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The other day, while watching a scene in a movie that pointed to racial injustice my son asked, “Mom, I notice that all the guys who ask for money on the street in our neighborhood have brown skin. Why is that?” Granted this is a kid who doesn’t see race, only shades, something I love about where we live and the fact that the community, the school doesn’t make these distinctions. Since I was unsure of my own explanation–my Achilles heel is that I tend to over-explain–I asked our resident headmaster what he would have said to see how my own answer measured up.  Here was Dr. Maksik’s answer:

“Well, first I’d say that there are lots of neighborhoods where people with white skin ask for money. Then, I’d say that sometimes we decide things about people too soon and then when we get to know them or their stories, we’re surprised. Then I’d ask him if he can remember a time when that happened to him. Then I’d say that it’s also true that for a lot of people with brown skin, it’s hard to find a job. And, when he asks why that is I’d talk a bit about how people have prejudices (and explain what they are) about those who are different from them.”

I liked that his answer was just vague and specific enough. Dr. Maksik’s answer reminds me that just enough information is enough. There will be plenty of opportunities to get into our country’s history.

I’d love to hear how some of you have answered this or some version of this question.

 

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Comments (3)

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  1. Posted by: mari

    It’s an old article but relevant.
    http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2010/02/how-to-raise-racist-kids/

    Encourage the discussion and don’t shy away from the harsh realities that our social conditioning has caused. As your headmaster stated, ” just enough information is enough. There will be plenty of opportunities to get into our country’s history.”

  2. Posted by: BrooklynGrand

    As a black mother, I always told my kids the truth. I told them about America’s racist history, from Native Americans to slavery. I explained to them that you always have to be careful because people will always be suspicious of you. If you are stopped by the police, which my son has been on numerous occassions, while carrying his LL Bean backpack and headed to his elite private school, I have told to say “yes sir” and “no sir” and keep your hands out of your pocket and most of all NEVER turn your back and run despite your fear!. So from your perspective, why don’t you tell your child how racist America still is, how there are sterotypes which will never go away, unfortunately. Try as we might to think that “we can all get along” and we can all be friends and race neutrality is possible, it’s not and never will be. Sorry to be a pessimist, you have to keep it real!

  3. Posted by: zeliejeanneadele

    In France, most people asking for money are white, but there are also a lot of people who come from Romania and don’t speak the language well, you see lots of moms with kids. It’s disturbing to my kids; we talked about it, I told them that they had a very harsh life, now and before, and that they live in terrible conditions. It’s a whole different situation over here, and history does explain a few things. (too soon to talk about the Communist block but just a few lines about that helps understand) It’s always great to try to answer these questions. French people are very racist too, and so homophobic as we haved discovered lately, that makes me really sad, and angry and ashamed!

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