How Do You Tell A Dark Person from a Light Person?

I came to this…after searching for info on how to talk to kids about race after an incident with my 3.5-year-old son Harry this evening. He was having the usual tooth brushing fight with his Dad (Dad makes him brush them himself, I’m the “softie” and I usually cave and do the brushing for him). It ends with a time-out and when his Dad spoke to him after giving him two minutes to calm down, he said he “didn’t like dark people brushing his teeth.” (His father is mixed-race, I am white, and Harry is surprisingly pale – he could be my twin.)

We (foolishly!) overreact and I fear have turned it into one of those “I know how to get hurt Daddy’s feelings” things. Anyway later I tried to have a talk with him about it and asked him where he heard the term (“by talking to myself”) and who was dark and who was light (he seems to apply the designation randomly) and how you could tell whether someone was a dark person or a light person. He said that light people drive cars, and when I pointed out that his cousin Siena (who is black/mixed-race) doesn’t drive a car because she is a baby, but he said she is light, he said “she could drive a small car.” Argh…

His pre-school is very diverse and regularly invites the kids’ families to come in and share their cultures, our street has at least three other mixed-race couples and their children, and still we face this weirdness…

This story was told by Jennifer, a 39 year-old communications worker who lives in Toronto, Canada.

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  • Dawn MIller

    So interesting. At first glance, I’m black and everyone else in my family is white. (In reality we’re all mixed. But my dad is black/native American. My brother’s father is italian and our mother is just a heinz mutt.) When we were kids my brother repeatedly told me he didn’t like black people. In hindsight we crack up about it, but my mom had to QUICKLY bring to his attention that he, too, was black and he was just insulting himself. In the beginning he didn’t take well to the news. Now he refers to himself as black and italian. I think no matter how hard you try kids eventually notice the skin color differences and try to push the envelope – just like they do with everything else. As long as WE don’t make a big deal about it I think they can come to learn it’s not a difference that matters. (Or should matter.)