Dealing with Racism (What would you do?)

Danielle - posted on 02/23/2011 ( 42 moms have responded )

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First let me point out that I live in Alabama. To this day it is still very racial here. It's swept under the rug but it's there. My oldest is seven and both of my children are taught to respect ppl no matter what race, size, gender (or even if they have two heads) Here's my problem: We were at the park the other day and he comes to me to tell me where he was going to play and who he was playing with. It was two little boys, he didn't know their names so he called them the "brown" boy and the "blonde" boy. He wasn't being ugly just trying to explain what they looked like. I fight racism all around us. Even in my house at times. My husband and my brother can be racist. I'm not that way and I don't want my children to be that way. How would you handle him calling someone of a diff race "brown"? I'm afraid that it's going to offend someone and not to mention it may lead to him following in his father and uncle's footsteps. I want to break that cycle..I just don't know how.

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[deleted account]

Danielle, if someone is going to be offended because you know what color their skin is, it is probably best to just leave that person out of your circle because they are going to be offended at EVERYTHING and there will never be any pleasing them. I know a lady like this, she is offended by anything anyone says no matter how nicely they mean what they are saying. It's to the point now that no one even bothers to talk to her.

Joanna G, I agree it is best to use someone's name when talking about them, and I definitely see more than physical traits in people, but physical traits are undeniably the first thing we notice about people before we get to know them. If you are talking to someone who doesn't know that person's name and you say, "oh, you know, the mom that wore the purple sweater last week at the park" or "the mom that loves to bake" no one will know who you are talking about. But if you say, "she's the indian mom with the red haired kid" they will know immediately.


Basically, there is no insult in identifying someone by their hair color, so there should be no insult in identifying them by their skin color. They are both inherited characteristics and neither have any baring over the person's character or imply anything negative about the person, unless we want them to.

[deleted account]

It is not racist to describe someone by their skin color. In fact, it's no different than describing them by their hair color or eye color, except where there may be 4 kids with black hair at the park, there may only be 1 black kid at the park.

People who don't know my name often call me "the Indian" mom. They are not trying to be rude and I am not offended, because it would be stupid to be offended by that. While I would rather they say the "Native American mom" I know it's the simplest way to describe me. I have experienced racism, and believe me, it's very different. When people refuse to put money in your hand or take it out of your hand, or when they refuse to say "please" & "Thank you" or talk to you like you are trash, or when they refuse to let their kids play with your kid (who does not even look native) when they find out you are Native American--That is racist.

Being afraid to describe someone by a very obvious characteristic breeds racism by implying a negative stereotype associated with that color skin. If you truly believe that color doesn't matter, and that being black, or red, or brown is no different than being white, then you would not be afraid of offending anyone by mentioning their skin tone because there would be no implied insult.
Really, I think people who go way out of their way to avoid mention of skin tone are harboring their own racism and are ashamed of it. People are not stupid--we know what color we are, not mentioning my skin tone is not going to make me think you think I'm white. On the contrary, I'm going to think you are racist if you go out of your way not to because I'm going to think you feel sorry for me for not being white--like we don't mention divorce around people going through it.

[deleted account]

He was describing what the little boy looked like. If he didn't want to play with him because of that...then it would be considered racist. It was innocent. By the way, I'm in Louisiana so I totally know where you are coming from with fighting this problem.

[deleted account]

I agree Julianne, but being that Danielle is raising her son in a racist environment (not speaking just of her husband, but also of the area of the country), she has to be careful in how she allows her son to describe people. I agree that sometimes the race card is overused, but when you're raising a child in the hotbed of racism, it's a fine line between using color as a simple description and it becoming racist at some point. I think Danielle is wise to find alternative solutions in helping her son describe other people. Now, if she lived in a less racist area of the country, my answer would probably be similar to yours. But she doesn't. And that makes all the difference in a situation like this.

Starr - posted on 02/26/2011

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My husband is black, I am white, so therefore my children are brown. Here is ithe thing...we are all of the same race. The human race. Thats it. There is only one. Now, we are of different ethnicities. Native american, hispanic, caucasion, and so on. I don't think your son intended harm. And I would have no problem someone describing me or my family by our skin color but many do take offense. I do see your concern because of the area you are in. Clothing or else wise is a better way to describe someone to assure racisim isn't coming out. think of it this way. What if you lived in an area with all blonde hair green eyed fair complexion kids. He would have to find another way to describe them. Just make sure his heart is genuine and you are doing fine.

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Judy - posted on 04/29/2012

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All I have to say is thank you for trying to break the cycle. While racism will never go away, at least you are making an effort and is concerned about it. People like you can make a difference and so will your children. Thanks again!

[deleted account]

I don't think your son was being racist. We have 4 different "John"s" big John, little John, fat John and brown John. Big John is the oldest of all, little John the youngest, fat John is really obese, and brown John has brown skin. Brown John is my cousin. He doesn't take offense & it isn't a big deal in our family. Brown John knows a little girl at school named Celeste that looks mexican to him. His calls her Celeste & my daughter Celeste is white Celeste when he is trying to distinguish between the two in a convo. I do applaud your desire to not allow your children to be racists however I think a lot of things are just fine and if someone other than that person being talked about takes offense then let them.
We had a small issue once with an Asian family in martial arts class. Ok WE didn't but the instructor pulled one of my girls out because my daughter and the 2 little Asian girls were pulling their eyes back and laughing. I have a vietnamese uncle & 2 cousins. You are NOT going to tell me my child is being racist by making silly faces and NOT when all 3 girls were having fun and laughing about it. I explained our diverse religious & ethnic backgrounds in our family as well as the fact that HE knew they were just goofing. However, she did have to do 5 laps for disrupting class with the other 2 girls. I don't tolerate racism but I also don't tolerate stupidity either. If kids are being kids and you take offense then obviously YOU are the one with the problem. Racism IS a problem but people take offense at the stupidest things nowadays. IMO

[deleted account]

I've often been described as the woman with glasses. Maybe that's discrimination and I didn't realise it!

Merry - posted on 02/27/2011

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Laura, I have a blue tinge as well, all those veins showing through! My friends say I'm glow in the dark!

Jenny - posted on 02/26/2011

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I see no prooblem is using physical characteristics to describe a person. We don't have a lot of racial issues where I live so I don't really notice it in society that much.

As Starr said, we teach our children there is only one race, the human race, so it's not really an issue for us.

Isobel - posted on 02/26/2011

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I really need spring to come soon...I'm so white I'm starting to look slightly blue.

Amy - posted on 02/26/2011

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By the way, I don't mind people calling our family rednecks since we do work outside quite often in the summer working our garden for food, to cut wood to keep warm all winter and to tend to animals. Just don't use redneck in that light. Not all of us who toil outside are racists jerks or white supremacists [and can we really be, we're red. lol.].

Amy - posted on 02/26/2011

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Well, being as my friend who is Mexican calls herself brown, my kids have also said that - daughter even wanted to take her to preschool for brown day. My sister was little and saw a man who was African American and goes "oh, he looks like Leonard [our black cat]" My daughter saw her first black lady and goes "oh, mommy, she's SO pretty." When in a situation like that, ask the child's parent what they prefer maybe? I dunno, I asked my friend and she's like, "your kids can call me brown - I AM brown!! "

also Had a man come into the bank where I worked once and went "whoa, you're REALLY white!" not sure what that was supposed to mean. I was just like, yeah, i'm a white person. No idea what he meant by that, but racism and offense go hand in hand to me.
I not only will try and teach my kids to be considerate of others, but to not fret or fuss if someone addresses them in a way not favorable to them. How hard is it to just say "oh, I/we prefer to be called _____" in a nice tone?

Isobel - posted on 02/26/2011

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as the mother of two blondes...I am disgusted by your son's description of the child with less pigmentation in their hair follicles.

obviously I'm joking, but that's kinda where we're headed isn't it?

How about instead of getting worried about what the correct way of describing somebody this week, we concentrate on making sure our kids don't think there's anything wrong with being brown, or blonde or asian...or whatever.

Danielle - posted on 02/26/2011

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@ Jakki~ Don't worry I have no intention of telling him off lol. I did however talk to him about describing clothing instead of features.(He's horrible with names lol) Of course his big question was WHY? So I asked him do you remember how many kids were at the park the other day? There were alot of blonde headed boys and brown boys. It is just easier for Mommy to find who you're talking about if you describe clothes. And that was that.

I know he had no ill will towards anyone. And if the day comes that it does arise I plan to take him to a museum and a church that was bombed that I went to with my school as a child. It is dedicated to the time when segregation was bad here. It's something that broke my heart and I never forgot. So I'm ready if that day ever comes =)

[deleted account]

My parents, who are in their 70s, always annoy me by referring to someone's race for no apparent reason at all "eg I went to see the Vietnamese dentist today" or "I've got an Afghan girl coming for a violin lesson this afternoon". I get mad with them because it is... so fixated and gratuitous. They're just people - get over it!

But I wouldn't tell your boy off, for all the reasons people have said above.

Ez - posted on 02/23/2011

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I see nothing wrong with a small child describing a person by their skin colour. It is just another physical characteristic and there is certainly no ill-intent.

Janessa - posted on 02/23/2011

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I do not think there is nothing wrong with your son describing the color of someones skin at all. I have been called the black girl I do not find it racist at all and I also called somone white girl or white boy. I mean I live in Canada it is not as racist as in America. But it is racist up north I do not get people being racist to me as much as a native person or an asian person I have seen and heard it with my own eyes :( I remember when I was a young child someone told me to go to back to Africa and I told them to go back to Europe that was it and that boy never picked on me again.

[deleted account]

I don't think it's offensive to describe someone by their looks. But in a racist environment, using skin color to describe a person is walking a fine line. If the OP lived in a less racist area, there probably wouldn't be an issue. But because she is surrounded by racism, she's treading a slippery slope when it comes to teaching her son acceptable forms of desciptions when it comes to other people. I am positive there was no ill intent on her son's part when he said "brown boy". My only reason for thinking she should address it (maybe in a roundabout way) is because I think that in her situation, it would be very easy for her son to fall prey to the racist attitudes that surround him. So from a very early age, she has to teach him other ways of describing people that won't ever possibly cross any lines. I hope that makes sense. I feel like I just rambled lol

Sharon - posted on 02/23/2011

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I read most of the comments. To those who think its offensive to describe someone by their looks.

Um how do you communicate to someone else when you don't know their name and there are no discerning characteristics?

Did you really expect her son to tell his mom "hey mom, kid A was really nice and kid B had great toys." and 1. think the small child was capable of such a generic labeling? and 2. expect his mother to know which child he was talking about? A or B could have been either child.

To the OP - I understand where you are coming from - I think a simple "we don't refer to people by their color, if you don't know their names, you can ask, or refer to their hair color or even their shirt colors."

Charlie - posted on 02/23/2011

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I am "brown" I have no problem with anyone using that as a way to describe me .

Your son had no malice behind his comment he was simply describing a person just as he described the other as a
" blonde " boy .

In this instance I don't think anything needs to be made of it .

Merry - posted on 02/23/2011

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My brother is half black half Danish and he said to me once, there's white people and black people but I think I'm more brown, or maybe golden! He was about 5 at the time :)
I have a friend who is so very very black, darker then anyone I know, he says 'I'm not African American, I'm black american, or you can just call me the darkness'
I know quite a few black people who hate being called African Americans because they feel that insinuated mixed loyalties for Africa and America. They say I'm just American, black American.
I hate it when papers ask for race, they say
White, african American, Hispanic, asian, Alaskan, pacific islander, bi-racial, and other
I mean seriously? All European and European mixes are just white? I put down bi racial sometimes cuz I'm German and Irish but usually I put other.
It's like every race gets so much respect except for the fair skinned races. We are all just white.

I think that your son was fine to say that, it might be better just to tell him to use cloth colors or other features like glasses, freckles, etc.
But honestly, we can hope that one day soon no one will think twice about calling people by their defining characteristics, it's just some still carry pain from the past and sometimes it's just nicer to cater to their feelings.

Rosie - posted on 02/23/2011

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i don't think there is anything wrong with what your child did, and i don't feel you need to do anything to correct it. i feel pointing out differences only makes the differences more obvious. when asked about differences of course explain the best way you know how, that everyone is different, but to make a deal out of it when there doesn't need to be isn't something i would do.

JuLeah - posted on 02/23/2011

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I don't think your kid was acting racists .... we live in a very very racists country. This is not just Alabama. To deny that a perons with white, brown, or black skin has white brown or black skin seems odd .... For years I used a wheelchair and I disliked being called a wheelchair, but I have not evern been offended when I hear myself refered to as white, or dark blond, or short (well, that one I don't like) .... I have been standing next to folks of color and refered to as "The White Woman" on several occation ... I can only speak for me. As a person who is white, I don't have a clue how your question might be answered by a person of color.
I kind of think that pointing out to your son your discomfort with him calling the kid brown, would do more to plant the idea that something is wrong with being brown.

[deleted account]

It's a leap to think he'll go from saying "brown" to "n*****" Obviously if the "n-word" is said, it needs to be addressed. I remember saying it when I was five after I'd heard it on the school bus. I had no idea what it meant or that it was wrong. I didn't get in trouble for saying it, but my dad and I had a real heart to heart that day. "Brown boy" is totally innocent. In my case, "n*****" was innocent that day, but I quickly learned not to use the word again. I understand your concern and I wouldn't fault you for having a little chat with him about the use of the word. But I think you are over-reacting to think that he is learning racists habits or values for simply using the word "brown."



@Kelly, I wish I could click "helpful" 20 times on your post. I agree 100% that when we can say, "Black" "Native" "Hispanic" or whatever without flinching or worrying if someone is offended then we have truly conquered racism. Why do we flinch when hearing those words?

Jenni - posted on 02/23/2011

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I do honestly feel racism comes down to intentions. Although it's hard to prove intent. When describing someone by the color of their skin I don't feel that's racist. But I see how it could depend on the situation or the individuals. If where you live minorities are use to be discriminated against they are probably going to be more apt to take it the "wrong way".

I've used skin colour to describe a person to a person of the same skin colour, as in... the other black guy in our class. What's his name again? It was never taken as racist... because there were no other black people in the class. So it was a distinguishing feature that stood out. I would also use... the kid with the glasses, the girl with blonde hair and freckles etc. I've tried in similar situations to use other describing words for the person and would always get sideways glances from my black friends who would ask: "Do you mean the black guy? You can say it you know..." *red*

Danielle - posted on 02/23/2011

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@ Kelly~ I see what you are saying. But what happens when he does hurt a child's feelings (whether he's black, brown, red or even overweight) and then their parent comes to me jumping down my throat? I've seen it happen with my own eyes. It almost came to blows. That is one of the reasons why I'm being so careful.

[deleted account]

I understand why many women here don't see a problem with using skin tone to describe someone, but it can be offensive to others or the actual person.

Well maybe those people should not find such harmless things offensive. Its is they that have the issue of racism. It goes both ways. The people who are racist, and those who assume racism.

Danielle - posted on 02/23/2011

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I'm not saying that calling him brown was the biggest issue. No I don't want him to offend anyone but I'm worried about the next step. What if it's the N word next? Ppl around here say that word without thinking. For goodness sakes my 88 yr old grandmother says it. They use to be bad about saying it in my house but learned real quick that if it does slip out they better duck cuz I'm throwing the closest thing to me at you..whether it be a toy or a coke bottle (not at my grandmother of course lol) My kids know it's a bad word but how can you show them its wrong when ppl they look up to and want to be like talk like that? My brother and I weren't raised like that. Our parents taught us that everyone was equal. But somewhere along the way my brother started hanging out with "rednecks" and he became changed his point of view. I don't want my son to turn out like that. The issue is cutting it off before it happens. I will talk to my son about describing clothes though..that's an idea I had not thought of.

Joanna - posted on 02/23/2011

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I just don't get why we have to use physical characteristics to describe people. I see more to someone than their color or size - so I call them by their name. Color has nothing to do with it, which is why I don't use it.

[deleted account]

Children are innocent and its being descriptive.I would say to my daughter who has said this too, i would like if you went over and asked there names and then come to me and tell me who you are playing with.She happily does& comes back to me.She doesnt say it in front of the other children but as a mother i want to teach her to not refer to the children by colour but by name or i say if you dont know there name say the girl there for example the girl with the red dress.I have no problem being descriptive but many feel different, but we are there to teach our children other ways to go about saying things.Not that being descriptive is wrong .I agree many can be upset by others referring to them as the "brown one" or the "white one"etc.Why i dont personally get but its there feelings and who am i to say different.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 02/23/2011

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For children, I do believe this is innocent. My son said the same exact thing about going to play with a "brown" girl. I also and sooooooooo not racist...and this bothered me quite a bit. I talked to him later in as much depth as a 4 yr old could handle about different skin colors. It is difficult, espicially if you do not live in an area populated like a melting pot. Keep doing what you are doing, and when he/she hears racial slurs....explain what the truth of the matter is.

Joanna - posted on 02/23/2011

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I understand why many women here don't see a problem with using skin tone to describe someone, but it can be offensive to others or the actual person. Just like I hated when people would call me skinny, they might hate being referred to in such a way. So go over with your son appropriate ways to describe people, such as the suggestion of what they were wearing. Also work on learning names with him. He's so young that eventually asking someones name right off the bat will catch on.

Louise - posted on 02/23/2011

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I don't think you have a reason to worry, your son was describing the lad the best way he knew how. He was not being demeaning or rude. His actions were innocent and child like. Let this one go.

Brandi - posted on 02/23/2011

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I see no problem with it. The "brown" kid probably described him as "the white kid" to his parent. Doesn't mean anything racist. Obviously they can tell neither of you are racist if you are allowing him to play with the kid, and he chose to play with the "brown" kid. :)

Jackie - posted on 02/23/2011

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I agree with Julianne on this one. I don't see the problem with calling someone "black or brown". I mean, I don't take offense if someone calls me "white".

Although, I do understand your concern because I battle the same thing in my house. I do not use derogatory terms but the SO does occasionally and I swear I'll beat him over the head if he says stupid things like that in front of my kiddos.

But again, I wouldn't worry about using "descriptive" words.

[deleted account]

I don't think describing someone by their color is racist, its obvious they have a different color skin. People call white people white all the time, we say blonde woman or tall man, or even woman or man! Why not black or brown person. People go too far with the race card.

[deleted account]

First of all, I think it's awesome that you're trying to break the cycle of racism. It's obviously something that will take many, many generations to stop (and sadly, it will never be completely gone) but it's people like you who are trying their hardest to raise their children to be accepting of everyone....that's what's going to keep making things better.

I think in this situation, since your son's father is (or can be) racist, you have to have a talk with your son. It doesn't sound like he was trying to be discriminatory, only using the best description he knew how. But I agree with Nicole that maybe working with him on remembering names is the way to go. Or explain to him that when he's trying to describe someone, start off with their clothing. Would him saying, "The boy in the red shirt" have been better? I really don't know how else to advise you. It's not something I've faced yet. But kudos to you for doing what you can, for recognizing the potential problem and being proactive in trying to solve it.

Nicole - posted on 02/23/2011

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As someone who is bad at remembering names, I can understand describing someone by some physical characteristic, esp after you've just met them

Maybe you could set remembering names as a goal for the both of you. Suggest trying to use the person's name a few times after you've first learned it. That will make the name easier to remember.

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