Study Hall: How Do I Talk to My Kid about Diversity?

My daughter is almost 4. We live in a predominantly white area. Her preschool has 1 black teacher who she adores. On several occasions now she has thought her teacher was the Amazon driver in our subdivision or another person we pass at the store. She has now also made this mistake with one of her Asian friend’s mom. I’ve spoken to her about how just because we don’t live in a racially diverse area there are lots of people in the world who don’t look like us and look like her teacher and her friend’s mom. What else can my husband and I do?

First, remember that your child isn’t confusing non-white people because she’s bigoted or because she can’t understand, intellectually, that there’s more than one Black or Asian person in the world. We all use pattern recognition skills to identify people based on characteristics. Younger children can only start with who they’re exposed to. 

Since you mention your daughter confusing her teacher, an Amazon driver, and Black people you pass in stores, it doesn’t seem like you live in an entirely white area. But it seems like her teacher may be the only Black person either of you interact with on a regular basis, with others either being strangers (people in stores) or service workers (Amazon drivers). If your friends, family, and acquaintances are almost exclusively white, it’s unfortunate but not unsurprising that your daughter mistakes non-white people for one another. That isn’t a problem for children; it’s a problem for the adults who raise them. Nia goes into more detail in her excellent article here

In an upcoming newsletter, we’ll discuss diversifying your friend group without tokenizing or imposing on non-white spaces. You can also look at the books, films, TV shows, and videos you share with your daughter. Are there non-white characters in leading roles? When was the last time your daughter consumed media with exclusively white characters? What about media with exclusively Black, Asian, and other non-white characters? As adults, we model for younger people who we value seeing, listening to, and caring for. 

As you do, be prepared to talk not just about race but racism—and the other -isms that perpetuate inequity. It’s not enough to teach children about different identities. We also have to help them understand how these differences affect how they’re treated. As a four-year-old, your daughter will start witnessing this soon. You can use these resources to learn more.

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