bigotry, blindness, & basketball






I signed all three of my "big kids" up for a basketball class. I thought it would be really fun to put them in a class where they could learn together, so I searched for one that accepted kids age 3-5. The class was held at a upscale community center in one of the swankier areas of Newport Beach.


(I was also hoping to get India interested in something other than dressing up in princess costumes. This is here "I can't believe you are making me wear pants" face.)

As soon as I pulled up, I got a knot in my stomach. I just had this feeling - an intuition - that this may not be the most welcoming place for two black kids. I literally had this thought as I walked through the door, and had a moment where I tried to put my cynicism and paranoia in check.

The other kids started arriving, and everyone played for a little. India was suddenly feeling shy and clingy, so I was standing in the middle of the court, holding a baby and trying to loosen India's grip on my pantleg, while most parents were in the bleachers. There were two young coaches, and they called for all of the kids to circle up and hold hands.

And that's when things started to move in slow motion.

I see Jafta grab the hand of a boy nearby. We'll call him Jimmy. Jimmy looks at Jafta, and laughs nervously, and said, "That's a black kid!" Okay, no harm. He is a black kid. But then Kembe tries to hold Jimmy's other hand, and he refuses, saying "Another black kid? I don't want to hold hands with another black kid!"

I am mortified. I look at the coaches, but can't tell if they have heard. Another kid moves into the line and grabs Jimmy's hand. He reluctantly remains holding hands with Jafta. I don't think Jafta caught what he was saying. Kembe looked clueless. Since he still speaks primarily Creole, I don't think he understood. Crisis averted. Sort of?

But then . . . enter another boy. We'll call him Timmy. Kembe is still standing there looking to hold hands with someone, and it's the only opening in the circle. Timmy sees this, and the coaches encourage him to grab his hand. But Timmy says, verbatim, "No! I don't like the brown. I don't want to hold hands with the brown kid."

I am stunned. I say, to no one in particular, "We can all hold hands with each other, no matter what color." One of the coaches coaxed him to hold hands with Kembe. He is still protesting, but holds his hand and finally quiets down when the coach starts talking.

At this point, I'm having of those moments when you can feel the back of your neck getting hot, and your heart rate increasing. I was PISSED. But also, really hurt for my kids. I needed to do something. I took a deep breath and identified the parents of Jimmy (the first kid). Once the kids were distracted and playing, I approached Jimmy's dad and quietly told him what happened. Jimmy's dad got immediately defensive. He told me I was wrong - that it hadn't happened, even though he wasn't standing close enough to hear the incident. Jimmy's mom approached and when she heard what I was saying, she got even more hostile. She basically took a "how dare you suggest my son is a racist" approach. I tried to calmly tell her that I didn't think it was an indictment on her parenting or a reflection of their views. I tried to explain that kids sometimes experiment with power by being exclusive over gender, disability, and race, and that they just need encouragement to be more inclusive. She was totally angry with anything I had to say. It ended with them basically calling me a liar.

Another mom standing nearby approached me to tell me that she heard the whole incident, and that I was right. (Not sure why she couldn't say that in the presence of these other parents to back me up, but whatever).

At this point, I thought about just scooping up my kids and leaving. It's one thing to have your kids treated poorly, but it is entirely another when parents refuse to acknowledge or hold them accountable. But my kids seemed to be having fun - I'm not so sure they were even aware of what went on.

I thought about approaching the other boy's mom, but I just felt defeated from the first conversation. There have been a few times where I've had to approach a parent about this kind of behavior towards Jafta. It always goes the same way. Parents are always incredulous that their child could behave in such a way, so they accuse me of lying or exaggerating, or throw my kid under the bus as somehow "bringing it on himself". After a while, it doesn't even feel worth it to engage with other parents. It never ends well. No one wants to believe that their kid could be exclusionary about race. Even though most of us watch kids of this age spend a considerable amount of time excluding each other on gender. But somehow, people assume the school-aged sorting and exclusion game magically glosses over skin tone.

After the practice was over, the kids had some free time in the gym, and Jimmy's mom approached me again. Not in an attempt to apologize, but in an attempt to defend her kid. Because, in her words, "he needs to be protected, too". (Not sure from what).

What she said next, in my opinion, illustrates the root of the problem. She told me that her son has always been instructed to never point out another person's skin color - so she was having a hard time believing that he said out loud that my son was black. This was the point where I might have lost my patience a bit, and through gritted teeth I reminded her that he IS black, and that pointing out that he is black is perfectly fine with me and NOT AN INSULT. What was insulting is the fact that he didn't want to hold the hand of another child because he is black. Probably because he has been taught at home that saying someone is black or brown is something taboo. Therefore, the message sent is that black people are inherently problematic and scary. Too scary to even talk about or name.

Needless to say, I went home feeling pretty sad, and worried about how this dynamic will play out for Jafta as he starts school next year. I won't always be there to protect him, and teachers are not always equipped to deal with this stuff, either. I've certainly sat in a parent-teacher conference where a preschool teacher patted my hand and assured me that "these kids don't notice that stuff."

I will say this: if you read this and it makes your heart hurt a little, and if you have children of your own, think about how you can prepare them to be better citizens of the world. I truly believe that our colorblind era of denial is not serving our children well. Kids do see color - and when parents ignore it, the result is that MY KID gets to become the object lesson when parents finally recognize the narcissism and xenophobia in their own child. Children are social beings, and one of the first social lessons they learn is to sort and group. Boys hang out with boys. Girls hang out with girls. If your children shows these preferences, chances are they have racial preferences, too. This doesn't make them little racists. It doesn't mean they have a future in the KKK. It just means that they need some gentle guidance from you to be a little less self-centered. And really, is that last sentence what parenting is all about? Training our kids to move from a self-centered infant into a more respectful and empathic person . . . that's the stuff of raising kids. Racial acceptance should be a part of that.

At a certain age, all kids are prone to leaving others out based on external factors. This can be gender, race, disability, etc. I think kids need help to overcome this natural tendency to seek out "sameness". I also think they need intentionality, especially when living in non-diverse areas. The kids who were so cruel today? I bet they've never played with a black child before. They've probably never been in a situation where they were the minority - which is such a valuable experience. The parents have the privilege of thinking that none of that matters, because it doesn't affect their child.

There is a new book called NurtureShock that puts this well:

How to Raise a Racist

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that [insert your race here] is better than everybody else.

What NurtureShock discovered, through various studies, was that most white parents don’t ever talk to their kids about race. The rule is that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don’t point out skin color. We’ll say things like “everybody’s equal” but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it’s rude to talk about it.

It's kind of like the sex talk. If we never talk to our kids about sex, they are gonna have to figure it out on their own. Which will probably lead to some not-so-great influences filling in their gaps of knowledge.

So talk to your kids about race. Please. Have an ongoing and frank conversation, and observe their interactions with children who are different. Assume that they will have biases, and confront them when they emerge. Before another humiliated child becomes a public object lesson.

Oh, and by the way. Those brown boys that got rejected in the circle? They had a great time.


111 comments:

  1. I teach my kids that people come in many and varied colours and that it makes the world beautiful, like a rainbow.

    I can't believe those parents were so defensive. I'm angry and sad for you that it happened.

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  3. Completely agree with your post. You handled the situation very well.

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  4. Blargh. That irritates me so much.

    and Keri, I think she's stating a fact. If her sons did "dominate" then why can't she be proud of them? Plus this is very emotionally charged.

    I applaud you for speaking to the parents and defending your beautiful children. I think Timmy and Jimmy will quickly become friends with your boys if you keep them in the program. Kids are maleable. Timmy and Jimmy don't ever speak about race in their house, plus they probably go to a very homogenous school.

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  5. I really appreciate that you talked to "Jimmy's" parents about this. That they became defensive is unsurprising, but the way we talk to our kids (or don't) about race is important, and hopefully this incident will come back up later (between them) and they can talk about it without the defensiveness. Because it really highlights the fallacy in their not-allowed-to-mention-race-out-loud approach: as you pointed out, they are (probably inadvertently) teaching their kids that non-white=bad and scary.
    Please keep speaking up--for your kids' sake, of course, but also for the sake of Timmy and Jimmy and children like them. They deserve to be talked to about race. Another study referenced in Nurtureshock suggested that, by 3rd grade, the window had largely closed with regard to affecting children's racial attitudes. It is deeply important to talk to our young children about race.

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  6. Oh,yeah; they notice. Young. We have a biological caucasian son and three bi-racial daughters, so we've always talked about skin color, and noticing it. What I find interesting is while my older daughter only cares about girls, no matter what skin color, my middle daughter has sought out black and bi-racial children for friends (an eventual marriage candidates) since she was three. So yeah. They know. Whether or not you talk about it with them.

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  7. Man, Kristen. This is really good to read. We are in the early stages of transracial adoption- and I can see where I don't talk about race enough with my little guys... Thanks, and hugs.

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  8. My son is mildly autistic and it is surprising what people will say.... actually more adults than children. It breaks my heart. I don't have a solution for you. I am trying to navigate it myself, but I just wanted you to know that I understand, maybe not the exact same situation, but the pain of it, I understand.

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  9. Thank you so much for posting this story. I have spent most of my life living overseas and in other countries, and like to think that I am open to all different kinds of people. My kids, on the other hand, have not had that luxury, and this was a giant reminder that there needs to be more positive reinforcement to be accepting of other people, no matter what their difference is.

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  10. OH. One day we were at the library and my little boy tried to hold hands with a little (girl) friend that we were there with. Race not an issue, but she shrugged him off and it broke my heart. Nowhere close to what you experianced but I can imagine the hurt. Nothing makes me turn all momma bear faster than seeing my boys hurt.
    My dilema is that I want my boys to go to school with lots of different children. The public school we are zoned for will not give the best education, and the private schools are not diverse. Glad I have three more years to figure it out.
    Give your boys a hug from me.

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  11. That does hurt my heart. I have a brown son (a Guatemalan one) and a special needs son and I worry about how they are going to fit into our community everyday. Sure, our neighbors are cool with everything and EVERYONE thinks Gus is adorable but what happens down the road?

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  12. Wow!! This is sad, makes me sad for your beautiful children. And, you're right....We do need to talk to our children. Be open with our children. About race, color, weight, wheelchairs, etc. We need to teach them to love all people as God intends us to. I think so often our society turns away from what they perceive as "different"...... I am sorry for the hurt you experienced.

    Makes me think of the little song...."Red, and Yellow, Black, and white....They are precious in his sight....Jesus loves the little children of the world."

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  13. I love reading your blog because we're preparing to adopt an african-american son and it makes me feel like I have some insight into what to prepare for . . .

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  14. I seriously can't believe this happens in today's society especially over here on the West coast. Maybe I've been zippered too long up here in the Northwest, but I didnt' think attitudes like that existed! Oh well.
    But one thing your post allowed me to reflect upon. First - if "Jimmy" was my son and you had approached me - what would I have done? And my gut reaction would be to instantly call my Jimmy to the side and ask what happened and what he said and then alert him to sensitivity of how he treats people. I really don't think I would have gotten defensive because that behavior I can't defend.

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  15. Anonymous7:16 AM

    My husband and I have/are raising 5 children. 1 is grown and gone. 1 is my bio-son, and 3 are biracial children. They are now 7, 9, and 11 years old. They have encountered racism at school, and as a parent, we have always honored our differences among our family. My kids have handled all sorts of ignorance well because of how we handle it at home. You are doing great if you are teaching your kids their color is to be celebrated. My kids say they are, in order of age, "milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and caramel colored". :-) I am reading one of 3 books from an african-american adoptee that is really great and addresses this issue (transracial adoption) from 3 viewpoints...from the child of color, from the parents, and from the white, non-adopted sibling. Very worth reading..."In Their Own Voices", "In Their Parents' Voices", and "In Their Siblings' Voices" by Rhonda Roorda and Rita Simon.

    Paula

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  16. Kristen, I'm so sorry you had to suffer that... and unfortunately will continue to suffer these types of instances. I'm so sad for you... and thinking forward to the day when I raise my Native American brown children in a predominantly white area. Having been raised on a reservation with a white mom and Native brown dad, I experienced quite a bit growing up, where I was both the minority and majority. Addressing it is the only way to deal with it.

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  17. As tears steam down my face I am vowing to be a better parent to my son than the mom you encountered today.

    Running through my head is one of my favorite songs...

    Jesus loves the little children
    All the children of the world
    Red and yellow, black and white
    They are all precious in his sight
    Jesus loves the children of the world.

    I wish it could be that simple for all of us here on this plant to understand.

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  18. Ohhhh, how I related to this post. I have a biological son as well as a son who joined our family through domestic transracial adoption. I have been so frustrated lately by how resistant many parents are to discussing race and racism with their kids -- even friends have told me that they don't need to talk about it with their kids "because they don't see race." I try to explain to them that their kids DO see race and there is nothing wrong with seeing race, but judging and excluding based on race is wrong. Sadly, I don't feel like I've made much progress -- people seem pretty set in their views and unwilling to consider that there might be a better way to do things.

    As I was reading your post, I was thinking, "I have to tell her about NutureShock" and then I got to the part where you quoted it!

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  19. I had this problem (the school one) prior to my kids entering elementary. I wasnted them at a good school with a diverse student population. I found huge natural barriers to moving them. Everyone is so stuck on "what you are supposed to do". I found a great elementary school and then paid for day care before and after to justify the district transfer. Worked great and after a few years we bought a house near the school. It was all worth it. Just about everyone is some shade of brown and the education has been fantastic. It's easier here in northern California I am sure.

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  20. I know that feeling, that rage that starts boiling up inside you...I had a racial situation I ran into you can read about it here

    http://areyoukiddingg.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/i-had-a-moral-obligation/

    that made me feel the same way. I worry about my kids being the ones assumed to be the trouble-makers, or made to feel differently because of their skin color, or having two mommies, or being adopted. The good news is, people like us are raising children, and the more of us there are...the more children there will be that are raised to be very accepting.
    QUESTION: Are you going back? I think you HAVE to...if you don't they win. They get what they want and segregation continues. My aunt told me something that has helped me through so many situations in life, "Walk into a place like you own it! And NEVER let them win."

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  21. Great post, Kristen - it is so essential for those of us who are white adoptive parents of children of color to actively name racism and address it. It *is* painful - and it *is* reality in this world, so it is our job as decent fair-minded people to stand up to it. For those readers who are surprised by this experience, I strongly encourage you to google some reading: "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," "Racism 101," PACT's transracial adoption info (they are based in California), and if you are ready for some pretty intense dialogue, the blog "stuff white people do" (which has a great resource list in the comments guidelines). None of this is easy, but as the white parent of two black teenage sons, strength and survival way outrank easy...

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  22. This was a great read, and an important one for me. We are a 'white' family, who lives in a predominantly 'white' suburb. I was raised with many colors and races within my extended family, due to adopted kids from around the world, but my children do not have that same connection with that part of our family.

    I worry about how to educate and encourage my kids to live, feel, and respond appropriately, when there is so little readily available opportunity to live in relationship with people of other colors and races.

    What do you suggest? What does anyone else who is better educated in this area than me suggest?

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  23. just a thought - i enjoyed your post and agree - the thought was about the pics that include the other kids - I could just imagine Timmy or Jimmy's mum if they caught sight of it (if it was their kid in the pic) charging at you saying that you have no right putting the pic up with their kid in it...

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  24. Anonymous8:32 AM

    That would be tough...I don't know how you hold back. I HATE when parents defend their kids in that manner because they grow up defending them and the kids learn to never take responsibility. My daughter was born in Missouri and as a white girl she was the minority in her daycare. When we came out to CA she heard someone talking about a "little black boy" and she said she had never seen a little black boy. I told her she had lots of black friends in Missouri (she was 3, I thought she might have forgotten) and she said "No, I didn't". I asked her about a few specific children and she said "Oh no, they aren't black, they just have really brown skin." That is when we sat down and talked about all the nationalities (she was 5) and I loved her innocence and glad we got to talk about accepting everyone because we are all different in some ay or another at that age.

    Sarah B.

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  25. First, I am sorry for the immature and ignorant people that are out there in the world, and that they have children that they are responsible for teaching! UGH...

    Second, your story reminded me of when my (now 16 year old) started kindergarten. In our house, (while yes we are of Caucasian decent) I never really spoke about differences of 'races', but that people are all 'people' and how beautiful people are - like a rainbow in their diversity. We didn't ever use terms, white person, black person - just a person. Just like people have different color hair and eyes, so do they have skin - that is just 'normal'.... So, I use the term 'color-blind' in a positive sense. My children were and are truly color blind - they don't see someone and think oh that is a black person or a white or asian or any of that - they see them as a person (no prejudices based on appearance including those with special needs).

    I didn't fully realize the impact I had on my kids 'til they started school. When my daughter was in kindergarten they were talking about colors, hair, eyes, skin... Well, my daughter's teacher felt the need to talk to me after class, because she thought my daughter's response was unique. When she was asked what color her skin was - she thought about it, contemplated, looked at her skin and anounced - PEACH. Her teacher said, well yes you are white, my daughter was instant that NO she was NOT WHITE - she was peach. She had never even thought about the fact that she was 'a white girl'... She was a peach girl. Just another beautiful shade of skin color on the rainbow of skin color.

    My kids (all three of them) have always been friends with everyone (never even notice the race or if they have special needs). In fact, when they have seen prejudices against ANY child they have gone out of their way to befriend them and stick up for them. I have actually had parents contact me and thank me for my kids kind treatment of their child (credit goes to my kids - it takes a lot of guts to stand up to a crowd)...

    What I don't get is - how other parents can be so ignorant to the harm they are doing to their children and to other's children. . . :(

    I am so sorry your sweet boys were treated that way and even more so that the parents were rude ....

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  26. Tammy8:47 AM

    Up until I heard Po Bronson speak, I was guilty of the "color doesn't matter to my kids" attitude. There was so much talk about race when Obama was elected and my kids (8 and 10) didn't really get what the big deal was, so I guess I thought it was okay to take my cue from them. Race truly doesn't matter to me and my husband and I'm a 45 year old bi-racial woman who grew up when there weren't a lot of me around. I know what it's like to feel like the odd girl out but eventually came to love that I was different than everyone else. We now live in a very white area where kids are bussed to our school to create a sense of socioeconomic diversity, and our school just finished an entire week devoted to appreciating others' differences, so there's a genuine effort. Nonetheless, while the dialog about race needs to remain open and lively in all houses, we parents must be role models for our kids and show them how to live through our own actions.

    Kristin, good for you for talking to those parents! No one wants to face up to their kid's shortcomings—or worse, their own—but despite their defensive attitudes, I'm sure you planted seeds. I only hope they know what to do with them.

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  27. Jen C.8:48 AM

    I agree with another comment that parents like the ones you encountered are doing their kids a disservice by "defending" them. I'm one of those moms that shush their kids in the store when they point out something different, but I do it for a different reason. I tell them that we don't want to hurt the other person's feelings by pointing or staring and then I explain about whatever it is that they were pointing at, i.e. "Some people have to ride in special chairs because their legs don't work," or "Some people are very tall, (short, fat, skinny,) but God made everybody different and he loves everybody." I also try to emphasize that the world would be very boring if we all looked the same, just like how we wouldn't want to have all the same flowers or all the same trees, God made people to look different and all of them are special.

    Imagine my shock when (after trying to parent in this "positive" way) my 4 year old sees an african-american lady in an ad and tells me that she isn't pretty. I was shocked, horrified, upset inside. Where did this come from? We are 'white' in 'white' suburbia, but we go to a synagogue with lots of people of all different colors - one of her teachers at her class there is black! I asked her why she thought she wasn't pretty and she couldn't really verbalize that is was the color, but I could tell by what she was saying that it was the fact that she was different. I explained to her that all people are pretty, etc. Oy vey! Just goes to show that you have to take the time and effort to teach that different is beautiful and not inferior.

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  28. Just another view:
    I agree and I am sorry you are hurt! I cant imagine hearing someone now wanting to hold my childs hand-how that would make me feel. I will say however...my 3 yr old who has been around plenty of African American Children( we mentor 2) his entire life on a weekly basis. Still will out of the blue point out differences. Which blows my mind everytime...we handle each situtation immediately and explain how if hearing that it could hurt someones feelings, etc. I always tell him to imagine how he would feel if someone pointed out something different about him. I know this is a little different then rufusing to hold a hand...but its still shocking and embarrasing as a parent who is trying for to raise him positive and open minded...so make sure not to assume or be overly defensive towards other parents. Because as any parent learns...children do have minds of their own and naturally as they learn point out things, which might be different.

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  29. Wow. What a great reminder. It is hard for me to remember that I have to be proactive in teaching my sons about race. Growing up in the melting pot that is Orlando, color was everywhere. From a very young age, I had friends in all sorts of colors and that was just normal to me. That is not the case for my kids in the NW, which tends to lean closer to the caucasion skin tone. Thank you for your post, as it reminds me that I am responsible for my kids' views on race and encourages me to be a better mother in regards to it.

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  30. Anonymous9:49 AM

    First, if you lived in the South East (like I do) - more than likely the parents would have been apologetic and that would have been the end of it. You are very brave to speak up...that also probably would not be the first approach of a southener. Sounds like S.Cali is pretty harsh....

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  31. recently, we told the kids we were adopting. we told them that the children who were going to be in our family would most likely have very dark skin. my oldest thought for a second and said "that's great. i had a kid on my football that had dark skin and he was great". i was proud of his response. it is ok to see color. it is ok to see differences. the art is teaching our kids to see color and appreciate it and Christ does...He created all children.

    i hope you go back. it seems odd to me that the parents would not talk to the other adults who saw the situation. the Bible says that we will face hardships...i hope these hardships contribute to your boys growing up to be amazing men some day. kids can be cruel and ignorance hurts. by teaching the boys to love the offender, it gives them the power. they don't run away. they stand and speak truth.

    i can't tell you how happy i am that i found your blog. i started following you through a friend when you were trying to get kembe home. i have truly learned so much and i feel like you have a great handle on the situation with your boys.

    p.s. i had to laugh at your last line. i did think...and these are probably the same parents that insist their kid will play in the NBA.mmmk.

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  32. "our colorblind era of denial is not serving our children well." you are so right, and i'm glad you're speaking up.

    my kids are little, but i really hope i would have the humility to not be defensive if approached gently by another parent. these are the conversations we all should be having.

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  33. Thank you for sharing that. I think it's out of ignorance that many choose to ignore the color issue...which as you point out, only makes the problem worse. My daughters are 1/4 hispanic...although only one has darker skin...I'm sure as life goes on, we'll have many discussions. I'm glad you talked to the parents...and even though they were defensive and seemed to disregard what you had to say, hopefully it will cause them to make some changes.

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  34. Not sure if I've commented here before. I'm Leah, and I've been reading for awhile. Before the earthquake anyway.

    So I have 5 kids, and my youngest (now 13) has Down syndrome. When she was born, her brothers were 10, 9, 8, 7, and we lived in a tiny town in central MN where the only color they saw in school was white. Once in awhile there would be a latino or hispanic kid in town at the park or something, but that's it.

    When my daughter was born, we really started pushing "include EVERYONE", and to just be accepting of people. Know what I mean? So, imagine my shock one day when I got a call from school. Apparently there was a new little girl in school who is biracial. Since everyone walked to school, they would congregate at the front of the building until the doors opened. Apparently my then 8 year old had picked out this girl, and...being the ever-needy class clown..started calling her "mud face" and "Why don't you wash your face? How can you come to school with such a dirty face?" I was so upset that my son would do this, but also upset at MYSELF, because somehow I had failed him. That, because of where we lived, he didn't have exposure to kids who were not just like him. (even my daughter was the ONLY student in our district with a disability.) So, before the kids got home, I headed to the book store, and bought all kinds of books about race, color, harassement, etc. all geared towards kids, of course. And made that my project for several weeks to come.

    My boys are all adults now. I am happy to say the friends I have met have wide range differences, including skin color, sexual orientation, and religions, just to name a few.

    But you're right. If you don't talk about it, it becomes taboo!

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  35. most of us moms don't hang out with moms of other races...segregation is modeled by us. We also need to assume that WE have biases and confront them in ourselves. How many times have I left another mother out b/c of what she looked like? How many times has that happened to me? I think if we model kindness and respect and inclusiveness in OUR relationships with other adults, then that will go far in teaching them to reach out to others who are different. I am preaching this to myself...seriously. It's easy for me to "talk race" with my kids...not so easy to go make friends with those of a different race.

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  36. Kristin, you are absolutely right. I have had the same conversation with friends of mine whose children are curious about my race. "Why is your skin brown?". I usually tell the parents it is okay and they should not be embarrassed. I welcome genuine curiosity from children because frankly if they live in an homogenous area and they have never had a conversation about race, it will be confusing.

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  37. Hi Kristen, I'm so glad I found your blog. I'm in the process of adopting -- I hope soon -- but am waiting to be selected by birthparents, as I want to do an open adoption. I'm totally open to any ethnicities and I anticipate having a child that is different than my white self!
    I applaud your bravery for approaching the parents of "Jimmy/Timmy." I sincerly hope that they were just embarrassed and will take this opportunity to discuss it with their kid.
    I wonder how I'll deal with situations like this and hope to be as brave as you!
    Thank you for speaking out about this and all the issues surrounding a family of many different colors!

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  38. So sorry that your boys and you had to endure such a day. My best friend has adopted two children from Haiti. Her son is 8 and my 6 yr old son are best friends. They are hilarious and love one another to the core. One of our funniest moments was when my son (at 4) discovered that Brian's skin was the same color as his tootsie roll. He thought it was awesome. Brian just laughed at him.

    Last month when the kids were learning about Martin Luther King Jr in school I had the hardest time trying to figure out how to explain it to my son because he doesn't see color. After much explanation and the history his only response was, "That's just silly, why wouldn't Brian ride my bus? God loves us both!"

    I hope you don't mind if I share your blog and story with many friends! This needs to be addressed more than people realize. We hope to adopt from Africa someday and I have had these thoughts in my head many times as we live in an area where there are very few black children. (my son says brown peeps) lol Praying for your boys to be strong as they grow and rise above others' prejudices. I bet you were one proud momma after they kicked butt at bball! ;) lol

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  39. Elizabeth G12:53 PM

    I just yesterday had this talk with my three year old. She recently became friends with a little brown girl. My daughter said some people have brown skin. I replied yes, and you and I have brown eyes and Daddy has green eyes. You have yellow hair and I have brown hair. I said God likes lots of different colors. She asked if I had white skin and I said yes. She then asked if my "womb baby" would have brown skin. I said no, Daddy and I have white skin so our baby would have white skin too. We talked about how all colors of skin, eyes and hair are beautiful.

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  40. Tanya R12:59 PM

    Honestly, it is one of the primary reasons that I wanted to adopt outside of race. I was raised in an all-white (and I mean ALL WHITE) community. I wanted my kids to have more than just words that everyone was equal. I wanted them to KNOW it from experience! Rainbow families are a picture of the coming Kingdom!

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  41. What happened to you is what I'm preparing myself for. My son (adopted from Guatemala) is going to have to deal with this - and I want to be prepared.

    And I agree - kids see the differences!!! If we dont' talk about them, they might think that it's not ok. My son has been discussing his skin tone since he was 2 (he will be 4 in May). He talks about how he is brown and mommy and daddy are pink. How he has brown friends and pink friends.

    As you said, the fact that Jimmy mentioned that Jafta was black isn't a problem....he is! It's a problem when he won't hold his hand.

    Thank you for what you did to help educate!

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  42. That last part was hysterical. Anyway, I understand your point and "get it" because we live nearby the area you were in. I will definitely talk to my kids this afternoon about the color of other's skin. I have had this talk before but its worth repeating. My husband has some italian and mexican heritage and spends time in the sun so he is tan... well, whenever my son draws a picture of their dad he is "brown". So one day we were at the mall and they were talking to two children that were "black" and my son (he might have been five) said hello and make a comment about their skin being "brown" and then he said my dad is "brown" too... and they said really and looked at my husband and were surprised. So funny at the time. :) I admire your backbone! Your doing a good job!

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  43. katie jackson2:08 PM

    I had a discussion with my 6 year old daughter a few months ago that was a real eye opener. we were listening to music (happened to be Johnny Gill for those of you over 30) and my daughter asked me if the guy singing was brown. I said, what do you think? she answered "yes, i think he is. i don't like brown skin." After throwing up in my own mouth a little, i calmly asked her why she said that. she told me it was because people with brown skin were different.
    For me, this was not only devastating, but baffling, as this is nothing that she has been taught at home. i dated interracially for several years prior to marrying my husband, and I figured if nothing derogatory was ever said at home, it just would never be an issue. we have a diverse group of friends, so it's not really a lack of exposure. But I think you are right, Kristen, i think in our attempt to be colorblind, we do give the impression that we are trying to ignore racial diversity instead of celebrate it- and that gives it a negativity we didn't intend.
    My answer to my daughter was to put it into a context she would understand and appreciate. I asked her to picture two pieces of the same cake, one with white frosting, one with brown frosting. if she were to close her eyes and i fed her a bite of each piece, would she be able to tell which color frosting she was eating? she said no. i said it's kind of like that with people- just because the frosting is a different color, the cake is the same underneath. she seemed to accept that, but i don't believe this is the last time this topic will come up, and after reading what you said, i'm glad. I think as parents we do need to be more proactive about these conversations

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  44. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Very interesting and informative. Oh, how hard it is when our children confront the hurts and problems of the real world. As moms we do our best to protect our children from hurtful situations. I applaud you for how you handled that with the parents.

    I must say, however, I was a little disturbed by the title of this piece. But I am glad I read it, I really learned a lot.

    Deedee

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  45. so sorry to hear about the inexcusable behavior of these parents. sadly, so many parents today are ultra-defensive about their children's poor behavior. i hope that i will always be open to listening and learning when a parent approaches me about my kid's behavior. it would be insane for me to automatically assume that my child can do no wrong. barf.

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  46. I would feel awful if my kids responded in the same manner as "Timmy" and "Jimmy", and would never defend that. I want my children to be aware of race and different nationalities; unfortunately, we live in a predominately white, rural area in the midwest and they do not experience many social situations with children of other races. I was brought up in the generation of "don't point it out". It was seen as rude to say a person was brown, or black and I would typically feel ashamed if my children verbalized that. There is a young African American boy in my boys' preschool class, and at the beginning of the year when the kids were just getting to know each other and didn't know each others' names one of the twins referred to him as the brown boy and I remember feeling embarrassed by their comment and trying to hush them. How ignorant of me! Kids see color and there is nothing wrong with that. It isn't anything to be ashamed of... he is brown in skin color. I know realize that in trying to create "sameness" by being color blind I was only making the boys feel like they had done something bad. That's not what I wanted to do at all!! Thanks for this post, it really opened up my eyes. It is so cool to see how the boys have grown and developed through this year of school, and they now call their new friend by his name, Nathan. :-)

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  47. I agree with Aimee. Our children model our behavior. If you don't go out of your way to befriend others who do not look like you, why would you expect your own children to do so? I am saddened at times when I look pictures on blogs and everyone looks the same. Yes, we make friends based on commonalities, but people of other races have things in common with you too.

    Sadly, there is very little you can do about how others will treat your sons. What you can do is to make sure they are exposed to others brown kids. It is great that there are two of them, but they will need to see other brown children. It sucks to be the minority all the time. Join your local chapter of Mocha Moms [www.mochamoms.org] and attend their children's activities. This will require YOU to step out of your own comfort zone. Or, start your own group of adopted moms with brown children. But I advocate that you find brown adults for your children to interact with. You don't want their only exposure to brown people to be to the disfunctional ones on the five o'clock news. They'll need to see brown people who do positive things in society.

    Talk to YOUR own kids about race. Maybe not a specific lesson on race, but say things like "the shape of your eyes are beautiful", "your hair has a great texture", "I like the shape of your nose", etc. on a regular basis. There is really nothing in popular culture that affirms the value of people of color and you will need to do this job yourself. If your children KNOW that they are valuable, there is nothing anyone tells them that will lead them to believe otherwise. They will be confident and will not care about the Jimmy's and Timmy's of this world. You need to make sure your sons will not allow other people to determine their worth.

    NOTE that when I say "You" I am not specifically referring to Kristen, but also to her readers.

    This is hard and I wish you all the best. We're in this boat with you.

    Luci

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  48. Re: comment #2 -
    "by saying the brown boys dominated at basketball and calling the white boys little bigots....is as much racism . . . "

    No . . . calling my kids brown is not racist. That's one of the points I am trying to make here. Talking about someone's skin color does not equal racism. Now, bragging about their basketball skills may be a bit snarky in light of the rejection they faced, but it's not racist.

    And the definition of a bigot is one who is strongly partial to one's own group, gender, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. Most kids are bigoted in some way or another. Even mine.

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  49. Hey Kristen,
    I'm so sorry that happened; it broke my heart to read that and your post stuck with me all day today. I think the main fault lies with the parents and how they responded (or chose not to respond) vs. the kids, who may have been reacting to things they learned from other kids at school and/or at home - they sound quite young. But to call them bigots - that seemed a little harsh - maybe more applicable to the parents, don't you think? My boys are "brown" - half Mexican - and have never made race an issue, but we live in a culturally diverse area. Newport Beach, not so much - but those kids to me are just sponges responding to what they see and hear around them. Not that I'm defending them at ALL - because what they did was wrong - but that term seemed a little strong for such small kids. That mom, on the other hand? Yes. I'm just curious - did you address it with your own boys or did they not hear any of that? And do you think you'll ever go back there?

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  50. I am heart sick for your children -- all four of them. Growing up biracial in the southeastern US, I know first hand the nasty things children can say and do... and parents are usually the last ones to attempt to rectify it.

    I have a child like was described in an earlier comment. He sees ALL color. He says his color is pinkish peach, mine is tannish red, his sister's is peachish tan. He describes children in the world by their color and appearance -- because that's how he's learned to identify people.

    We don't shush him or shut down conversations about race or appearance, unless it's hurtful. For instance, he told me at the store the other day that, "I want shoes like that tall brown kid over there!" The kid was tall and brown. No need to shush him.

    Conversely, when he was younger, he said in reference to a large black man, "Mama, he looks like Fat Albert!" That deserved a talking-to. But the talk wasn't about not pointing out differences, it was about considering other people before we speak. Was it hurtful to call someone a name that's not their own or their nickname? Would his feelings be hurt if someone did that to him?

    I think each of these instances are teaching moments. I am lucky in that my group of friends includes people of different genders, races, ethnicities, sexualities, and abilities. But I did this on purpose because I wanted my children to value and appreciate diversity, not white-wash everything with the "love sees no color" slogan.

    This has been an fantastic conversation. I look forward to more responses. Oh, and I agree that if you lived in the southeast, the parents would be apologetic, though shocked that you spoke up. Doesn't mean you shouldn't though.

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  51. I'm sorry. We've had it happen here, many times. It doesn't get easier, but as my kids have gotten older it's given us opportunity to open up so many discussions with them. Wish they were discussions none of us would need to have.

    A GREAT little kid's book, dealing with race, and how we're not all that different is The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. It's been a favorite around here, and a gift my kids give to their friends.

    That defensive mom may have denied everything, but I bet she went home and thought about it.

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  52. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I love reading your blog. We have three boys currently and hope to adopt more boys, of all colors. It made my stomach hurt that there are people who are content with ignorance....

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  53. As the mother of a brown child myself, I just held my breath reading this. I know that feeling where you're getting hot and nervous while things go downhill fast. When we lived in the States, I found it difficult to discuss race AT ALL, in any context, without people getting really uncomfortable and defensive. And even if your child, or you as a parent ARE racist? It is not the end of the world. Recognizing the possibility and considering it is the starting point for change. I just wish it wasn't such a trigger issue, and that our kids didn't bear the weight of other people's ignorance.

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  54. You are such a great thinker. You really articulate your feelings so well. I'm so thankful in your situation that you went to the parents. I have a question. As you know the subject is such a delicate one that causes defensives to sprout, was your tone gentle?

    I'm thankful you confronted the parents, but honestly I bristle if I'm asked if I've done any laundry.

    I'm with you, I hurt for what happened. But as it may happen again....well you know "a soft answer turns away wrath." Well, I'm just wondering your tone?

    So maybe the mom was not correct, but she hasn't been given the grace you have. Win her. Love her. Teach her.

    I read your post and I had angry hives grow up my neck. But I've been given the grace you have. I'm thankful for that.

    I had a professor once who said, "we are all racist, with preconcieved ideas, notions, fears, hurts, we can only hope to become anti-racist and fight the battle in ourselves.... She gently showed me I had wrong thinking...still have wrong thinking. But it's a worthy battle.

    I could have been that mom. But I'm thankful for the grace given to me to not be.

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  55. We're in the process of adopting through the foster care system here in Austin, TX and have had lot's of talks about what that means with our 2 older boys. After reading your post, I was curious to see what the boys would say if I asked them about color and race.(They frequently play with kids who are all colors and races, but we've never really talked about it)

    So I showed the pic of your 3 kiddos standing in line and ask my oldest about their color. "Well he's green, she's pink, and he's gray"

    We had a great talk after about color and race, but his first response to the question about color made me laugh out loud.

    http://jenmcmanus.blogspot.com/

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  56. When i taught preschool, one of the first things we did each morning was to go around the circle pointing out skin, hair, eye colors, etc. and discuss why they make us each unique, special, & fun. So important. I loved to use Crayola's 'people colored' paints & markers, which always made self-portraits more realistic & fun. I can't imagine parents letting their kids learn/experience otherwise.

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  57. I am so glad you are their mom and that you are so brave.

    My godson went through a phase when he was about 6 of realizing that some kids are brown and he said "I don't want to play with that brown kid." What's so interesting is that my godson is brown. So his dad pointed out that most of his family is brown including all these people he loves, so why would he think and say that? and I tried really hard not to flip out on him because that's my trigger - the exclusion by race. (OK, I flipped out a little.)

    And it's funny now, five years later, because he kind of called me out yesterday. I'm visiting in an Oregon suburb and I said to his mom, "I'm just not comfortable when it's ALL WHITE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. I need some diversity to feel comfortable."

    Race is just such a huge issue and sometimes I get tired of it affecting every aspect of my life every damn day. How privileged am I to say that?

    I'm reading "My First White Friend" now - learning much.

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  58. I love the discussion going on here! I think we are ALL still learning. Honestly, five years ago I would have assumed that this kid had horrible, racist parents, because I was in the colorblind camp. Now, I just believe that even parents with the best intentions will have kids that can be fearful of difference. My own kids have been cruel in ways that have mortified me. There was once a child on the playground who had cerebral palsy and I was extremely disappointed with how my kids reacted. That's what I really tried to portray to this other mom - that I had no judgments and just wanted to give her information to discuss at home with her kid. I thought I was getting that across and I felt like my tone was pretty humble and matter-of-fact. I didn't want to make her feel embarrassed. Unfortunately I think race is such a hot topic that her shame was taking over from the minute I opened my mouth. She came over guns blazin'.

    Also, I really appreciate the feedback about modeling this for our kids by our own friendships and relationships. In our community, I have found this very difficult. I have been to Mocha Moms groups, and we moonlight at an African Methodist church. But even still, there are so few African Americans in our community. We have frequently discussed relocating because of this. I had a very different experience growing up in Florida, where there seemed to be less social segregation. It's a tough one.

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  59. Man, your self-control was impressive. I am sure it was hard not to jump that kid!

    Isn't it sad how prevasive racism is. We white folks like to think that it is a thing of the past, but it so isn't!

    We just filled out an application to adopt from Ethiopia, and have a referral for a little girl in China.

    Got check out the book you mentioned.

    Do I have your permission to post your section on "How to Raise a..."?

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  60. I love that my step son (8) doesn't have a clue. We do live in Georgia, however. :) Last summer he was thinking it's cool that he has a "brown" dad. He thinks his dad is brown because his skin is tan in the summer. Love it. I have lived out of the OC for 3 years now and it's been an awesome "race" experience. Being born and raised behind the Orange curtain brings on things I didn't know existed in my mind. Glad to be out. And, I love when my son is talking about a kid in his class and I ask which one he is, that he says, he's the kid with the black curly hair. I'm finding that school systems are the ones that point out the "difference" and actually... I don't want my son to ever say the "black" kid. We all have the same heart, created by the same God and shouldn't be called the white kid or brown kid or whatever. We have names and other traits! And, gee, don't those kids watch basketball at home? They should be hanging with the kids who are gifted at the sport to learn from them... not want to not hold their hands! Bring it! :)

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  61. One day...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z50Yf7hFnhA

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  62. I saw the post title and didn't want to read it. I knew it would make me mad! But of course I knew I needed to. I'm reading "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla" which talks about how little kids notice and define color, which is different than RACE. A kid might notice my Sydney's hair is red and your Kembe's skin is brown. Our job is to help them appreciate the differences and avoid assigning a value to any particular color. I have the same community issues as others--not a lot of diversity, even if I seek it out. So, I appreciate all the tips that we can incorporate in our home, their books and our discussions. As you've said before--talking about this, blogging about this is good. Sometimes it stings and people are going to disagree, but it's good.

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  63. My daughter Gennifer reads your blog, and called me this morning because she was moved by your post and told me to go read it. I did. I could feel the heat rising on the back of my neck too. But mostly, I felt so awful for your sweet boys. My kids grew up in a very diverse area. Our son grew up playing basketball, and was often times the only white boy!!! I just wanted to say, hats off to you. First and foremost for taking these children into your world, your life, your family, as your very own, and teaching your family that color is not what defines us. I grew up in The OC. I visit often. I attend my nephews and nieces sporting events, and always notice one thing that stands out so very much. They are without diversity!!!! Again I say...hats of to you. Keep on teaching tolerance in your family. It will seep out to the others in your circle too.
    Kris

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  64. I am so sorry for you and your children for having to deal with adults that are blinded by their own self-centered behavior. That is really what it is about when parents are defensive when confronted about their children.

    If you had told me that my son or daughter responded that way to your children, I would be the first one over there having them apologize. I would also use it as an opportunity to educate them. Everyone thinks that their children can do no wrong. I however am not that gullible. It does take a village to raise a child and any help anyone can give me and my wife is always appreciated. Her and I have a saying, "you can't reason with the unreasonable." These people are unreasonable. Sometimes you just have to walk away...

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  65. You have really given me a wake up call that I need to be having more discussions like this at our house. Thank you, and I'm sorry that this happened. I know it hurt your heart.

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  66. I'm just a little concerned with some of the righteousness that seems to be happening in this discussion. In my camp, I'm a happy failure. Would we have all taken the high road? Really?

    I mean we have had these discussions, talk to people with differences. I'm trying, but I'm thinking of this mom. Is she really this terrible person? Or was she in the rat race for super mom that could not wrap her mind around the nasty that lives in her as well as her child.

    Or are we all not hyper consumed at times that we've got it right, but look at her....she's a mess. Thank you, I'm not THAT woman. Seriously. How do we start to grow until we look at our own weakness. I appreciate that you were soft with her. I realize there is a lot of ugly in this world. Lots of it.

    So then, what now. You won't be there for Jafta every moment. But how do you equip him now? Do we teach him anger towards THOSE kinds of people.

    Though I'm certainly no Tiger Woods fan, what if he had disregarded and avoided all of THOSE types of people. The entire face of golf and the bigotry in the clubhouses would not have been questioned and exposed (which I'm sure is still alive) But change has started. He pulled back the ugly curtain.

    So how do we have kids that face weakness and ugly, nasty with truth and love? What do we do with the mom in your story. Do we all hate her?

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  67. I think this was a great read and I did really enjoy it... You had some great points about those kids and their lack of interaction with kids of different skin color. I think overcoming your fear and taking the kids will help them and the kids on their team.

    I do have to say that your comment at the end can really be taken in a bad context. Shows that even the enlighted parent has moments of mental lapses.

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  68. Thank you for writing this and sharing your experience. I think it may open a lot of eyes... and remind us... about a lot.

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  69. Many posters here have advocated that you return to the community center and not allow the other mom to "win." She honestly doesn't win anything if you fail to return. I think it is easy to make the suggestion that you force your children to deal with the angry mom and others like her if you don't have to deal with her and others like her on a regular basis.

    As a black person (and I speak only for myself), I find it VERY VERY tiring to deal with people like that mother. Imagine having to deal with people like her on a consistent basis. Really, really think about it. You're essentially having to say "I am a person just like you" over and over again. Ugghhh... Who on earth wants to go where they are not welcome?! Recreation is recreation = it should be fun. I carefully choose where I spend my leisure time. Why would I want to deal with ignorance when I want to relax? If the your kids did not understand what was happening, then fine. However, if they are uncomfortable, I would not force them to return. Your children are not obliged to educate the masses. It is not their responsibility. Good for Tiger Woods and the others who have broken the color line, but it is up to ALL OF US to break barriers. I'm not sure that white people treat brown people any better because of Tiger Woods and company. I bet there are people who watch Tiger Woods on TV who wouldn't dream of inviting their brown co-worker to their house for dinner. I'm sure there are people who voted for Obama who are still hostile to brown people.

    It is not solely the responsibility of the brown people (especially brown children) to teach the white people that brown people are people too -- people with feelings, intellect, morals, etc. That is too heavy (and unfair) of a burden to place on the shoulders of one group of people. Racism is everyone's problem even if you think it is not.

    I do not advocate hating that mother. I just don't believe that we should force brown children to teach others tolerance if brown children suffer for it. If brown kids are always in a situation where others treat them badly because of the color of their skin they might start thinking something is wrong with being brown. Some kids are competitive and want to lead and others like to be in the middle of the pack. Nothing wrong with either. The competitive kid might see it as a challenge to educate the masses. The middle of the pack kid might get flustered if thrust in that situation time after time. Whatever you decide, please make sure you balance these unpleasant experiences with very positive ones.

    What's my suggestion? The MOTHERS should get together. I would invite this woman to coffee. She will learn something even if she does not admit it. Leave the kids out of it. If the kids see their mom talking to you and your sons, they will soon follow her example. If you live somewhere with little diversity, make an effort to reach out to people who are not like you. It could be someone with a disability or someone who is in a different economic group. Your children will notice that you are interacting with people who are not exactly like you. I'm not suggesting that you invite random people to your home, but smile and be friendly. Your kids will notice that it is okay to be nice to people who do not look like them. Take different in whatever package it comes in and your children will learn that different does not equal bad. They don't have to like/love every person they meet, but they do have to be respectful.

    Now I'll hand the mike back to Kristen.

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  70. I was raised by a hippie mom who was very big on making sure that I understood that more than anything, stereotyping, along with any sort of like minded behavior was something I should never do. When my daughter was 3, we were coming out of the grocery store one day...the store "greeter" was an extremely obese man and as we walked by, Izze pointed at him and said in her effervescent, toddler voice, "Mommy, that man is FAT!" I was so mortified! I rushed her to the car and when we got there I impulsively, started to tell her not to say things like that. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my brain and instead I just simply said, "honey,it is not polite to point" For some reason at that moment, I realized that in some way telling her not to say something that was blatently obvious and simply an observation on her part, was just not to be made the issue. Surely that man knows he is fat, and surely that man realized that my kid was only 3. I later patted myself on the back for that one. I really was proud of the way I handled it, but none prouder than after reading your blog entry about Jimmy and Timmy and the way they reacted to your kids. I am sorry that you felt that sadness...I did too when I read it. When my daughter was about 5, we were at a large event. There was a man, carrying his son, who at first glance seemed far too big a child to be carrying. Izze and I were walking through the crowd, and as we passed them it was clear to me why a few heads were turning in their direction...the little boy had the same disfiguring disease as Rusty Dennis from the movie "Mask" with Cher. Izze stared. I noticed and once again was ready to remind her that it was rude to stare when my sweet, sweet kid looked up at me, excitedly, and said, "Mommy, did you see that little boys cute face?" Tears came to my eyes...I couldn't wait to tell my mom in a text message what had just happened to which she replied "That's our girl!" Today I was really depressed...feeling like, as an ONLY parent (I lost Izze's dad/my husband to suicide.) I am failing. It has just been one of those especially challenging weeks in parenthood. After reading your blog I can honestly say that I think I am doing pretty good in at least a couple of the important areas. Thank you for that. Really.

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  71. Such a great discussion going on here... and I absolutely love reading SAHM's comments (speaking of, do YOU have a blog?).

    I think we can only take others as far as we ourselves are willing to go... and that includes how we teach kids about ethnicity. Race is such a difficult topic in our culture and we are all on a continuum.

    Many here have stated that they are happy their kids don't see color, that we are all the same in God's eyes, etc. I think these comments really miss the point. I would venture to say (respectfully) that the people that are saying color doesn't matter are white. Because it does matter. A lot. And I'm so glad you shed some light on this, Kristen.

    I was recently in a grocery store with a friend who is white and had three black kids (one bi-racial bio son and two adopted). There was a young kid in the store that said, "look mommy, black kids!" and the mother told the kid to be quiet. My friend stopped and told her it was okay, that they ARE black and that is beautiful. The mother was open and said she didn't know what to do, and my friend said by shushing her son, it sends the message that black is bad. So the kids had discussions with ONE ANOTHER about "my skin is peach and your's is black, I have straight hair and yours is curly" etc... It was really fun to watch how it was handled because really there should be no shame in these conversations.

    I really really really agree with SAHM's comment that it isn't the job of a minority group to educate others at all times. It is a reason why I'm so glad more progressive whites can step up to the plate too. Justice is all of our concern.

    Kristen, there is so much diversity in Oakland. I welcome you and your family here LOL! :)

    Diane

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  72. Why not take your kids to camps where there are more African American kids? I personally take my child, a transracial adoptee, to outside activities where her race is in the majority. That is the case with almost all of her extracurricular activities. I think this is very important if they have white adoptive parents and they are also in the minority in their school. This will help them build confidence. They may have understood what happened and not known how to respond.

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  73. I really enjoyed this post.

    Not because of what you went through, because I know that was hard, very hard.

    But thank you for the lesson it taught me.

    Jill

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  74. A few of you asked if I will take them back. I will definitely take them back. Fortunately the kids didn't pick up on what was happening. I also don't feel any animosity towards that other mom. It could have been my kid. It could have been anyone. I was disappointed that she accused me of lying, but I think she has her own issues to contend with and I do have compassion for her.

    I find it so interesting that some are offended that I described my kids as brown in the last sentence. They ARE brown - the whole post is about them being excluded for being brown. And despite that intended exclusion, they did an amazing job at their practice. I'm not saying that they did great BECAUSE they are brown, or trying to play into some racial stereotype. Just feeling proud of them.

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  75. hi there :) found your blog through my blogger friend suzannah. LOVE this post. just knowing that so many others are discussing race and culture makes my heart glad. there will never be a time without prejudice unless we can have open, honest, raw dialogue, so kudos to you for standing up for your (beautiful) children. i really want my kids to grow up understanding that there are people all over the world who look differently than we do, and that is something to be celebrated. the only way i want my kids to be colorblind is in that they will be able to see different skin colors and simply not care. they can and should notice, it just shouldn't matter.
    ps, i'm SO with you about the minivan. i'm still holding out.

    michelle
    http://michelles-realm.blogspot.com/

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  76. As I was reading, I totally thought of NurtureShock and am so glad you've read it and I agree completely.

    We make an effort to have dolls and toys and books of different colors and abilities. When my daughter points out that someone looks different- she hasn't noted skin color but seems more focused on hair styles and gender- I agree with her and then we proceed with a ocnversation about uniqueness and everybody is a person underneath how they look and so on.

    And if my child DID make the comments those other boys did, I would absolutely want... no, NEED... to know.

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  77. I am so glad your kids seemed not to notice. I am so sorry you had to hear it and most sorry that it happened at all.

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  78. You handled that beautifully (well, according to YOUR version of events anyway ;)...

    We're about to bring home two kiddos from Uganda, but have been trying to adopt for 4 years now, so our family has been immersed in discussions about race for a good long time. We are white, with two bio kids who are now 8 and 10, but were 4 and 6 when we decided to adopt. Discussions about race are ongoing and ever changing. The first time my son referred to race was to say that our neighbor friend (a child a year older than him who is black) didn't have "normal skin" and that he preferred "normal skin". He was only about 3 at the time, and of course I was shocked, but thankfully realized that scolding, ignoring or shushing wasn't the answer, and we've talked about differences between people a lot since then. It was also SO important for our little friend that I addressed the situation RIGHT THEN, with her present, so she could see that we all loved her and her beautiful brown "normal" skin.

    I'm happy to say that my kids now have no issues whatsoever playing with kids who are different from themselves, but my son, who thinks out loud a lot of the time, has said some doozies along the way. We have evolved from his skin comment at 3 to the more recent "what if my friend so-and-so is racist and discriminates against our family?" to which I of course said "you wouldn't need a friend like that!" nope. wrong. of course he needs his friend so-and-so, he is a gem of a boy, and his fear required a much longer discussion that my valiant stance didn't solve at all.

    It is sad that the mothers weren't immediately open to hearing you, but they'll come around, they just need to learn that colorblindness is not the way to go. Chances are they asked their kids what happened, their kids probably told them, and they probably had some sort of discussion about it -- hopefully what you did manage to sputter will affect the nature of their talk. I agree that you should keep taking your kids to the class, if they're enjoying it, and maybe ask the coaches to give a little talk at the start of the class about how they're all on a team (I know they're not really a team, but kids love teams!) and they're all there to play basketball AND make new friends. It probably won't happen again, though, and if it does, I myself wouldn't hesitate to really nicely discuss the situation with the mothers again, or even the kids if you're standing right there. I'm sure they think they've handled racism exactly correctly, but hopefully they'll be open to your guidance.

    and on the topic of geographical racism, is culver city any better do you think? my husband has a possible job opportunity there, and we have to be in california to finalize our adoption. I'm a Nor Cal girl by birth, so the idea of So Cal is *obviously* taking some getting used to :). If we do move there, we'll have to get our 8 kids together! I'm imagining the mayhem! we'll go find that cranky lady you blogged about and eat lunch right next to her. at nap time. :)

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  79. I didn't get a chance to read others comments. I have 3 little ones running around.
    But, thank you for your post. It made me sad that this happens.
    I appreciate your reminders for balancing the "color blind" approach that it is ok to recognize differences but not making judgements based on them.
    I hope that your boys (and girl) have a great time at basketball!

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  80. Anonymous6:57 PM

    As someone of color who was raised by white adoptive parents, I can only say that a lot of
    times my mom truly thought she was being "humble" and "earnest" when pointing out whatever racism she felt was directed at me.

    Most of the time, though, she seemed DELIGHTED to make a scene and call attention to herself and to me.

    I often wonder if she, like many other adoptive parents of kids of color, didn't secretly bask in the attention and get off in some way when pointing out other parent's perceived racism. I say that because I have eight or nine adopted friends, like me, who have all made the same observation.

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  81. AMEN! My dad just wrote an article for a Christian magazine about the problems of the race-blind approach. His main illustration in the article came from something my (biracial) daughter pointed out about me and her dad. She said, "My daddy is brown. And I'm brown. And Mommy is PINK!" And then she went on playing, as if she just shouted out "the sky is blue!". Yes, her account was accurate. It was an observation...nothing more, nothing less. I wish we had more of that in this world. Thanks again for writing this.

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  82. You're such a good mama! Great subject to bring up. I really want to read that book too. It's interesting, I teach an Art Lesson to my students called, "When I grow up." For the lesson I cut out large paper dolls and paint them different skin colors (the place I work has a diversity of Indian, White, Latin etc...) It's funny, how much the lesson makes the other teachers uncomfortable...they say, "I don't know if we should point out that they have different skin colors." Like they don't notice? Funny right?

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  83. Dear Anonymous 6:57,

    I am really sorry to hear of your experience. It sounds like your mom did not consider the effect of her actions on you. Your experience illustrates why these situations are best handled among adults. The child who is the subject of these confrontation should be kept out of it.

    All the best to you,
    Luci

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  84. Anonymous10:00 AM

    The racial thing is "So out there"...we think that after all these years "WE" would get that people are still people and most are still closet racist!!

    To be honest,I would have thought you would have prepared yourself for something like this knowing that racism still exist!!!!!!! I am so sorry for the children, there will be many more years ahead of them dealing with these issues!

    Remember this in the "OC"...there everywhere!

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  85. Anonymous3:08 PM

    Timmy and Jimmy clearly have led far too sheltered of lives. Their parents have failed them in many ways and I hope they'll learn the true value of diversity from other sources as they grow up.
    That said, you getting in the other mom's face was extremely rude. They don't tell you how to parent your children - you shouldn't tell them how to parent theirs (even if it's clear they're doing it wrong).
    If you expect the right-wing neo-racists to leave you alone, then they deserve the same from you.

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  86. I didn't "get in the mom's face" or tell her how to parent. I reported what had happened. We may have different philosophies, but I am from the "it takes a village" camp. If someone observed my kid doing something inappropriate, I would hope they would let me know, too.

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  87. As I was getting to the bottom of this post I was wondering if you have read NurtureShock, and then there it was, right there in your post!

    I've been debating for a while about how to write a post on this topic and to sum what I liked about that chapter of that book. You did a great job of it! Guess I don't have to now; I'll just send my two readers here to read your post! :)

    I am terribly sorry that your boys had that experience but even more sorry that they will probably have it again at some point -ug!

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  88. I really enjoyed your point that talking bout race is important, making it the unspoken taboo is not only annoying it's also dangerous. I'm always bugged that we feel like describing someone as "black" or "white" is completely inappropriate, when usually it's the easiest was to physically describe some one. Which bridesmaid are you talking about? the short black girl. So much easier than, she has dark hair and brown eyes and...

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  89. Anonymous11:55 AM

    The next time some wingnut sees your daughter playing house with two female dolls as mommies and informs you you're being a terrible parent by not teaching your child about the "evils of homosexuality", please remember that you're fine with that since it "takes a village".

    Personally, I want the racists and homophobes and their ilk to mind their own darn business, so I leave them the heck alone when I see them spouting their reactionary garbage to their kids in public. As much as I'd like to "rescue" the kids, I wasn't invited to co-parent. Neither were you.

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  90. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Are pejoratives the language of love?

    Touch can be somewhat intimate for children who have not been formally introduced. Glad to see that the children complied.

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  91. I think, though, anonymous, that Kristen was assuming the best of these parents -- that they aren't racist pigs, that the kids were just reacting to difference the way that kids often react to difference. How will those kids learn to see beyond a person's skin color if nobody helps them do that? If their parent didn't notice the fact that their child just stepped waaaay over the line of appropriate behavior (as kids often do) and needs some guidance?

    and to the other anonymous, the adult adoptee of color, I'm curious what you would like to see happen in these situations? I don't doubt that maybe your mother, and a lot of mothers of adopted kids of color of your generation went out of their way to make a scene about racism -- they were a generation fighting really hard to change the world, and while it was probably obnoxious and embarrassing to you as a child, I can understand the sentiment.
    personally, my children are my biggest priority, so I want to handle these things in the way that best serves them. I don't want to NOT say anything, and perpetuate the idea that being racist is ok, but I don't want to embarrass my kids, or make it seem as if I'm trying to be a martyr -- so what do you think the best way to handle it is? I tend to think quietly and respectfully is the way to go -- to model for my child when one should stand up and say something, when one should just ignore whatever garbage is being spewed, and when to leave altogether. It's a hard lesson, but one we all have to figure out, and the adult adoptee voice is so valuable in this journey, so thanks for commenting!

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  92. Hi - I saw you over at Love Isn't Enough. I am so sorry that you and your kids went through this. But I thank you - you don't KNOW how much I thank you - for writing this entry. I've re-posted it in my journal and am going to pass it on.

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  93. "Touch can be somewhat intimate for children who have not been formally introduced."

    Sure. When that kid said "I don't like the brown! I don't want to touch the brown!" he probably meant to say "We haven't been properly introduced".

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  94. Frankly, I'm f-ing pissed that this happened to you. Pardon my rage and language, but I call total bullsh*t on that kind of behavior. I'm so glad you said something and had the mind to tell those parents something sound in reasoning. I'm not sure I could've done the same. I would've said something, but it wouldn't have been as elegant. ;)

    Hugs and love to you as well a pledge to do as you asked with my future kids. :)

    XOXO,
    Kristen

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  95. Is it terrible that after you said "upscale community center" that I didn't expect for those parents to act any differently? From what I've observed racism and wealth all too often go hand in hand. I will admit that I have a hard time sometimes talking to my children about race (I did manage to already have the sex talk with them) but I hope that some of the choices I have made will help. When purchasing our home my husband and I chose a neighborhood downtown, near the college, in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Within walking distance are 3 Asian restaurants, 2 Mexican restaurants, and an Italian restaurant. Living in such a diverse neighborhood means that my children go to a diverse school. Last year my son was the only white boy in his class. He has friends from Vietnam, Mexico, and Egypt. When parents choose to live in an upper class white suburb, when their children go to school with kids who all look just like them, then I can see where trying to teach your children to be accepting would be difficult. Because while the parents may profess to not be racist that sure isn't what they are demonstrating.

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  96. Anonymous8:13 PM

    This was very difficult to read. I agree that the color-blind approach to education does not work, but I don't know if I think that is the root of the problem. I wonder if those parents put their kids in private schools with all White kids, clubs with all white kids, churches with all white kids, etc. I think this problem could be averted if families purposefully tried to engage their kids with different types of groupings from day one. Parents should look for multicultural day cares, activities, and churches so it would be surprising to not see a black child instead of surprising to see one.

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  97. Rochelle8:35 PM

    I agree, parents these days are doing a wonderful job of teaching their kids to be afraid of "the other," whether they mean to or not. My daughter has severe cerebral palsy, and there is nothing that drives me crazier than when a kid comes up to her, asks what's wrong with her, and their parent grabs them and hauls them away. Dang, there goes my opportunity to explain that my daughter can't control her muscles because that part of her head was hurt, but she understands everything you say and likes a lot of the things you do. Instead, mom (usually it's mom) teaches that if you see someone in a wheelchair, run the other way and pretend they don't exist. That may not be what they think they're teaching their kid, but it is...

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  98. Rochelle, I think you are so right.

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  99. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is a wonderful post. I hope you don't mind if I share it with some other moms that may struggle with how to teach their kids to be inclusive.

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  100. Thank you for this post. This is definitely an issue that many people think will go away by "not talking about color" and that is so wrong. I already plan on pointing out the special differences in everyone of every race and ethnicity, so my son will know why we are all unique and wonderful in our own way.

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  101. Anonymous9:31 PM

    To address Truth1's comment, I don't think it's fair for children of color to always have to attend activities where other children look like them to be comfortable. I'm a black mother of a black child, and maybe I want my child to take a class at the upscale rec center. Self segregating isn't the solution to ignorance.

    I agree with everything SAHM, ESQ said. It's very tiring to always be responsible for debunking stereotypes and preaching equality. We ALL need to step up and make sure our children are educated.

    Kristin, I really appreciate your blog post. I realized that "colorblind" was BS when I was in college. Another student was trying to attempt her colorblindness by describing me without using race. It took her 5 minutes, and I don't believe for one second that she didn't see my skin color. Color blind is a great theory, but completely unrealistic.

    I dread the day that another child hurts my child's feelings because of the color of his skin. I hope that your boys remain oblivious for as long as possible.

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  102. Oh dear. Q and I have experienced so much racism being as we are an interracial couple. We get hit, scoffed at, starred at, judged... It is actually BETTER here in Texas than it was for us in DC. I can't imagine what my daughter is going to go through. When I am out with my daughter alone almost EVERY waitress asks what my daughter is "mixed with." Some people don't even mean to be rude, they are just curious, but they are. And it is hurtful. As a mother, I appreciate your post. I'll be visiting your blog again!

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  103. Thanks for this post! You did exactly the right thing and I'm so sorry the parents behaved so defensively. I'm about to be a new mom myself (well, due today but no signs yet) and I'm terrified of my daughter being subjected to such things (I'm white and hubby is black). I read that same Nurtureshock essay and I agree 100%. Kids need to be TAUGHT anti-racism.

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  104. Yeah. My stomach hurts now.

    When I first told my children that we were adopting from Ethiopia, and we looked online at some photos, my daughter - MY DAUGHTER, MY daughter, said, "I don't want a brown baby."

    That's a story her brown sister will probably never be told.

    But now? Now she is completely discriminating against white baby dolls and white Barbies. All her computer game characters are brown. Things have changed.

    I remember years ago when a little white girl I was teaching acted much the way Jimmy did to another little girl at kindergarten. When I told her mother, she said aghast, "But her godfather is black!!!"

    I have always wondered how non-racist white parents can turn out racist preschoolers. You have solved the mystery for me.

    And I am bracing myself for the incidents that are sure to come when we bring our daughter home. As if that were possible.

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  105. Anonymous4:42 PM

    This is all very true- but just keep in mind that many people are offended by being described as "black", "brown", "white", etc. So you can't please everyone. Many people just want to be seen as another human being- not a certain color of skin.And another thing- you don't have to be white to be racist.

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  106. Wow! Long time reader-first time comment-and on old post. I love reading your blogs. I relate to almost everything you write. This blog was eye opening for me. I'm evaluating my own parenting. The "color blind" method..och! I will most definitely change that in our home. I also have a 13 year old & he genuinely loves all people, because they are people. You did thge right thing by speaking to Jimmy's parents. Sad that they are so blind.

    By the way I'm pretty sure the "Klmd" post and the "anonymous" post are Jimmy's mom..

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  107. Just found your blog and I love it! I'm an adoptive mom of one (from Ethiopia) and bio mom of two. We've talked to our kids a lot about race and color. However, our three year old (bio) daughter said to her friend (our neighbor) who is brown, "I don't like brown." Her mother called me, was very angry, and said I needed to talk to our kids more about race and diversity. I was shocked. We had adopted a child from Ethiopia for crying out loud. We talk all the time about race and culture. My husband's sister is adopted from Korea and he grew up in Liberia. Our family IS diverse. So, I think even when parents try their best, kids say things. In our case, our three year old was having a hard time being displaced as the baby of the family by our newly adopted daughter. It's easy for us to be defensive as mothers. I'm sure when our daughter from Ethiopia gets comments like these my mama bear instinct will come out. But the fact that it happened to us demonstrates that it can really happen to anyone. It's good to gently educate but try not to judge.

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  108. I know I'm a little late to the party but I wanted to chime in as a parent of one of the kids who made fun of a black child. We were at the YMCA and when I picked up my kids from childcare the caregiver reluctantly informed me that my 4 yo had made fun of a Jamaican boy because of his hair. Admittedly, she didn't know the details but I know my challenging son and I was not surprised. I did not get defensive. In fact, as a foster-to-adopt mom-in-training, I was mortified and disappointed that the mother had already left with her son so that I couldn't speak with her and apologize for my son's behavior. I had a conversation with my son in the car on the way home. He insisted that another kid started the whole incident but I wasn't letting him off the hook, especially when he insisted that boy's hair looked funny. We talked about how everyone is beautiful to God because He made them and that he should not be making fun of anyone for anything, especially the way that they look. I even took it a step further and told all of my kids that when they see someone being teased it is there job to step in and say that it isn't right. We need to stand up for people. Thank you for sharing this story, difficult though it was to relive, I'm sure.

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  109. Just finding your blog, but this is just lovely. How lucky your kids are to have you!

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  110. Your children are beautiful! My daughter is three, and loves to play with kids. She doesn't care about gender, race, physical disability. She also loves the Disney Princesses -- and lately, I've noticed her commenting on things like "That princess has a black face ... why?" So Ive told her that she does, and that its okay and beautiful and is how she was born. That all people are different, and thats what makes us all special. But I can't help but cringe sometimes when she'll say extremely loud in public "That person has a black face mom" -- mostly because I worry what that stranger will think. From your perspective ... how should I handle it?

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  111. I really love your post. I hope I would be soon concern about that kind of big social education problem ('Cause I'm realist, that the same in France. 'Cause I'm already concern through my man/my husband. And 'cause I'm hopeful to one day give birth or/and adopt... and so be concern on racism or ignorance to my futur kid(s)).
    Anyway, there is a funny thing in France. Most of the time, when people talk about black people, they scared and mentioned the skin word in english "black"... but the real word is "noir". We don't say "white" here, but "blanc". So why people and media always say "black" instead of "noir" ? ...
    When people/I use the real word, so in french "noir", people react, look scared, sometimes they are shocked... but that is the reality, sorry ;-)... thats not a shame, come on ! Why are you scared guys ?
    It's like saying "black" is more ok than saying «noir", but 1. it's the same 2. the real French word is the second one. Maybe saying "noir" is like be more closer... because that is french langage, and no an other one coming from miles (GB, USA).
    The fact is that most of the time people don't assume that “noir” is “noir” and that is not a problem. The problem is saying black, like don't be concerned, like dismiss or remove the person ...
    So anyway, that’s a hard (and so grateful) job to help people to override prejudices and all discrimination…
    PS : I love your blog, I love your themes, I love your faith, your optimism and your fight ! (and your so cute familly !)
    Thanks Kristen !

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