Racial Awareness for Toddlers?

K. Emily Bond
9

young children and race

Flickr photo by CdePaz

We live in Andalucia, a region in southern Spain that was once ruled by the Moors where the topic of race is ... well, it’s just different here. Or rather, my way of experiencing race is different. Most of the time.

First off, I must explain.

My son is, as the Spaniards say, ¡que rubio! like his father, as in blond. His skin is several shades lighter than my own and his eyes are green, like my mother’s.

When he’s out with his dad, he looks like a white kid, to be perfectly honest. When he’s out with me, sometimes we’ll get a double take. Whenever this happens, I must restrain myself from yelling out, "I’m not his nanny, goddamn it!" There’s my history with race, rearing its head.

I do realize, of course, that as the biracial son of an African-American mother and British-Australian father growing up in Spain, my little 16-month-old Ezra is the living embodiment of this “post-racial society” we keep hearing so much about. Wherein my racial memories are very specific, his will be -- well, who’s to say?
 
Nevertheless, when I came across a story on CNN about the doll study, the comments of one of their iReporters, Omekongo Dibinga, gave me pause. She said, "My daughters are 4 and 2 years old. I didn't realize that at 2 years old I'd have to start teaching them to be proud of their skin color."

Dibinga’s comments made me think about a little black girl we see from time to time on the playground. She stands out for me because she’s usually the only black girl there, something I can relate to since I was so often the lone African-American in class or, when I got older, at a party.

Also, because whenever my son sees her, he inexplicably attacks her. He’s going through a bit of a face-grabbing stage right now and doesn't discriminate, per se. Pretty much all girls risk the wrath of his claw. And boys, if they don’t hand over their galletas. We’re working on it.

Culturally, the little girl from the playground won't grow up with the same racial concerns that I did. She, like us, is an immigrant, which is an entirely new can of worms. But when my son singles out this particular little girl, it does make me worry -- and, truth be told, a bit angry. Does he go after her because she looks different from the other children on the playground? Does the color of his skin and texture of his hair make him somehow different from me, his own mother? The answer to that last one is a definite no. But the former ... I’m not so sure.

When Ezra goes after this little girl, I want nothing more than to fold her into my arms to tell her how beautiful she is, instead of telling my son for the umpteenth time to be gentle. But I know it goes much deeper than teaching him to be gentle and kind to his fellow playmates. It’s an opportunity to start instilling awareness sooner rather than later.

And it's an opportunity for me, as a mother, to start evaluating my own feelings about race, a cultural experience that I carry with me no matter where I am in the world.

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