We were fortunate to send our children to a school that was a little more diverse than most elementary schools in our town – this was 28 years ago.
My tow-headed daughter would come home from kindergarten telling me about things that different black children said. I was busy with younger children and had not spent much time in her classroom, but it seemed to me that she was telling me about a lot more black children than I had actually seen. It turns out, she thought the important characteristic was HAIR color. Her hair was white, and when I filled out the Kindergarten Registration, she heard me identify her as white. These other children, some indeed black, others Native American, Hispanic, Asian, even of European descent, had black hair.
It was a challenge to explain in a way that made sense that skin color was the determining factor. I don’t think I was ever successful.
That same year, we were visiting my parents at Christmastime. My father made some comment about N******. He noted my disapproval and my daughter’s look of confusion. So he asked her “Do you know what a N***** is?” She figured it out from the context of his comment. “Yes,” she replied. “They’re the people on Sesame Street that aren’t Muppets.”
This story is from Maya, a 53 year-old mom from Utah. Maya writes that, “We processed through it again in about 7th Grade. At that time my daughter had been eating lunch with her friends who were mostly Hispanic. A teacher made some comment about seeing her blonde head amongst all the darker ones. I think the teacher meant well, but it had the effect of her being excluded from that group of friends.”