Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prejudice in Preschool?

This happened over a month ago, but honestly I'm just now at a place where I can talk about it.  Please know that this is a very personal, delicate situation and I'm only sharing it with the hope that it will help someone else.

For anyone new to my blog, some backstory.  Our family adopted a 3 year old girl from Ethiopia nearly 2 years ago.  Here is a recent picture of my 4 children:

 We are a multiracial, multicultural family.  We knew/know there will be challenges.  But, for the most part people have been lovely and accepting.

We were not so naive to believe that our youngest daughter would never be discriminated against because of the color of her skin.  But, we didn't expect it to start in preschool!

Our Little Girl came home from preschool, one day saying that another child had told her, "I don't like people with brown skin."

That statement as we drove home from school instantly sucked all the air out of the car for me!

As a white person, you hear of discrimination against other races and it is horrifying and makes you sad.  But, you cannot really understand because you have not lived it.  You begin the process of adopting a black child and you read tons of books, talk to people from a variety of races, read blogs, buy baby dolls and Barbies from every shade, begin hunting for children's books where the main character is black, you learn to do kinky-curly hair, go to a black hair salon, cry over Trayvon's death, and you feel like maybe your eyes have been opened.  Then someone tells your child that they are somehow less than because of the color of their skin.  And it's like a sucker punch.  You realize you had NO IDEA!

So what do you do?

Well, we had some different opinions/emotions here at the It Feels Like Chaos household.  

Little Girl?  She was upset and loudly (because that is how she tells everything) retold the story several times that day. 

Me?  I was sad.  I didn't really think it was prejudice, I mean the kids are 5.  I teach 4 and 5 year olds at our church and I know that is the age, especially it seems in the girls, of the whole, "Yeah, well I'm not inviting you to my birthday party!"  Kids that age begin playing around with including and excluding.  I believe the child who made the comment was just doing that rather than expressing any deep-seated dislike of one particular race.  But, it made me sad that Little Girl now had a reason to think her brown skin was somehow bad.  And I worried she would internalize that feeling and it would stay with her through life.  I also may have told my husband I wanted to move.  We live in a pretty diverse area with people who are originally from China, India, Vietnam, Latin America, Africa, as well as all parts of the U.S., but there is not a high percentage of black people in our community.  And I worry about Little Girl growing up in the minority and sometimes think it would be easier if we moved to a community where my white children were in the minority.

My 10 year old son?  He heard Little Girl telling the story of what the child had said to her.  I asked him, "What would you tell your sister about someone saying that to her?"  His answer surprised me (and also made me a little proud of his protective big brother instincts).  He said, "Maybe I should go pay that child who said that a visit."  I was like, "What would you say to them?"  And he said, "I'd have a speech all written out."

My husband had a similar reaction.  He felt we should let the child's parents and the teachers know what had been said.

I really did not think the answer was to focus on the one child who made the comment because it was a symptom of something bigger.  And there would likely be others.  I thought we should focus on empowering our girl, maybe she could even label it when someone said something like that to her in the future and say, "That is not kind!  That is discrimination!"  And my girl has a big, strong personality so I thought she could handle those words.  And at the very least her words would alert a nearby teacher to what was going on.

Thankfully, we acted on nearly none of our instincts!

Instead, we contacted friends.  We are friends with a black couple who have adopted a white son, so we are sharing the journey of being multiracial families!  My husband has lunch with the man periodically so he emailed him right away and asked, "If it were your daughter, what would you do?"

His answer was, "tell the other kid, 'it's okay, I like everybody.  People with all skin colors are nice.' And walk away.  Tell your daughter that she doesn't have to play with the other kid if she didn't want to.  We'd also tell her that some people may not like her, but that's ok, and that she should like everyone regardless of how they look.  It's a tough conversation she won't fully comprehend for years, but she can understand enough to spare her feelings right now.  Just love on her and let her know she's beautiful and special."

I'm so thankful to have the wisdom of these friends!  And as we were reminded afresh with the eulogies to Nelson Mandela, forgiveness and reconciliation are the best answers.

So, we took our friends' advice and had a sweet conversation with our Little Girl.  But, also . . .

As God would have it (I don't believe in luck or chance), I was signed up to read to my Little Girl's preschool class the very next week!

Can you guess what kind of books I chose to read?


This one is my favorite:

The book describes people as being shades, not colors, things like creamy, ivory, sandy, peach, coffee, cocoa, copper, tan, pink, rose, almond, and bronze.  It has tons of beautiful pictures of children's faces.  The best line in the book is when it says, "Our skin is just our covering, like wrapping paper. And, you can't tell what someone is like from the color of their skin."

I emailed the teacher ahead of time to give her a heads up about what I was going to do and it also conveniently let her know about what had gone on in the classroom without pointing fingers (I didn't tell which child made the comment) and hopefully without seeming like the mom who is always complaining to the teacher about what goes on in the classroom.  The teachers were very supportive of my reading the book and I ended up donating it to the classroom and it is now a permanent fixture in their book corner.

I am also thankful that Little Girl has some great role models in her life who have brown skin.  Her fabulous dance teacher who recently quit teaching school to be a dance teacher full-time, also the owner of the dance studio is a black woman, Little Girl's swim teacher is a black man, and my 6 year old's first grade teacher is black, oh and the President of the United States of America!

Just a quick aside since many white people think it is a respectful term, from what I hear from black people, most don't really like the term "African American".  "Just call me black," one lady told a group of adoptive parents I am a part of.  Unlike my Ethiopian daughter, many black people have never lived in Africa and to say they are "African American" makes them feel somehow less "American" than if we just dropped the "African" part of that.

And now a month later?  My Little Girl considers the child who made the comment her friend.  They play together.

We're learning.  It's painful at times.  But, it is good and we are so grateful for the journey.  God is refining us!

Find more Thankful Thursday here.


  1. I can imagine that all of this was REALLY hard to deal with emotionally. Anytime our kids are slighted or abused in ANY way makes us mama's quite fierce. But I think the advice that you got and the way you handled it was perfect. The book was a wonderful idea. I just had to tell you this story of something that happened to me. When my oldest son was close to 3 we were selling an old table and chair set and a black woman came to look at it to possibly buy. My oldest son was just waking from his nap, ~ and he always woke up kind of crabby ~ so I was holding him as we looked at the table that was in our garage. She was a nice woman and she began trying to talk to my son. He was not responding to her questions about his name, what he liked to play etc., and finally looked at her and said, "I don't like black faces." I of course just wanted to sink right through the floor. I don't know if he had ever seen a black person before and certainly none up close like that. She laughed it off and seemed genuinely unaffected by the remark. I of course apologized profusely. After she had left we of course sat down with him and explained different colored skin and how God loves us all. How his remark was NOT nice etc., etc. He went on of course to be a very unprejudiced person whose best friend at the age of 9, to this day btw and the guys are 37 now, was black. Sometimes kids just say such things out of their own innocence over something different, rather than with any real malice etc. Like pointing out someone is fat, or skinny, or freckled, or wears glasses, has a wheel chair, or is even to daughter heard that a few times, lol. The old saying of kids can be so cruel is just so true. But we don't have any way of really stopping how human nature seems to be so all we can do it teach our kids the response to such things should they be said to them, and how important it is to learn to control the tongue and what they say as well. A person who is WELL loved, like your daughter, will have a sense of pride in who she is and unfornately will learn at an early age it seems to understand how what we say can hurt. HUGS to you!

  2. Thank you for one of the most insightful & gracious posts I've read on this topic.


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