Ask LIE

Dear LIE readers,

I’m turning this format a bit on its head today by asking  for LIE readers’ thoughts on my own question.

I was part of a conversation recently that started as a discussion among mostly white adoptive parents of black children about whether “monkey” could ever be used benignly in reference to a black child (e.g., “you’re such a good climber–you climb like a monkey!”) and morphed into a larger discussion about educating young children of color about racist terms and how to respond to them.

A few larger questions emerged that I would welcome your thoughts on (for the purposes of this conversation, I’m imagining the child I speak of below to be a child of color):

-If your child is unaware of the derogatory meaning of  a word like monkey, should the parent teach her this meaning before the world does?

-Does it matter how old the child is? Is there an age that is too young for such a conversation?

-How intentional should a parent be about this teaching? That is, should a parent wait for a sort of “teachable moment” to arise, but risk that the child will have the word directed against her in the meanwhile, or should the teaching be more intentional and planned? If the latter, what age is best to start? What form should the teaching take?

Also, feel free to address the original question, if that’s of interest to you:

-Can a word like “monkey” could ever be used benignly in reference to a black child?

-How would you address a child or adult who used the word in reference to your child with no malicious intention?

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