When 3-Year-Olds Make Racist Comments
Can we even talk about this?
I'm struggling here, because the story is so innocent and, in a way, cute; but it's kind of messed up too.
We were at the pool the other day, as we are on a lot of days lately. The public pool we've been going to is in our general part of town, but technically one neighborhood over from ours. This neighborhood is the most ethnically diverse part of San Diego. I'll bet it's one of the most ethnically diverse, international neighborhoods in the country. Every kind of hyphenated American is represented, as well as lots of immigrants and refugees from other countries.
For the most part, our kids don't seem surprised that people come in different shades. Aside from calling any picture of an Asian woman "mommy" when they were very young, they haven't exhibited much proclivity for categorizing people based on their ethnicity.
But the other day, one of the twins (I'll protect her identity) made a comment that would have been mortifying had it not been for its ridiculous delivery, and for the fact that it was made well out of earshot of its object.
We were splashing around on the small set of steps that go into the "big pool." Every once in a while, someone would want to climb those steps, and we would need to make way.
A lady came along and we had to move. We had to give her a wide berth because she needed the handrail, and because, well, she was just pretty damn wide. She also happened to be black. I'm not sure if she was African or African-American or American-African or Afro-Carib or what, so I'm just gonna say she was black.
As she trudged up the steps, she looked down at my daughter and said, "Hi, beautiful girl!" I had noticed this nice lady earlier because she had made the "Your kids are sooo precious" face at me from across the deck.
She was trying to engage with the kids as she crept up the steps, but one was distracted, and the other one was wary.
The wary one made a face I had never seen before. She closed one eye, cocked her head to the side, pursed her lips, and scrunched up her face like she was itching for a fight. Then she mad-dogged the nice lady, who smiled in response. My kid didn't take her open eye off of the lady until she was completely out of the pool.
Once the lady was a few paces away, my daughter turned her twisted, suspicious mug toward me and said, "Looks like a bear."
"What looks like a bear?" I asked distantly, knowing full well the answer.
"That brown guy," she said. ("Guy," by the way, is not a gender-specific term to our kids.)
I was a little crestfallen. Oh no, I thought. She's starting to judge people by their color and size. It's the end of innocence.
Then I thought about her perspective. From my daughter's vantage point on the step, the nice lady, who was a good 5'9" and 250 pounds, must have looked quite imposing. And, honestly, her body type was almost the same as the bear from I Want My Hat Back. Also, I don't think my kid was using "bear" as a pejorative. Bears are cool.
I love living in an ethnically diverse area, but I don't relish the idea of explaining to my children how to be sensitive and cautious when discussing race, if only in passing. It's way too complicated. Maybe my daughter already has the right idea. If we just give up on staying abreast of the politically correct terminology to talk about racial differences, and instead, describe individuals based on what illustrated animal charactes they most closely resemble, maybe we can transcend the blurry and artificial boundaries of race.