I read a book not long ago about the stages children go through in their understanding of race. Race as we understand it is a man-made creation. Sure, God made us different colors and with defining physical characteristics, but we have made the act of differentiation into an art form. If you need proof, check your latest census forms. Children are not born with that understanding of race. They develop it as we teach it to them. They first notice the color difference, but don’t realize there is anything else attached to it. Then they notice that families, for the most part, tend to be the same color. It is not until we teach them that race comes with cultural labels attached to it that they begin to think in terms of “White people are supposed to…” and “Black people usually…” and “All Asians are…” etc. The author of the book suggests we allow children to go through those stages naturally and not force them to come to our understanding of race too early.
Isabel is still stuck on the first stage. She realizes people are different colors and has begun to think about this. Most children her age have already moved to the second stage of noticing that most families are of similar color. That usually begins with their own family. My little girl does not have that experience. Not only is her family all kinds of rainbow, but each of the six classmates she has in her Sunday School class is a different color. Four of them are a different color than their parents. So it is understandable that the idea of families being similar is lost to her still. However, since we have not pushed the idea of “Black,” “White,” “Hispanic,” etc. she has allowed her imagination to fill in the gaps.
One day I put my arm next to hers and asked her if she had noticed we are a different color. She said she had. I asked her: “What color are you?” to which she quickly replied: “I am chocolate!” And so she is. Delicious, milk chocolate color. “So what color am I?” I proceeded. “You are coffee color!” Yes, I am. Café con Leche, to be exact. “What color is Noah, baby?” “He is chocolate too, mami.” Duh. Of course he is. “And daddy? What color is he, Isabel?” She didn’t skip a bit: “He is cheese color!” Cheese? Huh. I looked at him with more attention that night. What do you know? He is kind of cheese color!
So, not only is my girl stuck in the first stage of racial understanding. She also is stuck classifying people by their food coloring. Because she is cognitively capable of understanding now, I mentioned to her in passing that people call people like her, who are chocolate color, Black people. She gave me a blank look. “But mami, I am not black, I’m chocolate.” Good point, baby. So for now I’m leaving it alone. She will get there when she gets there. In the meantime she has began to point out all the chocolate, coffee, and cheese people she sees on TV, in books, and worse yet because she does not have a quiet voice, at Walmart.