Ask ARP: What should I do about my daughter thinking that “white babies are better?”

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

First, thank you for the resources you provide and facilitate the provision of – I have very much appreciated reading the columnists and discussions on your site.

Second, I’m very much hoping you and those who frequent your site will have some insights to share that might help our family with some challenging toddler self-concept and race stuff we’ve just begun to deal with of late.

Last night, before she went to sleep, my daughter put the baby doll she was playing with to bed on the window sill by her bed. {This particular baby doll is phenotypically Caucasian. She has one other presumptively white baby doll, three with her own light brown coloration, and two darker ones closer to her father’s.}

This morning, when she woke up, she asked me to get a baby doll and play dolls with her. She said, “You get a brown one, mama. You like them. But I want a white baby because white babies are better.”

Needless to say, this began a toddler-oriented discussion about coloration {which included the revelation that she had picked up this white-is-better perspective at preschool – in which non-white folks predominate both as teachers and students} and the reading of every kid’s book we have about skin color. {Thank you, bell hooks et al.}

My partner is calling the racial justice organization he used to work for to see if they can refer us to a kid-capable community educator to present at our daughter’s preschool.

Coincidentally, my partner and I were just discussing how to discuss race with our daughter last night. We have made a point of having her toys and books and DVDs be positive in their portrayal of non-whiteness, and we have touched on these issues a few times before – also often at the catalyzing of a teacher comment she reported to us.

Still, we haven’t tackled race specifically ‘cuz we’re at something of a loss as to how to do it without reifying social constructions that are likely to leave her feeling adrift as a mixed blood {or am I just projecting my own experience here?}.

Plus, there’s the additional complication of her non-white, but passable mama, and the general consensus that toddlers aren’t ready for abstract thought – like the social construction of race.

If we can find a community educator for the preschool, I’m hoping s/he’ll have some useful approaches, but I also want to cast a wide net for possibilities on how to deal positively with these fraught issues.

Please help – I’m about to sob sitting here thinking of the look in my beautiful brown girl’s eyes when she said, “white babies are better.”

Thank you,

From Janine Demanda in Oakland, CA

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