Do Children See Skin Color?
Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, believes that children do see skin color and that it’s up to parents to teach them it doesn’t matter.
I don’t generally get worked up over things I read on Facebook but earlier this month a friend posted something that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.
My friend was with her girls at the playground. A little girl with blonde hair approached her and asked if she was the girls’ mom or their babysitter. When my friend told the little girl that she was their mother the little girl said: “Well they look different than you. You know, their skin is darker and yours is like mine.”
My friend looks similar to me. She’s a taller-than-average white girl with shoulder-length brown hair and fair skin. Her daughters are both blessed with beautiful dark brown hair and skin that’s a creamy shade of caramel. What I would give for skin like that. Those lucky little ladies got it from their father whose family comes from Ecuador (though he’s pretty light himself).
One of the cool things about my friend is that she doesn’t have thin skin, fair though it may be. But something about her encounter with the little girl left her feeling sad. After explaining the scenario on Facebook she wrote: “I can only say that for various reasons, I don’t think that what happened this afternoon was a clear cut case of either curiosity or prejudice.”
Most of the people who commented on my friend’s post saw the exchange as a “teachable moment.” But one woman had this to say:
“[Y]ou taught that little bigot about life. What difference does skin color make…. Most young children do not see skin color unless some adult brought it to there [sic] attention.”
I wasn’t at the playground that day so I can’t speak to the girl’s tone or demeanor but to call a little girl a bigot? Wow. That’s harsh. And to say that children do not see skin color is simply wrong. They just don’t form judgments about people based on skin color. They can’t, because they have no framework in which to do so.
That’s where parents come in. It’s up to us to teach our children that color is, quite literally, only skin deep. It’s up to us to teach them that people come in all colors, shapes and sizes but that skin color and physical characteristics do not define a person. It’s up to us to teach our children that while every person is unique, we are all equal.
Children learn and form assumptions about the world based on what they observe. They just haven’t developed a brain-to-mouth filter that keeps them from asking blunt questions.
In the case of the little girl at the playground, it seems to me that she did the best thing she could have done. She noticed a difference in skin color between my friend and her daughters and asked about it. She made a blunt comment about the difference but her comment, at least as I read it, was free of judgment.
What do you think?