Explaining “Black People” to a Five Year Old


united-colors-of-benetton-kidsThis weekend our family drove on the Jackie Robinson Parkway in New York. We asked Lady C (our 5 year old) if she knew who Jackie Robinson was because we previously told her about him and wanted to see if she remembered the history lesson. She said he did something in football (cue her father rolling his eyes) which we corrected to baseball. Then we told her he was the first black person to play major league baseball.

She paused a little and Aisha asked… “Do you know any black people?”

Lady C confidently said “NO”.

Ok… so, we asked if she knew any white people and she named several of her classmates and explicitly excluded a black girl in her class … let’s call her “Kelly”. We asked her what Kelly was and appropriately, she said Kelly was … a brown person… aha!

Lady C said: “She’s brown like me and you and daddy!” At this point, we didn’t realize that she left someone important out…

So we used the reference to brown people to explain that when people refer to black people they are talking about brown people whose ancestors are from the African continent. We had to have some discussion and correction there because she thought it was riiiight next to America. We let her know “Africa’s far”! Then came the interesting part… she said that Lady H was not black. She was a white person because she was tan like white people…

And then she asked us if allllll brown people are black people.

Whew… *Pause*

It ended up being a wonderful conversation about the fact that black people whose ancestors come from Africa come in all sorts of wonderful colors of brown ranging from the color of her little sister, all the way to the color of her mommy. We also told her that some brown people come from all different parts of the globe and not all brown people are black people…

It shed light on the very important and often overlooked fact:

Talking about race is NOT easy! 

When people want you to simplify things they say, “Explain it like I’m a 5 year old!” But ACTUALLY explaining race to a 5 year old is not that simple!  In fact, we had to draw from a bunch of different sources to get the point across:

  • From Mulan, the movie (to explain ancestors)
  • From Crayola (for the names of different skin tones: tan, brown, etc)
  • From her classmate (to give examples of non-black)
  • From genetics (to explain why Little Sister looks different from the rest of the family)

So clearly race shouldn’t be treated like it’s an easy topic. Maybe more people would  get along if they didn’t treat race like it was a black and white issue…literally!

How do you discuss race with your kids? In fact, WHEN did you start the discussion? Did you wait for them to come to you or did you “prime” them when they were about to start playing with other races? We’d love to know!

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6 thoughts on “Explaining “Black People” to a Five Year Old

  1. Lady S made a comment Sunday that my mom was black black and we are brown and daddy’s white. Lawd….she has the poor color wheel all messed up. We talked to her about what it means to be African American and that all shades of brown/black are beautiful. She insists that white people are pink. We talk about hair all the time! When we look at books we make sure to read multicultural books from all cultures. It’s something we get concerned about since her elementary school will be mostly white.

    • thegreeneblog1314 says:

      It makes sense that they describe it as colors they see and connect with as opposed to titles they are assigned. It is absolutely something that is learned….

  2. Now imagine having that conversation with my nephew several years ago with all the complexions that make up my husband’s family sitting around a table in the IHOP. Turns out that he, I and my MIL were black but his mother, my FIL, my husband and my SIL were all white. Yeah, that was fun tryna break down while eating pancakes.

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