controversial issue: kids & race

As I've mentioned, we are quite aware that the chances of us adopting a child from another race are high. The majority of adoptive parents in Canada are white and many aren't open to adopting a child from a different ethnicity, so there are abnormal amounts of children in foster care who are ethnic minorities.

So while I believe it's important to discuss race in an on-going and comfortable manner with all kids, in all scenarios, it will be especially important for Brad and I, given that our white kids may soon have a sibling who is, well, not.

While race used to be too discussed in the form of negative public discourse (I'm talking about decades ago where it was a-ok to voice racist sentiments on Main street) we're in a different age now and it can be just as harmful in my opinion - the age of not talking about race, ever.
Because that would be racist, right? Wait... 

Full disclosure: We have no idea!
Brad and I were both brought up in highly homogeneous white towns, and now we live in a super diverse city. Right in the middle of it. We have many friends who are Asian but few who are black. Our kids are exposed to diversity every time we leave the house, but we don't talk to them about it yet (obviously they're just babies, but it's something I'd like to plan for I think). Lily has one Cabbage Patch Kid doll, a gift from my little cousins, and she is black. My kids also have the IKEA dolls, and then the rest of their toys are cars, books, blocks, etc.

Personally, my first encounter with a kid from another race was my friend in grade 1.
I distinctly remember a substitute teacher being super hard on him one day, him crying, and me then crying too because I hated seeing him cry. Looking back, I wonder if that teacher had an issue with my friend being black? Or maybe she was just a jerk. 

Later, my pediatrician was black, and I always thought his palms were white because he washed his hands every time he walked into the examination room (like all doctors, haha!) I so badly wanted to ask him why his hands were white though the rest of him was black, but somehow I felt like that was not ok. And looking back I wonder if that was a bad sign, that I wasn't comfortable talking about race, instead of a good sign that I was "respectful enough of racial issues to not talk about it"

So what I'm wondering is,
How do you discuss race with your kids?
How did your parents discuss race and ethnicity with you?
Should parents broach the subject or wait for their kids to bring it up?
How do you integrate racial diversity in the everyday life of your kids? 
And while we're at it, do your kids have any toys/dolls/figurines that are of another race than themselves?


  1. Maggie17.4.12

    I don't have kids, obviously, but when I did my teaching placements at a very multi-cultural school in Mississauga, we addressed race and culture when it came up and never tried to turn it into a "big deal", because its a part of their life. My grade 2 class had students from Albania, Sri Lanka, India, China, Japan, Israel, etc, and they seemed aware but also unaware of race. The grade 2 social studies curriculum is celebrations and traditions, which was a perfect opportunity to discuss different races and religions within our class. We really just emphasized that we're all different, but we all bring something to the table that others can learn from or about. During a patterning activity, one of my students asked if we could pattern the class by skin colour - I said yes, because we'd done hair colour and eye colour, why not skin colour? I think avoiding the subject is what makes it feel taboo, but it's all about discussing it respectfully. :)

    1. thanks for that example Mags, it's EXACTLY what I was insinuating... I feel like it's more common to say "oh no!" to the child who wanted to order the class by race, when in reality it's about the heart behind the comment. Your kid was probably just noticing an obvious difference between himself and classmates. Just like eye colour, height, etc. Aware but unaware seems like the perfect place to be.
      ps - do you remember Dr. Bonsu!? loved him.

  2. Nakita18.4.12

    Hey Em!

    I really like using children's books to broach topics with kids. Here are some that came up with a quick google search (they are preschool-grade 2), I'm not sure if that means they'll be way too advanced for Lily or just right. I think the library system in Montréal would have some of these or others that are appropriate.

    All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka (Multiracial)
    Amazing Faces compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Multiracial)
    Bein’ With You This Way by W. Nikola-Lisa (Multiracial)
    Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse (Black/Asian/White)
    Jamaica & Brianna! by Juanita Havill (Black/Asian)
    Shades of People by Shelley Rotner (Multiracial)

    A word of caution, as I was looking up books, I came across a blog that commented on a children's book about bath time. The book used pictures of children from different races, but it started out with a black boy as the dirty child and at the end, the white baby was the clean one. The blogger clearly stated that the intention behind what they were doing was good and knows that it was not done consciously, but she also said that some kids have in the past thought that a black kid was black because they were simply dirty and needed a bath, so this is a not necessarily a helpful way to portray diversity. I.e., not all books that have pictures of different races are going to be good.

    I, personally, had a black baby doll when I was little. I loved her. She was particularly life-like (more so than a Cabbage Patch Kid doll and I really liked that). I'm not sure what other ways my parents integrated race into our lives except there was a black family that went to our church and we spent lots of time with them and their kids. Obviously, the more interactions they have with kids of a different race, the less surprising it will be for one to live with them.

    1. Id love to check out those books, thanks Nak!

  3. Hehe... I was also curious about black people's palms.
    I was extremely shy as a kid, so I think I was more afraid of asking someone just out of shyness than feeling it was inappropriate because of his race.

    I remember, as a kid, my mom telling me that someone with a different skin colour was no different on the inside. She really seemed to emphasize the "inside".

  4. Interesting thoughts! I also think it's really important to talk to children about race, ethnicity, and culture, because if we are silent, who knows what they will pick up from the media/other kids/etc.? Even though it's common to think we can't talk about race, you still hear people say some appalling things. (Example: The other day, a friend of a friend make a racist joke about Chinese men. He was embarrassed when he learned that my husband is Chinese, but really, it should never okay to make racist jokes even when everyone present is white!) Kids need to be taught that such attitudes are wrong before they start to encounter people like that.

    Anyway, somewhat on that note, I found this article really interesting regarding being intentional about what we say to and around children:

  5. Ainslie18.4.12

    I grew up in Toronto in a pretty mixed neighborhood. I don't think we ever had intentional "race talks" in my home - it was just part of life, like Maggie was saying. I'd go out with my parents and see that they would treat everyone with respect, regardless of age, gender, or race... and I think that's what made the biggest difference in terms of how I now perceive people of different ethnicities.

    When kids are young, I think it's enough to show them through the way you live that you treat everyone with equal love, respect, and interest. As they grow up though, things obviously become more complex and they need to learn about multiculturalism and ethnic diversity - that some people speak different languages at home, believe different things, dress a certain way for certain reasons... And that kind of dialogue should be free of discomfort or embarrassment. But the main thing is just what at the end of the day, regardless of how old your kids are, that they can perceive and treat others with loving respect and kindness based on the example you live out for them.

  6. I love my parents, but they taught me very little about other peoples race/cultures. It was & still is a source of tension in our household because they are racist, but think it's because they "know" everything about certain cultures and will pass judgement. So, when i was in HighSchool and dated a Black person, all hell broke loose in the Jasoomani Household. Having been a victim of racist comments i was always bothered as to how my parents could in turn treat other people the same way....

    Anyways, i LOVE people from all cultures and racial backgrounds. If the Lord blesses me with children you can be sure that they will be taught that all races were made by God, and all are beautiful. Bam! Also, i've wanted to adopt since forever, so, if that happens, i'm hoping my parents will be way more receptive.

    ps: i cannot tell you how happy, (seriously!) it made me when i saw that lilypie had a little black doll.

  7. great points, all of you.

  8. I love the diversity in our city. It's one of the reasons why we chose Montreal. Race is so difficult. Race issues exist, but I have a hard time knowing when to talk to my kids about them and which subjects to choose...I don't want to set them up with a "the world might be against me" complex, but there are certain interactions that I want to empower them for, if that makes sense.

    Luckily, kids these days aren't growing up in the world our parents, or even we, grew up in. Right now, I'm focusing on making sure that they are surrounded with positive images of themselves. It sounds crazy, but I try to make sure they see themselves in popular media as well. I remember never seeing dark-skinned people except on The Cosby Show or COPS. Ha! Eric Carle books, Princess Tiana...they're in our house right next to Rapunzel.

  9. We have that little black Ikea doll, too! His name is Jonah. :) I think it's awesome that parents like us are aware of these issues. Together we will raise loving children. :) Keep us updated on the adoption process, Emily!