Race conscious talk as a daily practice: A day with my 11-month old
This is an account of the daily opportunities I have to be race conscious versus “color blind” with my children.
My 11-month-old baby loves ducks. So when he woke up fussy from a two-hour morning nap (on a day my older daughter was in camp), I put him in the baby carrier and left the house with little more than an extra diaper. We headed to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden but we when arrived, the garden was closed. My son had been quacking excitedly during our mile-long walk. Now, not wanting to disappoint him, I plowed on, walking another mile toward the Prospect Park Lake.
We neared the lake, as I assured my sweaty baby, and he pointed vigorously to a couple of statues.
“Those look like they are statues of White men,” I told my baby, as I have been doing since he was an infant. “I’m not sure who they are but most of the statues that were built a long time ago to honor someone for something important they did in history are of White men—but women and people with brown skin also have done lots of important things in history (or we can say herstory!) so it’s not fair that all the statues are of White men.”
“Quack,” my 11-month-old responded, pointing to a bird on top of the statue’s head.
“Ah,” I now understood he was pointing at the bird, not at the statue. “That’s not a duck, that’s a bird. Birds go more like ‘tweet tweet’ not “quack quack.’”
We arrived at the lake and were rewarded with geese, ducks, and two swans before I headed us in the direction of the subway to return home.
On the subway platform, we saw a little girl with brown skin playing with a White superhero figure while waiting for subway.
“That’s a superhero,” I quietly chatted to my baby from 15 feet away. “And I notice that the superhero looks like it’s a man (though it could be a woman with short hair!) and that he has skin we call ‘White’ like us. Most of the super heroes seem to be White men—so it’s just like the statues—it’s unfair because women and people who have brown skin can also be super heroes.”
We got on the subway and saw another little girl who we heard speaking Spanish. She was eating ice cream. The little girl had brown skin and brown eyes and the ice cream popsicle had pink “skin” and blue eyes.
“Look,” I commented to my baby. “Even the ice cream character is “White” (with blue eyes).”
Walking out of our train station, we saw a little boy who was White walking with Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story.
“Amazing,” I told my son. “Another toy with White skin. Most of the toys that are made are White. I want the toys and dolls to look like all of the different children in New York City…when you are bigger, you can help change this by writing letters and telling other people about how unfair this is.”
When my daughter was born, I taped over the pictures of the White babies on the two plastic wet wipe boxes that we had near our diaper-changing areas. My rationale was that my White daughter would be exposed to countless images in the media that reflected her skin color and “race” so I wanted the images she saw on the wet wipe boxes to be an opportunity to have her see children with brown skin.
Fast forward four years: the picture of a brown-skinned girl that I had taped over one of the White babies was falling off—and my daughter asked about it.
“When you were a baby, I decided to tape over the White baby on the box because most of the advertisements we see are of White people and that isn’t fair. In New York City we see people who have paler skin we call White, like us, and people who have brown skin who call themselves Black like our friends Lisa and Miro or Indian like our friend Dee, and people who call themselves Asian like your friend Samantha—and I want you and your brother to see all people with all different shades of skin, not just White people.”
Recently, the hinge on the top of the box of wet wipes broke, so I took my children to the pharmacy to buy a box.
“Oh,” my daughter noted. “But the baby on the box is White.”
“True,” I agreed. “The baby has pale skin and is probably White. Most of the advertisements have White people…would you like to cover it with another picture of another baby to make things more fair?”
“Yes,” she agreed.
Every day, every hour, I make a choice to be race conscious for my children.
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, small group workshop series, and individual consultations on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a four-year-old daughter and almost one-year-old son.