My three-year-old associates "dark" with "bad": How to talk to kids about race

Updated Jun 8 2017
Guest post by Granuaile
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
African American Dolls by Etsy seller StepStitches
My three-year-old has around seven baby dolls and always chooses to play and sleep with the same two — a black doll and a white doll. She won't give them names and refuses any names I suggest, instead only referring to them by their colour.

I've noticed that if she's playing a game that involves confrontation her black doll is always the aggressor. I've been thinking about the movies we watch (most noticeably Tangled, which features a dark-haired evil witch and an innocent light-haired princess) and am realizing that there's a direct correlation between bad and dark in many of them.

I'm sure my daughter will grow out of this, but I don't want to ignore how she's playing. I would love advice on films to watch, play suggestions, or stories about how other parents have dealt with similar situations.

What age-appropriate conversations and play suggestions can I start to challenge my daughter's conceptions about color and goodness? — Jenni

Whenever you're dealing with big social issues, it's important to see what the "adult issue" is. In this case, you see your child making associations based on the racialized world she lives in. She sees dolls, and one looks "good" based on what she's seen around her. Kiddos don't think in abstraction. They don't know about mainstream media or systems of oppression. You have to meet her where she is at and work from there.

Try breaking up the "good" and "bad" binary in general

Talk about how when she is naughty, she usually feels upset, hurt, angry, unheard, or needs something. Talk about how other people doing "bad" things might be in the same place. Make this happen when you play with her ("why do you think the doll is acting like this? Maybe they need a turn with that toy!"). Find stories that don't make villains in conflicts, or have a dialogue about the ones that do. My favorite is to talk about witches getting hiccups and accidentally doing hurtful spells. It's silly, kids like it, and it doesn't make witches scary.

Watch Disney movies at your own risk, and talk a lot about them

They are going to tell you a princess is generally a rich, white, powerless pretty lady. They are going to have offensive stereotypes and totally re-write history. That doesn't mean they are off limits. Every piece of mainstream media will be problematic in one way or another, and we cannot raise our little people in a media-free vacuum. It means you break that down and talk about it in a meaningful way with your kiddo so they can keep doing that in their lives.

Make sure that your kiddo is exposed to protagonists that are not from the dominant narrative

Get books featuring people of color (and women and queer folks and disabled folks and so on) as the primary protagonist without being focused on race. Go to community events like art festivals and story times that do the same. Expose her to many identities outside her own, and do it regularly. That way she doesn't learn to be a voyer, she learns to be an active participant in diverse community and see people from other identities as role models/friends/teachers, etc.

Talk honestly about race, racism, and privilege

You don't have to do it all at once. This is a lifelong journey. I like the book "All the Colors We Are" because it is bilingual and doesn't presume white as "normal" as a way to start gears turning. Read books with honest history (they make them for all ages). It's okay if these are sad or scary things to deal with. Kids can have those emotions, too!

This is a lifelong process

Help this little person think critically about "good" and "bad", help them find ways to critique things around them, give them a real rich understanding of history, and role models from many identities. And keep conversations going. There's a reason there are sooooo many comments here, and that is because people WANT to have these conversations, there just isn't space most of the time. A loving home is a pretty rad place to start critical consciousness.

You might also be interested in…

  1. Sounds like you've already introduced the conversation. You don't mention your own or your daughter's race. Is it because you're white and your race is the default, racializing only people of color? I think any discussion needs to start with "I."

    • I'm not sure that her race and her daughter's race necessarially matter. She simply doesn't want her daughter to associate "dark" with "bad". She and her daughter could be "dark" and does not want her daughter to associate her own skin color as something bad.

      • I think it is relevant to the conversations that we have with kids as they get older, for sure. The discussions and I will have as a white women with my children are influenced by my racial privilege, and I will teach my children about their own privilege and about intersectionality.

        • She's not asking about how to explain racial privilege though. She's only asking about teaching her 3 year-old that "dark" does not equal "bad".

          • Yup, she's sure not! I'm just sayin' that self-positioning is something that is relevant for me, and so I agree with Rachel on discussions starting with "I". I'm certainly not demanding to know the race of the original asker – and I agree with you in that we don't need to know that to offer diverse ideas. I guess I'm trying to say that self-positioning IS a valuable idea for teaching. 🙂

      • Actually, while an issue exists here regardless of the child's race, the child's race dictates what exactly the issue is. If she's white, it's about seeing people different than her as bad and herself as good. If she isn't white, it's about seeing herself as bad and people different than her as good. While these issues both need to be addressed, they are different problems that require different approaches.

      • Yes, this could be an issue with a child of any race. However, the issue is that children of all races still tend to associate white dolls (and white people) with goodness and attractiveness, and non-white dolls (and non-white people) with badness and unattractiveness. Read up on the Clark Doll Experiment. It's heart-breaking to watch black children identify the black baby doll as the "bad" or "ugly" doll when given a choice between a white doll and a black doll.

        The trouble is, it's not just media specifically directed at children that helps children form these beliefs. There's plenty of media–advertising, the news, etc.–they pick up on that also contains these messages, and for the most part, not overtly.

        InCultureParent has a really great article about age-appropriate discussions and books about race for children. It's an important conversation to have, because by the time a child is in preschool, they've already internalized a lot of the racial tensions that exist in our society, but which many parents are loathe to discuss because it makes them uncomfortable or because they don't think it's something their kids have already picked up on. Trust me. They have.

        • Yes! I was thinking of that experiment with my comment! I understand that race would come into play with how the issue is addressed potentially, but the problem could occur with a child of any race.

  2. Does she watch a lot of Disney movies? Take a look at the skin color of most of the villains. It's a tough pill to swallow after growing up with and loving Disney movies!

    • Aren't most Disney villains white? I'm thinking of various queens, Cruella De Vil, Gaston. I know there are others of various colors/species, but it seems like there's a good mix. As a society though we tend to use dark colors for evil (see Halloween) and light colors for good/purity. Obviously this shouldn't be applied to skin color, but kids might just get it mixed up at a young age.

      • No, it's not that all villains are different races, it's the skin tone. Think of Aladdin v. Jaffar in Aladdin and Mufassa v. Scar in the Lion King, where they are both the same ethnicity or species, but the evil one is a couple shades darker. Also in Cinderella where her step sisters have a darker complexion and are portrayed as ugly AND evil, while Cinderella has a lighter complexion and is good. And I think the villain in Mulan is has a darker complexion than the "good" characters. It's subtle enough that you don't really see it until you look.

        That being said, how you help your kids see the world will make a big difference on how they interpret different movies. If your kids (or friends) love Disney, then use it to start a conversation. There's also a lot of feminist/anti-feminist themes to think about too.

        • I found Mulan's villains to be just about the weirdest ever. I think they were supposed to be Mongolian or Uighur, but they were a bizarre shade of purple-gray and had crazy yellow eyes. I remember thinking that they were among the most strange set of villains ever.

          • Agreed. That whole movie is weird to me. But I also had to watch it for a seminar and write an essay on why or why not it was pro-feminist. (She's a badass, but yet gets saved by a dude at some point.)

            Do you think Disney realized what they did with their other movies and were trying to fix it but still get the evil thing across by making them…purple?

            There's also other theories that Cruella DeVill and Ursula were modeled after drag queens. Which I don't know if it's true or if it is one of those internet memes of blank totally looks like blank.

            I'm not convinced that kids (or adults!) will even notice these things unless they look for it. So they could be getting these ideas without realizing it and translating them into playing with their actions. I don't think anyone should avoid Disney for that reason, but maybe check in with your kids (or college friends in my case, haha) to see if they noticed and what that may or may not mean.

        • Disney have this weird drawing convention, female lead is lightest/palest, male counterpart is darker, villian is darkest. Whether it's lions, arabian homeless men or saxony princesses, the female lead is always two shades lighter than the villian. For instance look at Ariel (white, red head) – eric (white, black haired)- ursula (grey/black tentacled), cinderella (blonde)- prince charming (light brunette) – stepmother (dark grey, dark eyeshadow), rapunzel (white, blonde)-flynn (white, dark brunette)-gothel (tan, black hair), even compare bambi's colouring to that of faline (his mate) and ronno (the dark stag he fights for her) etc. While they don't necessarily associate white skin with good and brown or black skin with bad, there's a strong link between the shade of that skin colour and whether you're a hero or a villain. Disney is a very obvious example, but if its that pervasive it's easy to see where a toddler might pick up on it.

  3. Tangled is interesting in that way in particular since the innocent blond princess has dark hair once her curse is lifted and she becomes her true self. Weird stuff to deconstruct there!

  4. "The princess and the frog" has been recommended already – with a black princess and a rather dark villain, and the blonde is pretty dumb (nice change ^^ ). But I think the change of perspective will come automatically once your daughter's social circle grows. Don't worry too much.

  5. There's a great book called The Witch Next Door that I read to death when I was a kid. While it doesn't deal with race, it does deal with how things that are different or scary can actually be really awesome. It isn't heavy-handed, but is a nice message of acceptance. I would highly recommend.

  6. In my Anti-Bias in Early Childhood Education class for my teaching master's degree, one suggestion from our textbook was to do an "our favorite brown and black things" activity. The textbook was thinking in terms of a preschool class (there was a suggestion about making a poster with drawings and photos of the students' favorite brown & black things), but you could probably adapt it for just one kid. The idea is to start some positive associations with brown and black, which very often are coded by our culture (and therefore our kids) as "bad." We have lots of favorite brown and black things — chocolate, ice cream, family pets, particular toys, bark on trees, nuts, cake… sometimes we have brown friends or family members (who are certainly not "things" but still are special and "good"!) Maybe go on a "good/beautiful/wonderful brown and black things" scavenger hunt around your house or neighborhood.

  7. If you're looking to stay within the Disney framework, "Mulan" and "Lilo & Stitch" both offer heroines that are not Caucasian. Also, any number of traditional fairy tales offer story lines where making assumptions about people based on how they look gets someone into trouble, while treating everyone well regardless of their appearance is rewarded.

    • Not to discredit this (because Mulan and Lilo & Stitch are both awesome, with great protagonists of color), but I do want to point out that in Mulan, the "bad" characters are much darker overall (dark clothes, hooded/shadowed face, brownish-grey skin) than the "good" characters… in Princess and the Frog (mentioned by earlier commenters), Facilier has darker skin than the medium-brown of Tiana and Naveen (plus dark clothes). Even in Disney movies where the villain is the same race as the protagonist, the "bad guys" are often portrayed by a darker color palette. Kids pick up on this, sometimes subconsciously. With kids who are a little older, talk to them about what they notice about color and goodness/badness! Media literacy can't start too young, in my opinion. 🙂

      • Yup! Aladdin is another good example of Disney making the villains look more racialized than the heroes. Unfortunately, this is a pretty widespread thing. In my opinion, it is way way better to acknowledge the problematic things about movies like this (and still enjoy and watch them if you or your kids enjoy them!) than to ignore them.

        • Absolutely! I LOVE Disney movies, and at the same time I recognize how racist, sexist, and generally biased they are. Kids can absolutely learn to think critically about the media they consume, too!

          Here's a handy color chart comparing the palettes of "good" and "evil" characters across a selection of popular Disney movies, compiled by one of my favorite tumblrs, Feminist Disney.

    • Oh, yeah. "Lilo & Stitch" is a good one for counter-balancing the light=good theme. It's got a brown skinned, black haired (and round figured) girl as the main character and a light skinned bully age-mate. The dark=bad trope is sort of subverted in the person of Cobra Bubbles, who is scary looking and presented as something of a threat but is really a perfectly good guy who's just trying to do his job and make sure Lilo is well taken care of. The actual "bad guys" (such as they are) are purple and green, respectively:p

      And it has strong themes of seeing past appearances and of loving people despite their flaws. And also of the meaning and value of family and the viability of alternative family structures. "Family means no one gets left behind. Or forgotten." Even your family is two orphaned sisters who fight a lot and an adopted blue alien super weapon.

      Also, it's adorable:)

  8. I recall reading an article that said that by making race a taboo subject and not talking about it directly, kids draw their own (sometimes not-so-great, and sometimes just plain strange) conclusions. I saw a great museum exhibit about race once, which was mostly aimed toward kids, that started with why people have different skin color in the first place.

    So I wonder if a valuable conversation to have would be something along the lines of, "If someone has lighter skin, probably some of their ancestors once lived somewhere with less sun. If someone has darker skin, probably some of their ancestors once lived somewhere more sunny." Maybe it would help demystify skin color? Or maybe for a three-year-old that would just be more confusing. Thoughts?

    • I think that might be confusing for a 3-year-old. I think it's better just to stick to the basics: people have different skin colors and hair colors and eye colors, people are born this way, all skin colors are good and beautiful, and we should celebrate those differences.

      I would save the discussion on where people are from until they're older and better able to grasp geography, and be careful even then, because where people's ancestors are from don't really change the fact that people of all races live all over the world now and have for hundreds of years.

    • My mother explained it to me like this when I was younger, but honestly it was a bit confusing! I didn't quite get that ancestors meant more than grandparents and so I thought that you could 'become black' simply by staying outside and getting a tan!

    • I like it.
      It places skin color in the realm of biology and gives a reason (If a somewhat over-simplified one, per the comment in this thread about the Inuit) for it. Plus it lays a groundwork for talking about inheritance, genetics and mutations and adaptation as the child gets older.

      It might be too much information if the child has not yet started to wonder about why people have different colors of skin, but if they start to ask questions about it, this seems like a good second level explanation (Where the first level is "they are born that way").

    • I'm not sure discussing race in terms of biology based on location is good idea. A lot of problems we have today stem from associating color with geographical boundaries. For instance, we often refer to Africa as "Africa" even if we mean to be more specific whereas we mention specific countries in Europe instead of just referring to "Europe" generally. Basing skin color on geography has actually led to a lot of devastating generalizations, particularly in the history of medicine, so I am not sure propagating this idea is any more helpful to discussing race with a child and may only further ideas of an "other."

      Honestly, I'm not sure I have suggestions to this question. It's a tough one.

  9. Maybe you could try to use the dolls and her own game to start a conversation. Get down and play with her and then practice taking turns both with who gets to use which doll and which doll is the "bad guy." If she still continually defaults to villainizing the darker doll, you could then ask her why and/or use that as your teaching moment.

    • i think engaging her on her level – play! – is the very best thing you can do at this age. that is advice we got from our kid's therapist, actually, to work through stuff from his past, but i think the concept is way broader. basically, the idea is that at an age you can't explain things to them clearly, you can lead by example in a context they like/trust/recognize. so, she makes her black doll mean, and you step in with another black doll to diffuse the fight, or simply be sweet alongside, or maybe play your own game with opposite dynamics. anyhow, i think providing concrete play examples for your kid is huge.

  10. Aaaaugh! My daughter just DID THE SAME! Despite my insistence on a variety of shades of dolls she came home from school saying, "a girl at school has a dark face. I don't want a dark face." Ugh. broke my heart. We talked about if having a dark face means she's a bad person. She said the girl was nice, but she doesn't want a dark face LIKE THE BOOGYMAN (from Rise Of The Guardians). I was stumped at first, thinking of a lot of dark "bad guys." But I asked her, "do ALL bad guys have dark skin?" She said yes at first, until I started naming them: the mom in Tangled has light skin. The mean king in Shrek has light skin. The scuba guy in Nemo has light skin. She said "the mean mama in Tangled has long hair too!" I said, " OH!!! That must mean all people with long hair are mean!!!" She said no, that's silly. We talked about how it doesn't matter WHAT you look like, it's how you act. If you're kind. If you're friendly. If your helpful. I try to point kindness out when I see it. All you can do is keep talking and keep talking…..

    • Not exactly the same thing, but a good book for tackling the "good people are beautiful bad people are ugly" idea that small children often have is "The Rough-Face Girl" retold by Rafe Martin.

      It's often billed as a First Nations version of Cinderella. In the story there are 3 sisters, and the two older ones makes the youngest one do all the work, including tending the fire. As a result the youngest one scars from being burnt by the fire. Across the lake lives the Invisible Being, who is looking for a wife, but will only marry a woman who can see him. In the end, it is the Rough Face Girl who is able to pass the tests and marry the Invisible Being.

      I've used it with Grade 1's to talk about how you can't tell if someone is a good person just by looking at them, that you have to see how they treat other people.

  11. Loveisntenough.com is a really great blog specifically dealing with how to parent around issues of race and privilege. Racialicious.com is another awesome blog that is a go-to for anything dealing with race and pop culture. They have extensive archives, so it's worth searching through for past posts with relevant tags (parenting, children, color bias, etc) to get some ideas about conversation templates.

    I also second suggestions to stock up on picture books and/or movies (the second one I would guess is a little harder!) that feature dark/diverse protagonists being awesome. Ezra Jack Keats is a good author to start with… I pulled this list off a google search:

    http://anjalienjeti.com/2012/08/30/favorite-picture-books-with-brown-children/

    You could also check with your local children's librarian/specialty kids' bookstore for further suggestions.

    • I've been working on an ongoing children's book review project for myself where I record my thoughts about kids' books with subtle and overt anti-bias themes, including but definitely not limited to race. It is at abcbookreviews.blogspot.com. maybe others will find it useful or consider doing a similar project for themselves!

  12. My son is 3 and has never watched a disney movie (or pretty much any movie) and I try to keep it that way. We have a no tv rule at our house, no themed clothes, toys etc. Just buying a plain set of legos without some theme (cars, tangled etc) is so flipping hard. Just finding sandals without spiderman or thomas the train is impossible! Our kids are exposed to this stuff constantly!

    I know I can`t raise him in a bubble. I know he needs some 'general culture' to keep up with the other kids. And soon enough he`ll be begging me for toy x that all of his friends have. But I see every day how he is mesmerized by any moving picture, and just absorbs it all in, detail and all. Even three year olds pick up subtle contexts from what they watch. I`d rather he interact with the 6 other kids in his daycare group (which include 3 other ethnicities) than absorb stereotypes from the screen.

    He'll by a Miyazaki kid, not disney, that`s for sure! One of the few movies we have watched is my neighbour totoro.

  13. I also think that some of the dark/light thing goes beyond race. The dark is scary but light makes all the boogey men go away. Black is for funerals, white is for weddings. It is a cultural binary that white/light=good, dark/black=bad and it applies far more widely than just to people. If you can start breaking that down in other ways, too, that will help. Like talk about good things that are dark in general. Without the dark, you can't see the stars. Owls come out at night. Dark chocolate is yummy. Dark sunglasses protect your eyes. Balance the narrative across the board, not just with people, because it is all tied in together. Just like heroes wear white and bad guys wear black. Cultural associations.

  14. She may be a little young for it, but what about Rugrats? That's got sweet Suzie Carmichael acting as a foil to blonde-bully Angelica Pickles.

  15. I was a nanny to a little girl that stated that she "didn't like people with brown skin." Her parents were horrified, but upon closer study, it's apparent where she got some of it. This family–even though very hippy-esque themselves live in a big Victorian home in an upscale neighborhood–almost all white. (They bought it to fulfil their dream of restoring an historic home.) Thus, M's exposure was limited. The one place where she regularly interacted with people of color was the doctor's office. She had been associating the brown skin of her doctor with bad–since she administered all of the uncomfortable things doctors do: shots, exams, etc. When they realized it, it was still a struggle to deal with for them. However, it did work itself out fully when M got to grade school, and was enrolled in a diverse school.

  16. If you really want Disney, what about Lilo and Stitch. Not only are the main characters darker complexion, but they also are built in a healthier body image as well. In addition, there really are no "bad guys", just conflicting agendas.

  17. I think we do associate dark with bad, even as far as dying, we cant pretend that all of the dark things we see as bad and scary. The thing is for it not to apply to human beings!

    I notice my own 13 month old daughter playing with and approaching other children and their Mums and Dads, she doesnt see colour, she sees people.
    The fact that one dolly is dark in colour and the other light is just her observation of fact, one dolly is different to the other. Children express fear or confusion through play, you are seeing this in the naming of the dollies. I would try to get to the bottom of it, there is obviously some conflict going on in her understanding, and it is your job as her parent to help her through it. Maybe there is another child in her nursery who has either said something negative about the dark dolly, or even repeated innocently something a parent said to him or her. You only have to listen to children explaining stuff we adults take for granted to understand how little small children actually know. I remember when I was younger I was given 3 Cindy type dolls, they were pre-owned, but Id play that the dark haired one was a meany, I was about 8, and the dolls were all "white", but it was always the dark haired one that was bad,(the others were blond and ginger). I dont know why thats just the way it was, and I didnt grow up with racist parents or anything like that.
    You deffo need to split the two "darks" for your daughter thats for sure. xxx

  18. I would definitely second Lilo & Stich! In How to Train Your Dragon, the hero dragon is black, so that could be something, or what about Wall-E? It's more abstract, but there you have a somewhat darker, rough-around-the-edges character taking on the bright, over-sanitized 'bad guy' culture.

  19. Lead by example, maybe have a play session with her and the dolls, where you make the darker doll as the heroine? Try to show her that both dolls can fill that roll, because all people can.

  20. I am surprised no one mentioned Pocahontas. She is my favorite Disney princess and contradicts the usual darker bad-guy. She has the dark skin and hair, and while the "bad guy" has dark hair, skin-tone wise he is much lighter. Shrek would also be a good one because it is about stereotypes. Tarzan might also be a good one to watch together.

  21. I recall doing something very similar as a child.

    However, it was only as an adult that I understood that when people talked about skin colour they meant that other people weren't white… I didn't really "get" that different skin colour was actually a thing in the real world- not because I wasn't around a multi cultural environment, but just because I thought everyone was white (ie same as me)… I think I thought black referred to people in Africa, not my own neighbours, because it sounded like it really meant something *different*.

    Of course, I'm not American so discussion of race is different for me anyway, but I wouldn't overthink it as long as you're happy with the behavior you're modelling.

  22. I agree with the idea of leading by example. Sit down with your daughter. Play with her. Pick the dark doll and make her a heroine.

    Also, I'm not sure if it's been suggested yet, but Studio Ghibli movies are amazing and have much more complex symbolism than the usual dark bad light good that you see everywhere else. For a very young child stick to My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, The Secret World of Arrietty, and Kiki's Delivery Service. The others are all very good, but some of them get a little scary. I showed Totoro to my little cousin when he was 2 and he absolutely loved it.

  23. Whenever you're dealing with big social issues, it's important to see what the "adult issue" is. In this case, you see your child making associations based on the racialized world she lives in. She sees dolls, and one looks "good" based on what she's seen around her. Kiddos don't think in abstraction. They don't know about mainstream media or systems of oppression. You have to meet her where she is at and work from there.

    Try breaking up the "good" and "bad" binary in general. Talk about how when she is naughty, she usually feels upset, hurt, angry, unheard, or needs something. Talk about how other people doing "bad" things might be in the same place. Make this happen when you play with her ("why do you think the doll is acting like this? Maybe they need a turn with that toy!"). Find stories that don't make villains in conflicts, or have a dialogue about the ones that do. My favorite is to talk about witches getting hiccups and accidentally doing hurtful spells. It's silly, kids like it, and it doesn't make witches scary.

    Watch Disney movies at your own risk, and talk a lot about them. They are going to tell you a princess is generally a rich, white, powerless pretty lady. They are going to have offensive stereotypes and totally rewrite history. That doesn't mean they are off limits. Every piece of mainstream media will be problematic in one way or another, and we cannot raise our little people in a media-free vacuum. It means you break that down and talk about it in a meaningful way with your kiddo so they can keep doing that in their lives.

    Make sure that your kiddo is exposed to protagonists that are not from the dominant narrative. Get books featuring people of color (and women and queer folks and disabled folks and so on) as the primary protagonist without being focused on race. Go to community events like art festivals and story times that do the same. Expose her to many identities outside her own, and do it regularly. That way she doesn't learn to be a voyer, she learns to be an active participant in diverse community and see people from other identities as role models/friends/teachers, etc.

    Talk honestly about race, racism, and privilege. you don't have to do it all at once. This is a lifelong journey. I like the book "All the Colors We Are" because it is bilingual and doesn't presume white as "normal" as a way to start gears turning. Read books with honest history (they make them for all ages). It's okay if these are sad or scary things to deal with. Kids can have those emotions, too!

    This is a lifelong process. Help this little person think critically about "good" and "bad", help them find ways to critique things around them, give them a real rich understanding of history, and role models from many identities. And keep conversations going. There's a reason there are sooooo many comments here, and that is because people WANT to have these conversations, there just isn't space most of the time. A loving home is a pretty rad place to start critical consciousness.

  24. Just be a bit careful when you talk about the black VS white-issue with your kid.

    Many times kids don't even think about skin-colours untill some grown up (with good intentions) start talking about how black and white is just as good. It's then the children sees that "oh yeah, I am WHITE and my friend Betsy is BLACK".

    By giving skin colours too much attention, we ourselves create the gap between Black and White skin, instead of it being just Skin.

  25. Remember, too, that at this age kids find ANY reason to sort their friends. Or their toys, or whatever. Many three year olds, when given a basket of colorful beads, will sort them into piles of matching colors. This skill is totally normal at this age as they learn to notice similarities and differences. While this doesn't address the 'good' and 'bad' connotations you mention, have you also considered her views on gender? Or age? Or ______? If she is given a girl and a boy doll, is the boy the dominant one and the girl the passive one? Or does she like girl dolls because she herself is a girl? Yay! This doesn't mean she's sexist, right? Just that SHE HERSELF identifies with the doll. There isn't anything wrong with that. Kids have complex brains and as adults we need to be reaaaaaaaalllly careful not to overlay our ideas/fears/agendas on their discovery. Have you actually asked her why the one doll is the bad one?

    My point in asking this is often adults place ideas onto children that the children have no consideration of. Yes, maybe your daughter saw something where the dark character was bad. Does she transfer this to dark people? When you're at the market and a person with darker skin passes, does she hide (in the same manner that she hides from EVERY adult or just this 'dark' adult?) Does she actually transfer this to people or just dolls?

    Children will naturally group themselves with 'like' children. "Oh, you have green shoes? I have green shoes. We're best friends. You, you have red shoes, I'm not your friend." This ISN'T shoe-ism or anything discriminatory in the sense we currently define discrimination. To discriminate means to notice differences; we intentionally teach kids how to do this ALL the time. (Socks in this drawer, shirts in that one, no don't mix them up, coats over on the hook, dirty clothes in the basket.) It's natural for kids to practice this skill with their daily items, too.

    The most important thing I think you should focus on is treating ALL people with kindness, and getting to know them before you decide if they're one to separate yourself from. There are great multicultural books you can read together; focus on the positive things you each see on the pages. Have fun and pain the dolls (if they're plastic) all sorts of colors. Dye them if they're fabric. Create different characteristics for each of them. Focus on their character traits more than their visible, observable traits. (I know this might be hard with the dolls specifically, so maybe use this to when reading stories.) When reading, ask her to point out things that aren't simple like color or size. (Can you find the character that is feeling sad? that is feeling happy? that misses her daddy?)

  26. As an adult, I am never fazed by anyone's race, gender identity OR sexual orientation. I put this down to growing up in the Deaf community, where we had people of all sorts. They were never judged, or discriminated against (at the very least, not in front of kids) because the important thing in the community was deafness and language as a bond.

    That is why when I grew older and went to hearing schools and such, I was astounded to hear racism, sexism and homophobia was a thing and people actively discriminated against these things along with audism (discriminating/being oppressive towards D/deaf people).

    So my point here is maybe, the best way to NOT associate 'dark' with 'bad' is to be around people outside of your own race and interacting positively. Unfortunately, with that said, I know it can be hard to do so, especially with the media always portraying bad things as dark.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.