I think as we had kids I was very aware of race and not wanting to foster any racial bias in our kids. At first, I think I took the stance of don't let them think we are even different. If I was to refer to a child who was of a different race, I would refer to his shirt or shoes as a describing word instead of his skin. I thought this was beneficial so I didn't "teach" that the child is different than us. But what I am realizing now, is that stance is assuming different is bad. How arrogant to think that. I realized this also in the airport coming back from Brazil. There was a child in front of us with a deformity on his face. Our kids immediately noticed and commented on it. Instead of quieting them quickly and getting really nervous, like usual, I tried to coach them through it non-chalantly. I tried to point out the difference and talk about how it is exactly as God had intended for him to be, how God wanted to use him in a way he could never use us, how God wants to look around and see all these differences and unique things about us as a reflection of him. This is the same for race.
Our kids are going to notice differences in skin color, just like they know red is a different color than purple. The more we avoid the topic and pretend there are no differences or they don't matter, that is just another form of racism we will pass on to our kids.
When we began the journey to adopt, I started showing pictures of African children to Reese and Wheeler. One picture I showed Wheeler was of a 2 or 3 year old boy smiling really big. Wheeler said "Mom, he looks just like me!". I was excited to see Wheeler just see a smiling boy about his age, and see the similarities between them. When I showed Reese (mind you this was right in the middle of last summer so we were rocking our summer tan) she said "is that about what sister will look like?" I explained not exactly but she would look similar to this girl in some ways and different in others. Reese says "Wow mom, Sister has really been out in the sun a lot!". She recognized her skin got darker from the sun and assumed this was the same. We talked about how God makes our skin just how he wants it, how God even protects us because in Africa it is close to the equator and darker skin isn't as damaged by the sun as ours. We talked about how boring it would be in the world if we all looked the same color hair, same color skin, same size. How difference is a reflection and a peek into more of God's beauty and character. This was a defining moment for me in parenting. I realized it is fine to name it out loud that a child has darker skin than us. That is just a fact. The more I avoid this, the more I am prolonging racism in our family instead of describing how it is beautiful and exactly how God wanted it. This is not however how our society often looks at it, so it is a little shift from society. I know it will be a delicate balance once we bring our next two home from Congo, to recognize and celebrate the differences without making them feel ostracized or so different that they don't belong. Colorblindness, however, is not the way we will choose to handle it.
I just ordered some books off Amazon I am super excited about. I think we should all have racially diverse books in our kids libraries even if we aren't adopting. It is great to expose our kids at a young age that we are all on level ground and recognize and celebrate our differences and how God has made us all unique and beautiful.
It is actually pretty depressing once I started to try and bring diversity in our home even through toys. The black barbie selection is about 1 to every 20 choices. Up until 2010 there wasn't even a black Disney princess to choose from. The black baby doll selection is ridiculous and the babies they do have "of color" are extremely light brown or hispanic skin tones. It is so sad to me what our consumeristic culture is teaching about race.
Please read this blog post on teaching our kids about race. It is very thought provoking on the messages we are sending our kids about race... Here is an excerpt...
Parents, teachers, babysitters... are we taking the time to talk about racial issues with our children? Are we teaching our children tolerance? Are we teaching our children that it's okay to talk about race and to ask the hard questions about race? Are we teaching them that our differences are beautiful and not something to use against each other to make each other feel bad? Are we creating environments in our homes that allow children to have an open dialouge about racial issues? I hope so. I know that I can't shelter my son from all the jokes, slurs and hatred that will come his way just because of the color of his skin. But I can hope and pray that this generation of moms and dads will be the generation who takes the time to teach our children about race and diversity. Talking with your children about tolerance and the differences in race and culture does not make you a racist- it make you a good parent. Do it.