Monday, August 6, 2012

Explaining race to a 3 year old

Apparently this year is the year of tough conversations with E. Before this weekend we had covered bubbies, marriage, and plenty of potty talk.
However, I think this weekend's tough conversation takes the cake. But, first a little background.

E has two friends with the same name: Ryleigh, from school, and Riley, my girlfriends daughter. Ryleigh is her best friend and happens to be African American. Riley, is white. Just have two friends with the same name is confusing. Trying to explain who we are talking about has always been "Ryleigh from school" and just "Riley."

We were going to the zoo on Sunday with "just Riley" and told E that on Saturday night as an incentive to go to bed. Then, she asked if we were going to the zoo with "brown Ryleigh." I swear I nearly died. We have never, nor would we ever, refer to Ryleigh that way. I know E had no idea what she was saying, but I nearly died. I'm sure it is a simple observation that her little brain made. I let it go this time and just explained that we weren't going with Ryleigh from school. I hoped she wouldn't say it again.

But... she did.

So, I sat her down and tried the best I could to explain to my three year old why referring to someone as "brown Ryleigh" was unkind. It went something like this...

Me: "Emery, we really shouldn't call Ryleigh, brown Ryleigh" It's not kind
E. Why?
Me: Well, we shouldn't use the way someone looks to describe them. That's why we call her Ryleigh from school.
E: oh...
Me: See, we wouldn't call you "brown eyed Emery..."
E: I have brown eyes like Daddy, and you have Green eyes
Me: That's right. We all look kinda like our mommys and daddys. Ryleigh looks like her mommy and daddy. And sometimes we have different hair, eyes, or skin than our friends. Everyone is just a little different. That's why we're all special.
E: Ryleigh's my best friend.
Me: That's right. And you and Ryleigh look different from each other and from all the kids in your class. Does that make sense?
E: yes
Me: Ok, let's not use the way someone looks to talk about them. It might hurt their feelings.

Then she asked to watch Tangled... and ran off.

I have no idea how much of that sunk in. She's 3, she truly doesn't have any concept of race. But, I would hate for someone to hear that and think that she does. Or that it is taught, but that is certainly not the case.

How else could I help her understand? I was seriously not expecting this conversation for a while. Just add that to the list. She has also recently asked in passing why she was in my tummy before she was a baby. Let's be clear, I have no intention of having THAT conversation for a while...

And, according to her father she isn't shaving her legs or getting a bra until she is 15... 

Emery and Riley at the zoo this weekend, looking at Gorillas. These two are so cute together!

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