What language should kids use when referring to Black people?

I recently got an email asking about how what words children should use when describing someone who is Black, and I thought it was a great question. With her permission I'm sharing it here.

Dear Kristen, 
I recently heard my (white) 4th-grade son refer to another kid from a soccer team as the “African” kid.  This was simply to describe who he was talking about.

My hope is that he somehow knows the term African America, and just left off “-American”  But reality is that I haven’t taught this kiddo what to say when describing others by race, or more importantly not to.  But at this age, Mexican is the word of choice.  And now I guess African too. Help?


talking about race diversity the office

Hi Vanessa, 
This is a really good question. When kids are little, it's not uncommon for them to use colors to describe the skin color of other people, using words like peach and brown. But since your son is older, it's probably time to give him the tools to use the descriptive terms that he will encounter in the world at large.

Side note - you mentioned not teaching your child that he shouldn't describe others by race, and that's actually a good thing. Race is a pretty obvious physical characteristic. It's not an insult to describe someone by their skin tone or their race, any more than it's an insult to say "the girl in my class with brown hair."  If there is one Black child on the soccer team, honestly, that was probably the most efficient and obvious differentiator and that's okay. It's problematic when we act like another person's skin topic is a taboo thing to notice or describe. (More on that here.)

But to answer your question, we use the term "Black" and I would recommend you have your son use that term, too, because it's the term most Black people in our country use to self-identify at this point. It's an awkward word to be sure, and not exactly accurate. I've never met anyone that actually had black skin - we are usually describing people with varying shades of brown or tan skin. But it's the word society uses for the most part, and so it's the word we use. We had a really candid talk with our kids when we introduced the term, and laughed a bit about how white people aren't really white either, but that these are the words that people use to describe people with certain physical characteristics. It's also a great time to pull out the map and talk about physical differences and geography.

Ultimately it's good for kids to get used to the vernacular that they will hear out in the world, and it's also good to give them the language (and comfort in that language) to be able to talk about race and racism when they are older.

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Mid-week funny: Text Me Merry Christmas

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What I want you to know about secondary infertility

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Carly.

My husband and I -- after nearly a year of trying -- conceived a beautiful, healthy daughter, who has born after an extremely difficult pregnancy.

Shortly before our marriage, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. We celebrated the gift of being able to get pregnant and carry a child to term. If I could do it once, it seemed as though there would be no problem doing it again, though we decided not to wait too long before trying to conceive another child.

I want you to know that secondary infertility comes with a unique pain that others don't quite get. Because I've been blessed with one healthy child, I should be content. There are many women who cannot conceive and carry one biological term, so I have no right to be sad when it doesn't happen the second time around.

I want you to know that once I had one child, I became part of the Mom World. I filled my days with playgroups, story times and outings with fellow moms and their children. It wasn't long before I was surrounded by moms who were celebrating growing families with the pregnancies and births of their second and third children. I fought back tears in favor of smiles as friends would announce their pregnancies after one month of trying, despite the fact that I had taken another negative pregnancy test that morning, just as I had for the past fourteen months. I threw myself into purchasing the perfect baby gifts for my friends' little ones, creating meal trains for them when their babies were born and providing them with reprieve by baby-sitting their oldest children in the hopes that all of this would somehow fulfill me.

I want you to know that because I had a child and was surrounded by fellow moms, I had also entered the world of mom-petition. As twisted as it sounds, there were some other moms who seemed to relish the fact that I was struggling with secondary infertility. They spoke condescendingly to me and enjoyed discussing pregnancy, due dates and the beauty of siblings, despite the fact that it left me sitting quietly in the room with nothing to offer.

I want you to know how much it meant to me when other moms showed sensitivity to our situation, and didn't spend their time with me asking if I thought it would inconvenience them less to deliver a baby in the spring or in the fall or complaining about morning sickness or a baby who wouldn't sleep. When they instead spent their time with me making me laugh over shared experiences and quietly reassured me that I was in their prayers, it helped ease the pain a little.

I want you to know that the ache of secondary infertility wasn't just an ache for myself, but an ache for my firstborn. I watched my little girl kiss and cuddle the newest siblings of her friends and felt broken inside. I listened to her nightly prayers for a younger sibling while silently sobbing. I hid my pain from her and went along with the idea of her pretend siblings, trying to allow her to fill the void with her imagination.

I want you to know that because I had one child, everyone assumed I could have another and playfully dropped hints to me about "getting busy." Well-meaning people would say of my daughter, "Look at her with that baby! Maybe it's time for her to have her own little sister?" Random moms at the library would make small talk with, "Are you going to have more?"

I want you to know that because I had one child but could not conceive another, people assumed there was simply something I wasn't doing right and offered their sage advice in plenty. Go Paleo. Try acupuncture. Was I sure I knew when I was ovulating? See a chiropractor. Take Clomid. Did I even understand ovulation?

I want you to know that when we decided to adopt after battling infertility, many people assumed we were settling. They would say things to me like, "Now you'll get pregnant," or "Maybe you will still have one of your own down the road." Instead of being excited about our new journey, many treated our new dream as a consolation dream.

I want you to know that my story has a happy ending. The son of my heart is home with us. My daughter has a flesh and blood sibling whom she adores and dotes on. I'm surrounded by a largely new circle of friends -- fellow adoptive moms who celebrate both of my children as gifts and can spend a play date discussing things other than which child looks like which parent and the importance of breast-feeding.

I want you to know that my son is not a consolation prize, but a beautiful, longed-for gift to his father, mother and big sister.

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16 things you learn as an adoptive family

1. You will stress out.

Adding a new life to your family is always a huge adjustment, and adoption is no exception. Sure, you may avoid the pregnancy waddle and stretch marks and hormones, but those stressors will be replaced with mounds of paperwork and anxiety as you wait for “the call.” And then you will wait some more. But oh, how it’s worth it.

2. You will never forget “the call.”

16 Things You Learn As An Adoptive Family
Or the email, in some cases, when you first hear about the existence of a child that has been matched to your family.

3. You will know what a “real mom” or a “real dad” is.

16 Things You Learn As An Adoptive Family
A real parent changes diapers and catches puke with her hands and helps with homework and worries about her kid every day. A real parent keeps their child’s best interest at heart, and supports and loves no matter what, and that has nothing to do with biology.

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The time my kids did my makeup for a Buzzfeed video

Last week a friend of mine who works for Buzzfeed asked if my kids and I wanted to take part in a video they were making. I love Buzzfeed videos. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

If my kids ever feel like I embarrass them on the internet, vengeance is theirs today.

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