What Color is My Teacher?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

This was a conversation I had with my sons, ages 11 and 8, a few days before school started. We were in the car on our way to parent-teacher conferences. The eight-year old was going to meet his teacher for the first time, as she was a new hire at his school.

My son asked, “Mom, what color is my teacher?”

“I don’t know,” I said, feeling slightly alarmed that he was asking this question.  Why was he worried about her color? But I didn’t let on. In fact, I decided right away that I should treat his question like any other.

“Her name is Erica,” I said. “So that doesn’t tell me anything about what color she is. Do you guys want to guess and we’ll see who is right.”

One son guessed the teacher would be Black, the other said White. In my mind, I assumed she’d be White (that’s my racial baggage showing) but I didn’t say anything.

As it turns out, Erica is a beautiful Black woman with a lovely smile and an awesome sense of style. I was secretly thrilled. Mostly because my own expectations were proven wrong.

But the conversation made me think. Lately my boys have gotten more comfortable using racial characteristics to describe people. When it’s appropriate. For example, in my younger son’s class there are two girls named Maya. One is Black and one is White. When he tells us about Maya he now qualifies it with, “the brown Maya” or the “White Maya” so we know who he’s talking about.

At the end of the day, I think it’s actually a good thing the my kids aren’t afraid to talk about ‘race.’ If a person is White or Black or Asian or Latino, then there’s nothing wrong in mentioning that. In fact, when we scold our kids for raising the spectrum of difference, as if it were inherently wrong to notice these very obvious things, then they internalize the erroneous idea that there is something wrong with race or that it is a taboo topic.

We have to start somewhere people. Step by step.

How do you normalize race talk in your house? I’d love to hear about it.

You know I’m listening.



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