Lately, I have been wondering if you can really be politically correct with children because children aren’t necessarily politically correct. Yesterday I was at a stop light waiting for it to be safe to walk. In front of me I saw an African-American woman saying to her kid, “How many times do I have to tell you that you have to wait for the white man???” Then the kid screamed back and said, “I hate the white man why does the white man get to tell me what to do?”
When I heard this I was shocked and didn’t know what to think. I didn’t want to pry but the conversation struck me as weird to say the least. Then the light changed and I was like DUH!!!!! They were talking about the walk light.
This isn’t the first time I have experienced awkwardness surrounding race with children. My neighbor’s son thinks the African-American leasing agent that works in our building is DJ Lance from Yo Gabba Gabba. In Princess A’s playgroup a girl got excited because she thought the older Asian girl in the group was Mulan. I myself said some embarrassing things as a child. I grew up in a community where there were no Jewish people. When I learned about the Holocaust I was mortified and since I had never met a Jewish person thought that Hitler had killed off the entire Jewish race. When I went to boarding school and made my first Jewish friend I said, “Wow, I thought you all died. It’s so nice to meet you.” Looking back I am so embarrassed I said that but it came from an innocent as opposed to an antisemitic place.
I think it’s natural for kids to see someone of a different race and associate them with a character they love but whenever this happens I see the parent tense up. Usually the person being compared to the character doesn’t really mind and sometimes thinks it’s funny.
Since I see this happen so often I am pretty sure Princess A will say something along these lines. Since I grew up in community where for the most part everyone was the same race and religion I didn’t deal with this much as a child so honestly I have no idea how I will talk to Princess A about race when she is older.
How do you talk to your children about race? What do you do when your child says something innocent that could be misconstrued as racist?