Scrolling through Instagram recently, I came across a post that bothered me so much, I have to address it here.
It was from a mom who said that her daughter told her, “Yesterday I played with a really nice black girl,” and the mom was mortified, and commented that she’d failed as a parent.
She replied to her daughter, “That’s not nice,” and then admitted that her daughter was confused by this comment from her mom.
As it turned out, the little girl was describing the color of her new friend’s dress, which was black, not the girl’s skin, so the mother commented that “all was right again in the world.”
And the flurry of comments went like this: “I knew there had to be an explanation! Nothing like that would ever come out of one of your children’s mouths.”
And: “Such a sweet story! I love your backbone!”
My heart hurt reading the mom’s response to her daughter, when she thought she was describing her new friend’s skin color - of course the little girl was confused!
How is that “not nice” to describe someone based on a physical feature that is different from their own? Or different from all the others in her circle?
Especially when you’re talking about a young child - before they’ve had exposure to a variety of experiences and all different people, and before their language is mature enough to capture other descriptors besides a physical feature.
Describing someone by the way they look - especially when it differs from those in a child’s inner circle - is completely normal, especially when you’re talking about a young child.
The mom went on to say that she’s so happy that her kids don’t even see skin color and that she hopes they remain that way forever.
I used to pride myself on being “color blind,” which is what the mom in the post is clearly wanting for her children.
But as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I realize I am not color blind.
And we shouldn’t be.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging that there are people of all different colors in this world.
It’s these differences - along all the other ways we are different from each other, in the way we look, and act, and celebrate, and mourn - that make the fabric of this big, wide world rich with texture.
It’s what makes us interesting and glorious.
It’s when an opinion is drawn about a person based on their skin color that there is a problem.
Instead of being color blind, why can’t we acknowledge that we are all different in the way we look, but that that doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever on how we each conduct our lives as part of the human race?
What if this woman’s daughter had said, “Today I played with a girl with red hair.”
I doubt she would have said to her, “That’s not nice.”
But the premise is the exact same: her daughter is describing someone, using her age-appropriate frame of reference and age-appropriate bank of describing words.
But because her daughter wasn’t describing a skin color, I’d bet a million dollars her mom wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
The trouble is, by telling her daughter, “that’s not nice,” for what the mom thought was her daughter describing her friend based on skin color, and because of her daughter’s confusion, she went on to explain to her that it’s wrong to describe her new friend as having black skin.
By explaining this “that’s-not-nice” way of thinking to her daughter, she’s impressed upon her her beliefs about race - exactly the opposite of what she’s truly looking to accomplish.
It’s a behavior that’s indicative of the dysfunctional state we are currently in, where race is concerned.
She’s now made it “a thing” for her daughter.
Here’s what will happen next: her daughter will go to school and someone will describe someone as “a brown girl” or something along those lines, and this little girl will now think “that’s not nice,” and even further down the road - as her language continues to grow - she’ll say “that’s racist.”
But it isn’t.
She hasn’t formed an opinion or made a judgment about that person based on the color of their skin, she’s just relayed a physical fact.
Listen. I appreciate that this mom is trying to do her part in teaching her child about diversity and acceptance.
But her approach sucks.
It’s not healthy.
She’s distorted the message and she’s now feeding the beast that is our current state of hyper-sensitivity in society.
A society where we’re no longer allowed to point to a physical trait that helps create a visual picture of a subject in stories that we share with others.
A society where a child is considered “not nice” for using - in the most benign way - the physical attribute that differs from most, if not all, others in her circle to help her illustrate who she’s talking about.
A society where a mother considers herself having failed at parenting because her daughter noticed that someone has a different skin color than her own, and then verbalized that difference.
The better way to have handled this would have been to ask her daughter questions about her new friend.
To use that as an opportunity to model for her daughter - through that conversation - how wonderful it is to make new friends, and to give her daughter the chance to ask her questions that could lead to an important teaching moment.
There is nothing wrong or racist in recognizing and acknowledging there are people who have different skin colors.
It’s an exhibit of denial not to.
I’ll say this next part again because it’s important: It is when a judgment is made about a person based on that skin color that there’s a problem.
That is what is not nice.