Explaining Race to Kids
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, I thought today was a fitting day to tell the story about one of my favorite elementary school experiences. When Mackenzie was in the 2nd grade, her school held an event to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. They used this event to show the kids that no matter how different we may be on the outside, on the inside we’re all the same.
That in itself is very nice, but the true impact for me was how they conveyed this message. They made this a morning event complete with breakfast for everyone. The menu was pancakes, bacon and eggs. Not just white eggs but brown eggs, too. Everyone ate and had a good time and then they began the assembly.
Each of the classes were given both a brown and white egg and the teachers asked them to describe the eggs. What did they look like? What color were they? Did they look the same except for the color? All the children responded with the obvious answers and then the teachers asked them to open the eggs.
What about now that we see the inside of the eggs? How were they different? “They’re not different at all” the children responded. That’s right! the teachers told them. Just like people – we all look different on the outside, but if you could see our insides, we’d all look the same. I was wowed by this simple, yet powerful way to explain to a very young group of children such an important message about race.
I like to think that our society is different than it was when I was their age and certainly when my parents were growing up but I’m not always sure that it is. I remember when I was a kid that my parents defined people by the color of their skin and even in the early 80’s I knew it was wrong.
Steve and I didn’t have to “vow” that we would never do that when we had kids – it just never happened. I actually think we went too far on the other side because I still remember the day one of the girls asked me why “that lady had darker skin”.. and it dawned on me that I had never explained to them that people aren’t all created the same “on the outside”. People have different colors to their skin and it’s based on where their families are from.. our family is largely Anglo-Saxon, so we’re all very pale. That family is largely Italian, so their skin is darker. That family is largely African-American so their skin is also darker.
Do you find it challenging to teach your kids about how people are different without placing too much emphasis on those differences? When your child defines someone by a physical character trait, what do you say?