the kiss

Simone doesn’t keep much to herself. At lunch, she hit us with this: “A kid at school asked me how I got my skin color.”

It was a Sunday.

“Tell him God gave it to you,” I told her.

Simone was silent, and I provided another answer.

“Ask him how he got his color.”

More silence.

Later, I asked her to repeat the question to me because I knew I wanted to write about it. I also asked her about the race of the person asking. It was a white child.

Here’s the thing. Adults often say children don’t see color. I don’t believe that. They see color just like we do. We teach our children to identify cars, houses, toys, pretty much anything, by color. If those who say children don’t see color mean that kids don’t know or understand race, I agree. Children don’t know the history. They don’t know that some people won’t like them because of the color of their skin. They don’t know about slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights. They don’t know about any of those things. As a result, they will play with any kid on the playground. That’s a beautiful thing.

But at some point, adults start talking to children. The children start noticing the differences and they begin asking questions. The question posed by the child could be innocent. He could simply want to know why Simone’s skin is a little darker than his. She could explain that her Mommy is black and that her Daddy is white. She could tell him she is a mix of both of our skin tones.I  just don’t know whether the answers to such questions provide any satisfaction for a child.

The question also could be more serious. He could be noting how Simone is different and making her see it. He could be drawing boundaries, developing expectations. We’ll never know. All I know is that when children ask questions, it’s an opportunity to teach them.

I love how Simone communicates with us. Nadia doesn’t tell us much of anything and doesn’t ask questions about race. Simone shares the information, but she doesn’t invite conversations about it. I don’t press her because I want her to keep sharing with us. I’ll listen and help when I can. I will give her some answers because I want her to have something to say. She needn’t feel powerless when people ask about her identity. At the same time, I understand she will have to form the answers to such questions for herself and navigate this thing called race in her very own way.

Have you been here before? How did you and your child handle it?

7 thoughts to “Kid Questions

  • Crystal Spraggins

    I have been there. My 8-year old son once sadly stated that
    no one in the class “looked like him.” I’m black, and my husband is white. The
    other kids in my son’s class (this is a small conservative Christian school)
    are white or black (not of mixed races). Well, this comment threw me for a
    loop, because my older sons (20 and 24) never wanted to talk about race at all, although I always encouraged them to.
    I reminded my 8-year-old about other friends in the school who have mommies and
    daddies of different colors, and he seemed okay after that.


    But for anyone to believe that kids don’t notice color—oh yes they do! This
    young son of mine is an artist, and when he draws family pictures, his oldest
    brother, who has olive skin tones, has a much darker face than anyone else! And, I can’t resist telling this story:


    While pregnant with my second son and at the playground with
    my oldest and his two younger white cousins (they were all 4 and 5 at the time),
    my niece all of a sudden stated, “You know, the baby doesn’t HAVE to be black.
    He COULD be white.” She said this slowwwly and thoughtfully. I could tell she’d
    been thinking about it for a while, although we’d never talked about it. I have to say, her comment cracked me up. She’s now 25, and I keep waiting for the right time to remind her about this.

    • Honeysmoke

      I love this story about your niece. 

  • Nikki {AsianBlackCo}

    Children def do see skin color. Kids as young as 2 will comment that another child looks different then them. I had to deal with this when my son was 2. The important thing is to support ours kids and give them suggestions, information and answers so they can deal with these questions.

    Like you said. Sometimes it’s simple as saying my mom is this race and my dad another. Other times our kids need to ask the person asking the question “Why are you asking? What does it matter?” It’s a ongoing process.

    • Honeysmoke

      I agree, Nikki. I think turning the question on folks will make them think about why they are asking. 

  • Blanc2

    We prepared our kids for what we thought was the inevitable first racist incident.  It hasn’t come yet.  There were a few comments in younger years about skin color (we taught our kids to use “golden” to describe themselves), in the nature of kids talking about color without the filter of adult prejudices.

    For our son, once in high school, on the way to rowing team practice with a white buddy from England, my son said to the English guy:  “You’re the only English guy I know who chose rowing over soccer.”  English kid:  “You’re the only black guy I know who chose rowing over basketball.”  That has been it.

    In the meantime, the small private school our kids attend has been successful in recruiting a significant number of students, mostly girls from China.  Compared to the spoiled rich white suburban girls in school, most of whom range from chubby to obese, the svelte Chinese girls are, well, hot.  All of the boys, including my son, are dating Chinese girls.  Welcome to ethnicity in the 21’st Century.

    I forgot to mention that our school has more biracial students than students with two African-American parents, and more interracially adopted kids than either of the foregoing.  We also have several families with “two daddies” or “two mommies”, one of which inolves a pretty high profile guy. 

  • sarenaofkae

    I’m the mother of 4 biracial boys ranging in age from 4 to 16 (I’m White, my husband is Black).  Each of them has a slightly different color (the youngest is quite light, the oldest is olive-ish, and the middle two are a beautiful brown) and ALL of them have noticed skin color by the time they were four.  When they’ve noticed differences (either between themselves and one of us as parents, one of their brothers, or their friends and others at school) we’ve tried to be fairly non-chalant about the differences — treating differences as ordinary — while affirming that they are each beautiful.  I think my favorite memory is of my husband telling one of my sons that he was a beautiful cinammon color while his brother was the color of cafe au lait.

  • Jenni

    I actually have been thinking about kids and race in my ministry as youth pastor in a diverse community in Birmingham… Your post if very timely. An article by Christina Cleveland was very insightful for me, it might be a good read for you as well.


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