Candid Chatter

Just Say It

Help if You Can! December 8, 2008

Filed under: Life... The Way I See It — candidchatter @ 5:04 pm

My daughter has said a couple of things lately that have unnerved me. The first time I asked her “who taught you that”. She said “so & so did”. I asked my husband to talk to so & so and get this straightened out.

Well so & so works a lot and my husband works a lot and the connection wasn’t made in a timely manner. We figured our daughter had forgotten all about it and instead of making an issue out of something that may have disappeared we decided to ignore the elephant in the room.


Brianna is four. She has never been exposed to prejudism at home. We don’t describe people by the color of their skin. This is a very sensitive issue especially considering we live in such a diverse environment. People of color reside all over Florida. We don’t call African Americans black, Latin Americans brown, or caucasians white. We are careful to describe someone without considering appearance unless it’s necessary and then we start with identifying clothing or hair/eye color/style. Not skin color. Ever.


Brianna told me “that black boy” who lives down the street. What? That who? Who taught you to call someone black? “So & so did”. Unbelievable. “Brianna, we do not describe people by the color of their skin. The fact that his skin is darker than yours makes no difference. Do not let me hear you say that ever again.” That was a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday night she said “I like that black teacher in my class at church”. There is that word again. This time Rich heard her say it too. We both started the lecture. She got really upset and I figured out why through a series of questions. She really likes this student teacher a lot and she was upset that we thought she had said something mean about him. We had to explain gently that we know she meant no harm in what she said, but that we do not describe people by the color of their skin. Ever. Does this boy have a name? “Yes, it’s so & so”. From now on you call him by his name we tell her. Ok she agrees.

Today I was trying to sneak out the door to get the mail without the ankle biters following me. There were two adorable kids walking down the street — brother and sister — coming home from school. My kids came running out the front door (guess I’m not as good at sneaking as I used to be) and they said “who are they Mom?”. I said “they’re our neighbors”. I told them to say hello and we all said our hellos. The boy said “we aren’t your neighbors because we live way down that street”. He was a cutie-pie and I played along. No sense in arguing with him. He may have been a whole 7 years old. Cute.

I got the mail and started to herd the children up the driveway into the house. Just as I got halfway up the driveway and the two school kids got to the corner by the stop sign (which I can see out of my front window as I type this to you) Brianna says in a loud and not-so-joyful tone of voice “but they’re BLACK Mom”. I quickly glanced their direction to see if there would be a reaction because I was so sure they heard her and then I snapped “so the heck what Brianna — what does that have to do with anything? — get in that house NOW girlie — we need to have another talk I see”. I was livid and very, very embarrassed. I wanted to run over to those kids and explain that she doesn’t understand what she’s saying and that so & so said “black” once to her and she just doesn’t mean anything hurtful by it. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m (gulp) so very sorry please don’t tell your mom about this.

I keep looking out my window expecting an adult to pull up in my driveway any minute with two crying kids in tow to ask me to my face to explain why her kids are crying. I have quite an imagination.

What do we do? Obviously so & so really does need to be made aware of what has transpired in the careless statement that was made in the presence of our daughter. The elephant can no longer be ignored. But then what do we do with Brianna?

Help!! Seriously. HELP!!!!


15 Responses to “Help if You Can!”

  1. Will_nottheactor Says:

    My humble 2 cents, let her know that while she may not have meant it to be mean, when you talk about someon by their skin color, it can make someone sad and hurt their feelings. It’s no different than calling someone a name, and just like she wouldn’t like to be called a name, like stupid (insert what ever “name” you think would get the point across), they don’t want to be described by their skin color. You CAN talk about them by the color of their clothes, like that boy in the black t-shirt and blue jeans, or wearing a red hat, but never, ever their skin color.

  2. Joe Blackmon Says:

    Well, I’ll preface this by saying that I’m pretty simple minded when it comes to discipline. If it were my child i would spank them. I know psychologists tell us it’s not effective but I got my butt tanned a few times and I turned out ok except for those voices in my head that say “Kill ‘zem. Kill ‘zem all before it’s too late.” But I don’t hear those as often if I take my Cymbalta regularly.

    Seriously, that’s what I’d do given the age of the child.

  3. candidchatter Says:

    Will: Good advice. Thank you.

    Joe: I am not opposed to spanking my kids. But I don’t think this is one of those moments since she isn’t being malicious. She has been misinformed and so we’re trying to figure out a way to not make this a big deal yet nip it in the bud before it gets ingrained in her mind. Tough balance though.

    My friend, Janean, gave me another excellent idea over the phone when I told her about this. I’m going to try it too. Rich also thinks it might just work. We are going to buy a magazine and practice describing the different people in the pictures with our kids without noting their skin color. Oh how I hope this works.

    Any more suggestions? We are open to anything — esp if you’ve experienced this as a parent too.


  4. Heidi: I grew up in such a diverse area of the country (suburb of Pittsburgh) that comments made on color were common. There were those, like my father, who used the “n” word to describe a race of people. My mother taught me differently. I pastored churches in diverse areas also. We tried hard to be non-prejudiced while raising our kids and feel we did a pretty good job. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) we never had the problem you are having. Sorry I can’t say, “here is what I would do.” I do think you and your hubby are taking a good approach. Patiently sitting down and talking to Bree is good.

    On another subject: a 9 month pregnant mom trying to sneak out of the house? Now that would be interesting to see! πŸ™‚

  5. Ivan Says:

    Race politics is very different over here (in the UK), and so is general vocabulary, so this will come over as naive and/or offensive probably.

    Ethnicity is a fairly salient characteristic of a human being, even without the politics. Do you have non-taboo ways to describe a person’s ethnicity? Or is describing ethnicity taboo in itself? If it is, and there are objective reasons for that, the child has to know and know why; asap I should think.

    We don’t live in a very racially mixed part of the country, but our son is lucky to go to a racially well-mixed school. Also it helps that I have a funny foreign name, even though I’m white. I think those factors have been the main ones in normalising ethnicity, but we’ve used race to describe people, just like one uses hair colour to describe people. That means ethnic features are not marked at all (I mean he doesn’t think of them as a different kind of feature).

    My vocab is fairly robust — I say “black” and “white” — but I don’t think “black” is derogatory over here. I think there are separate neutral and derogatory words for most racial types. Obviously you have to gauge who you’re talking to.

    If Brianna’s problem is more attitude than vocabulary you need to get her some African-American friends.

  6. Heidi…you know I don’t often give words of wisdom! πŸ™‚ HA!

    But, in this case, I have absolutely none to give, and I don’t know that any of us can or should. These are your children and only you and Rich really know how to teach them effectively. We may have input and ideas or suggestions, but those aren’t nearly as important as what you know is best.

    I think the magazine idea is a good one. I think the constant reminders and correction is also good. I do agree with Joe, there may come a time when the only answer is a swift rod to the backside–remembering the Scripture about sparing the rod. Swift, constant, and consistent–the best way to discipline your children.

  7. Joe Blackmon Says:

    You’re probably right–a spanking might be over the top. I tend to be the “spank ’em all and let God sort ’em out” type, though. My wife is the patient one. Haa

  8. Will_nottheactor Says:

    Steve, just wait…when God said to raise each child as they are bent, He wasn’t kidding, and they bend every which way you can imagine, and sometimes ways you can’t even fathom.

    Many times I wish I had someone to ask advice on raising my kids, but fortunately, my mother-in-law is very wise, and my wife asked her often. Just remember Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

  9. Tony York Says:

    I know things are different depending on your community, but I don’t understand why we can describe someone by their hair color or eye color but not their skin color. Doesn’t that just propagate the thought that being certain colors are less attractive?

    I am so happy to live and work in a racially diverse area. The differences are to be celebrated not marginalized. I understand the history and the civil disunity that has made this a hot topic but instead of alleviating these issues from generation to generation we continue to reinforce it by giving special recognition to our differences in a negative way.

    Black is beautiful. As are brown, red, tan, gray, yellow, white, olive or whatever shade of skin someone happens to carry. I did not choose my skin nor did my neighbor. God chose it and it is beautiful.

    I think that when we focus on an attribute such as skin color, we make our children hypersensitive to that subject. I can relate because I have seen the hypersensitivity that people have to my handicapped daughter. Should those parents tell their children not to describe my daughter as the girl in the wheelchair? NO. In fact, its the easiest way for me to let people know whose parent I am. I tell them, my daughter is the one in the wheelchair. They know exactly who I am talking about at that point.

    I have been in situations where people have been afraid to use skin color as a descriptor… so it goes something like this:

    “They have brown CURLY hair and BROWN eyes. You know what I mean. And they are not white.”

    Does that make any sense?

    We are fortunate that we have a wonderful black family that lives across the street. I purposely didn’t call them African-American because the father is from France and would not choose to be called African-American. Our children have played and spent time with each other and not once have we ever had to have a conversation about race. It was never a focus. They were people that had a different shade of skin color, a different shade of eye color, and different shade of hair color. More importantly they were people and we have enjoyed having them as neighbors and friends.

    I don’t know your community so I don’t know what would cause sparks and what wouldn’t. So I don’t know how I could give you any advice for your particular circumstances. (Even though I have gone on another rabbit trail here on your blog).

    Maybe when she says something about the color of (skin, hair, eyes) you could reinforce how beautiful that color is and that we should be thankful that God made us in so many wonderful ways. (“Should be thankful for” instead of “shouldn’t call them that” – a positive versus a negative). Of course, you could always ask your neighbors how they feel about the situation. πŸ™‚

    I will be praying for God’s wisdom for you.

  10. candidchatter Says:

    I am the hypersensitive one because I have seen many people get hurt by racial slurs. I have also seen women called “fat” by kids and it crushed them. I don’t tell my kids “the fat guy” or “the fat lady” either. I try very, very hard to keep from negatively describing a person. Now, I don’t believe “black” is a racial slur or a negative descriptor. However, I don’t like how it sounds coming out of my daughter’s mouth when there should be a better way in her mind of describing someone. And until “so & so” said whatever was said in her presence she did NOT describe people by the color of their skin. The thought never entered her mind. I was quite proud of that. Very pleased, in fact. But she has embarrassed me now and as I sat just today in a car repair place getting my brakes worked on I was so thankful Jeremy was with me and not Brianna because there was a little boy there who was so cute and funny and if she had called him “black” I would have wanted to crawl in a hole. Everything kids do reflects back on their parents. Everything. It’s not just an issue of what she is saying. It is also an issue of what people might perceive her home environment as.

    Would it bother me if a person of color called me “that white lady”. Probably not. But would it bother them to hear my 4 year old call their child “that black boy”? I don’t know. Not a chance I want to take.


  11. daphne Says:

    I do not have time to read comments now but def. will asap.
    I asked my (black) husband what he thought because I thought yall were being ridiculous. He agreed.

    Your daughter said she liked the black teacher, not she did not like her because she was black.

    Black people know they are black. Almost every one in my family is aware they are black. ; ) As long as your children do not think black people are not as good as white people, I say call a spade a spade.

    If you want to talk more about this, drop me an email. Grace & Peace, (white)daphne

  12. candidchatter Says:

    Daphne: I am SO GLAD you responded here. I was going to e-mail you if you hadn’t. I also have friends who I intended to ask about this when I saw them next. Thank you!!!


  13. Patricia Blackmon Says:

    Okay, I just read my husband’s comment. Can I just say, “what?!” I agree with Steve, you and your husband know your child best. You know what works and what doesn’t. However, I think the magazine idea is CERTAINLY a very good approach. Our daughter had trouble when she was younger knowing which gender pronoun to use (he/she, him/her, etc.) That’s what we did (using her story books) to help her. You sound like very conscientious parents. Just keep teaching her, she’ll learn. By the way–LOVE your blog!!!!!

  14. candidchatter Says:

    Patricia: Welcome to my lil’ blogarific. Thank you for commenting and for the compliment on the blog. πŸ™‚


  15. Alison Says:

    Okay, really quick let me just add this point. Heidi – Bree is 4!!!! Kind of parallel to what Daphne said, they do know they are black, and even if they heard her say it – they can see by her age that she isn’t being ignorant/rude/malicious/anything negative. Obviously there are people out there that don’t care who it comes from….so….there I’m at a loss. (Just to make this clear, I’m not saying I’m right – just point out another p.o.v.)

    Go with your gut and be consistent! You and Rich will do the right thing. It will stick with her eventually!

    Oh, and personally, if there was something said around Regan that I didn’t like I would have gone back to that person. Just a little reminder that little ears hear everything and if they want to speak that way around anyone then they can explain the “slur” to your 4 year old. It might make them think before they speak around little people again – then again, some people don’t care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s