Why I use the words ’Black’ and ‘White’ versus ‘brown’ and ‘peach’

crayola skin tone crayonsby Sachi Feris

In Raising Race Conscious Children’s interactive workshops, participants practice explicitly naming race. I have gotten a lot of questions about the utility of using the words “Black” and “White” as part of the strategy to name race with young children:

“Isn’t it more appropriate to use words that more accurately describe our skin tones?”

“Since race is a social construct, aren’t we reinforcing the construct by using the words ‘Black’ and ‘White?’”

In one of my first blog posts for Raising Race Conscious Children, I shared how I name race when reading children’s books with my daughter. As I modeled in this post, I most definitely talk about skin tone. For example,

“This little girl has brown skin.”

“This boy has peachy colored skin.”

Or, in my daughter’s case when she challenged me to describe her skin color, “Your skin is like the color of a brown egg shell.”

But I usually continue these “skin tone” observations as follows:

“This little girl has brown skin…that people call ‘Black.’”

“This boy has peachy colored skin…that people call “White.’ We are White, too, but your skin is more like the color of a brown egg shell.”

People always want to know is if there is a right or wrong regarding the use of “Black” and “White” versus “brown” and “peach.” My answer is to start where it feels comfortable. If that means someone starts with skin tone, then that is where s/he starts. Transparently noticing skin tone and/or race is a step towards undoing color blindness.

But this is why I often use words that name both skin tone and race:

As a White person, I want my daughter to know that she is White. I don’t want Whiteness to be invisible for her. I don’t want to reinforce Whiteness as the norm. I don’t want her to have to get to college before she learns, as I did in college for the first time, that there is a thing called White privilege that is a daily reality.

Join Raising Race Conscious Children for an interactive workshop to practice this proactive strategy of explicitly naming race.

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Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in BrooklynSachi identifies as White and is a mother to a three-year-old daughter and soon-to-be newborn son.