We are BLACK: Explaining Race to Your Children

This is probably the heaviest and most personal topic I've discussed here in the Shoppe.  Yet, this is a discussion that I've had numerous times in my life.  Not only was this conversation had with me as a child but I've had to hold this conversation twice, once with each of my daughters.  We are BLACK.  Our children are born into this world so naive and they start to formulate their own thoughts about "race".  Technically, their first thoughts aren't even race related... it's more about the color of their skin.  Growing up very fair skinned myself and now raising daughters who were born the same, I just wasn't sure how to address the confusion that I knew would come.  Sometimes topics can be introduced too early to children and just ruin innocence in them before necessary.  So, with both my daughters I waited until I knew the time was right.

Let's start with my own history first.  I had to be no older than 6-7 years old visiting my grandmother in Ohio for the summer.  Me and all my cousins did this every summer and it was one of the few times that we all spent together yearly.  Well, one summer a group of white girls had convinced me that I was good enough to play with them but not my cousins (who were dark skinned).  Mind you, before this time no one had ever talked to me about "light skin/dark skin... white and black".  What I did know is that it felt good to be singled out.  It almost felt like a privilege.  What I didn't know was that my Grandmother was about to give me the most historic beating of my life.  My Grandmother who also was fair skinned and came from a history of fair skinned ancestors, was raised in Mobile, AL.  So, you can only imagine the disgrace and anger when she heard about my behavior.  Once I told my cousins that they couldn't play with us because they were black and not white like us, they obviously ran and told on me.  It was from this experience that I first learned the difference between black and white, light skin and dark skin.  As my Grandmother would later explain to me, if you're not white you're black.  Doesn't matter if you're light brown, chocolate brown or mixed with any other nationality... You are BLACK.

The scenarios with my two daughters were very different actually.  My oldest daughter never thought she was 'white' per se but she was very colorblind.  She once had a friend that we met, gorgeous brown skinned child.  Well, her mother that we met at the time was white and clearly had not a lick of Black in her.  Out of curiosity, we asked my daughter if her friend's Dad was Black and she responded that he too was white.  Yet, she didn't understand our look of confusion at all.  It wasn't long before we realized that she actually thought a black child could have white parents naturally.  And, we're not talking scientific rarities that happen.  Taylor actually didn't understand the basics of black children are born from black parents, white children are born from white parents and so on.  In fact, the area in which we resided in had a large number of Middle Eastern families and we later found out from Taylor that she thought they were Black too.  (We know Middle Eastern groups are not white, so how are they actually categorized?!)  The heavy accents and names like Swati seemed not to really phase her.  Sitting down and talking to Taylor was pretty easy.  We explained how Black people come in different shades but we are all Black.  Some of it can be explained by melanin and sun exposure while a large portion of it is due to slavery.  Prior to this conversation we thought there were a large number of Black students at Taylor's school (from her stories she would tell us) but after talking with her and clearing up her confusion, it became very obvious that there was actually only a handful!

Now Kennedy on the other hand, was on the verge of thinking she was white.  She came home one day and told Gregory that he was Black because (as she put it), he was Dark Brown Skinned.  When we asked her what did that make her, she replied 'White' because I'm Light Brown Skinned.  Fortunately for her, we both had more patience than my Grandmother did.  It took quite some time for her to understand that we are ALL BLACK.  You can have 'light brown skin or dark brown skin', doesn't matter because we are all Black.  It's crazy because explaining these things will bring a child through so many emotions.  Kennedy went from defensive to confused and even cried!  She didn't cry because she found out that she was black, but rather because she could see that continuing this line of thought would upset us more and more.  It may have taken A LOT of persistence on our end but now when you ask her she will proudly say "I am Black".

Where we reside, it is predominately white and very different from how me and my husband were raised.  We were both raised in diverse communities/cities with lots of family around.  So, with the lack of these things it's very important that we take the time to teach our children what they may not learn in school.  It was super important to never ever mention being 'mixed' with other races to my children.  Although my oldest two children have Italian in their bloodline (their Grandmother was half Italian, half Black) and my own Grandfather is from South America (Belize), I just don't find it necessary to use the word 'mixed'.  While we do discuss their ethnic make up, it is never to "water down" their Blackness.  Honey, we are Black and that is all there is to it.
I'm sure other parents have had to deal with these same issues and conversations.  They're not easy.  Each family will handle things VERY differently.  While I was given a beating by Grandmother, I chose to sit down and talk to my own children when the topic came up.  Also, the circumstances were very different... My children weren't out disowning their family!  You may be thinking, 'wait, don't you have a son'?!  Surprisingly, my son, Gregory, NEVER had any of this confusion.  He always knew he was Black and he always knew the difference between races.  From birth, he was a delicious brown skin boy though so I don't know if he just automatically saw things differently.  This parenting thing doesn't come with a handbook and you just have to rock with each child as they grow and develop because guess what... You're growing and developing right along with them!

The biggest tip that I can give is to be as real as possible with your children.  Once you have "The Talk" (if necessary), don't sugar coat Political debates and News stories.  Don't say things like "baby, he was shot because the officer was mean".  It's important to be honest and say "baby, he was shot because he's Black" and confront those tough questions that may come.  Doing anything less is not setting the right foundation for our children.  Have you had to have this talk with your children?  Did someone have this conversation with you growing up?  Please share below your experiences and how you dealt with it.


  1. Great post Candice!

    I like the way you approached this. - SH


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