This reminds me of the feminist talk you had with baby girl a while back about beauty.  Very smart parenting.  :)

My daughter is only three, but I’m looking forward to the opportunities to talk to her about these issues in the way that you do with your daughter.  It’s great to see such a good example!

On the skin color thing, it never amazes me how kids identify skin before they’ve been taught the “social standards” for categorizing by color.  My daughter likes to think that daddy is black and mommy is brown (both because of our hair colors) and in a way it’s inspiring to watch kids simplify these things that are so complicated for us.

I wish race wasn’t an issue, but since it is, I’m glad that as parents, we have the opportunity to set the record straight.  <3

Thanks for sharing this story.  :)

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2 Jo-Lynne Shane January 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm

This is a subject that comes up a lot in our home too, as we have several close friends with interracial families. You did a great job talking to her! I wish we lived in a world where these conversations were not necessary, but unfortunately they are. At least I guess we can be thankful that we have progressed beyond “whites only” signs. Thanks for sharing this!

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3 Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm

This is so sweet. I can remember having a similar talk with my daughter at this age.

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4 Denene Millner January 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm

My God—how beautiful is this? Thank you for sharing your conversation with baby girl; I hope it’s a lesson to a lot of other parents that these are talks that NEED to be had with our kids so that we can learn that something as superficial as skin won’t stop our love from bringing more love. AWESOME post. (off to share!)

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5 Jessica @FoundtheMarbles January 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

We discussed this in our home last week  My eight year old said, “I am so glad I don’t live in a time when people are so mean to each other.” Little does he know…

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6 Helena January 24, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I love the conversations with your daughter! What a lovely relationship you two have :) 

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7 Ericka Sanchez January 25, 2012 at 1:34 am

This is very sweet.  My son is three years old but I’m gearing up to talk about this with him pretty soon.

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8 Faiqa January 25, 2012 at 10:52 am

This post makes me so happy.  I think discussing race with children early is very important… my discussion went the same with my daughter.  I was a little disconcerted that in Florida there were two full days devoted to discussing Dr. King and none devoted to the topic here in Memphis. I think I’ll probably do something about that next year when the time comes around again. Great post per usual.

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9 Pamela Pajuelo January 25, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. I wish all parents realized the value of discussing race with their children. What a different world it would be.

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10 Silvia January 26, 2012 at 3:04 am

Melanie, this is a beautiful post!   I can actually imagine her little voice asking you all this.  Kids have beautiful minds we just need to listen and let them talk.  Thanks for sharing!

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11 Me and the Mexican January 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

What a beautiful post!  It brought tears to my eyes reading you and your daughter’s conversation.  

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12 Patty Aizaga January 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm

She really sound like a little lady! You are very blessed to be able to share these conversations from an early age. So precious!

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13 Grogancr2011 May 25, 2012 at 1:20 am

wow…. I can relate, almost… and i definitely can sympathize with you, i am not looking forward to the days when we start having to have these conversations, becasue following these, will be the ones concerning her father, not god in heaven, and not daddy, but her father, whom she doesnt know. however i can say that our older one seems to be helping or at least trying to help, they are funny and they want to be so much alike each other. that the older one paints her skin so that she can be the same as little sister. that was a shock for me when i saw her the first time, and had to find a way to approach that to both of them.

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