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How to handle this...."the brown boy"....

(31 Posts)
KerryMum Fri 07-Sep-07 22:01:00

We live on a small estate that has an African family on it. They have a teenage son that doesn't mix with the other kids and two girls who play with the other girls on the estate (I only have boys). Tonight my boys and some others were playing basketball and the African family had guests and one of their boys came out to play (he was about the age of my sons and their friends).

They were all playing nicely having a lovely time but ds2 (4.10) kept referring to the African boy as "the brown boy" when talking about him (e.g. "the brown boy has the ball")

Now I didn't want to make a big deal of this as I didn't want to embarrass the African boy. He seemed to take no notice of ds. I honestly didn't know whether or not I should say anything to him at all. The boy is, in fact, brown skinned. But I don't want ds to be identifying the boy SOLELY by the color of his skin.

He has two Afican boys in his class at school as well.

Help?

FrannyandZooey Fri 07-Sep-07 22:04:22

What's the boy's name? Find out if you don't know, and tell your ds to use his name

SoupDragon Fri 07-Sep-07 22:05:01

For a start, he's 4 and I very much doubt anyone would take offence - he's just describing him in the same was as "the blond boy".

I tend to explain that they prefer "black" (although this causes arguments about him being brown not black). I once had DS1 ask "why is that man's skin brown" (or it may have been more general about the entire population ofAntigua) when in a cab in Antigua...

Don't make a big deal of it.

FrannyandZooey Fri 07-Sep-07 22:05:19

oh sorry I see now the boy doesn't live on your estate, but was visiting friends

Cashncarry Fri 07-Sep-07 22:06:22

I honestly wouldn't worry too much - surely no one would be offended by a 4/5 year old referring to someone as brown - I think it's lovely. Life is so much simpler for little kids and they're bound to use simpler categories. He's plenty of time to learn the more pc ones when he's older.

On a similar note, I used to help out in a holiday scheme as a teenager and the kids were fascinated by my skin colour - one little boy (about the same age) asked me if I'd been dropped in a bathful of chocolate when I was a baby! (I thought it was so cute and love telling the story even now 15 years later!)

mymatemax Fri 07-Sep-07 22:06:48

I would just ask the boy his name & when ds refers to him again, simply say - he's names X.

I've had similar with my ds & some neighbours who are Chinese, he was refering to them as "the Chinese" as a descriptive term purely as he couldn't remember their names,

KerryMum Fri 07-Sep-07 22:06:57

Yes, that's true, he does call the other African children on the estate by their names.

mymatemax Fri 07-Sep-07 22:07:21

sorry x posts

hatwoman Fri 07-Sep-07 22:08:39

I agree with both fandz and SD. my dds have described people's skin as brown and I have just said how usually people say black, without making a big deal of it. and names are definitely the way to go

startouchedtrinity Fri 07-Sep-07 22:08:55

I might be wrong on this so please everyone forgive me if I am, but I wouldn't make too big a thing of it, but rather encourage his friendships so he no longer notices. I say this partly on my own experience growing up in the 70's where multiculturalism hadn't really happened - an Asian girl moved in across the road from me and at first I was fascinated but then she became my best mate and neither of us cared about our skin colour, but we loved sharing each other's culture. Also I once saw a thread on here where a child had been told that saying a person's skin is brown 'isn't nice'. sad This made me think of how we tell children not to point out that someone is fat or has sticky out teeth, b/c society judges that to be fat or have odd teeth 'isn't nice'. Therefore, the message can be that to have brown skin 'isn't nice'. I think for a four yr old he's just saying what he sees, it's like saying someone has red hair or glasses.

KerryMum Fri 07-Sep-07 22:09:56

I wouldn't mind be dipped in a vat of chocolate!

Yum!


Kids can be sweet and so guileless.

brimfull Fri 07-Sep-07 22:10:47

Reminds me of when FIL was standing outside our house and the little girl about 3 or 4 at the time,shouted to her mummy that there was a blue man outside.She obviously didn't quite know her colours smile

Reallytired Fri 07-Sep-07 22:11:00

Well, he is brown. Its not your son being racist, its just a discription.

Also not all black people are Africian. The little boy's family could be from Jamacia or the Middle East.

hatwoman Fri 07-Sep-07 22:13:37

thinking about what I just posted I'm not sure I got it right. obviously skin is brown and, as others have said there's nothing wrong with describing it as such (or as dipped in chocolate!). I think dd had just said that so and so is brown. not using it as her defining characteristic but just as an obersvation, and I mentioned that people usually say black. she thought it was a bit odd but dealt with it. like kids do.

KerryMum Fri 07-Sep-07 22:14:37

No I realize that reallytired but I do know that the family on the estate is African. Not saying they don't have friends from the Carribean or elsewhere but I don't believe there is a significant Afro-Carribean population in Ireland.

Cashncarry Fri 07-Sep-07 22:20:21

I actually feel a little bit sad that we're worried about whether or not we should refer to someone as "brown" - I mean, I am brown so why should it bother me if anyone, particularly a child, brought it up.

In the West Indies, people are often referred to as "brown skinned" or "white skinned" or even "red skinned" - it's just descriptive so it seems totally normal to me personally.

I think it's lovely that you're worried but please don't give it too much thought IYSWIM smile

LOL at being dipped in a vat of chocolate though and YUM <hungry> grin

sleepycat Fri 07-Sep-07 22:34:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KerryMum Fri 07-Sep-07 22:36:33

OMG! Isn't he GORGEOUS sleepcat!

I love the one of him in green.

IlanaK Fri 07-Sep-07 22:41:13

My three year old recently took to describing people by colour. I was quite worried about it for a while, particularly as he would ask immediately what colour someone was before we even met them.

Then he started nursery and started refering to the other children as "the pink girl" and "trhe green boy" and I realised it actually had nothing to do with skin colour, but was actually their clothes he was refering to!

MarsLady Fri 07-Sep-07 22:43:27

Kerrymum... it's not a big deal. He was simply describing the boy he saw. I had a friend round who called DD1 the dark girl bless his 3yo socks! He wasn't, as your son wasn't, discriminating against her because of her colour, simply trying to make sure his mum knew he was talking about (plus I think he'd forgotten her name).

If the 'brown boy' comes by again, as has already been suggested, find out his name and say oh you mean XXXX. Your DS will pick up the cue and call him XXXX (as long as he realises he's not a lager! wink)

sleepycat Fri 07-Sep-07 23:22:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Cashncarry Fri 07-Sep-07 23:39:04

<apologies in advance for hijack>

Marslady - what do you do when they start to refer to their own and your skin colour? DD (nearly 3) has started to ask the questions "Mummy, what colour is your skin? What colour is my skin? What colour is Daddy's skin?"

I'm blush to admit that I'm a bit flummoxed and have been changing the subject but can't/don't want to do that forever! Daddy is fair-skinned by the way, I am dark-skinned and she's kind of creamy coloured. Would it be too daft to just describe it? Am I getting too hung up on it?? [paranoid]

<hijack over>

MarsLady Sat 08-Sep-07 09:24:40

CashnCarry

Hopefully I won't confuse my many children.

DS1 only discovered people were black and white when he was about 5. The African's Children Choir came to his very white (very tiny minority of black children) school. When he came home he said "Mummy the black children have gone back to Africa now." And thereafter when he saw someone black he'd ask "Is he/she from Africa mummy?"

First I told him that people of different colours could be born in any country of the world. Then I told him that some black people were from the Caribbean. Then my piece de resistance....... I asked him about me and what colour I was. He looked at me as though I was strange and he said "But you're Mummy"

DD1 woke up one day to the sudden realisation that her father was different. "Poor daddy", she would regularly say, "You're brown, DS1's brown, I'm brown.... Poor daddy. He's only white!"

DD2 said "Mummy can you give my bf some of the sun lotion you use on us. She wants to be black too"

The DTs are yet to have an opinion on the colours of the world.

What you do is what you would do if she were talking about the colour of a car or a bus etc. She's simply wanting to make sense of her world and why things are the way that they are. So... for example I would say to mine: "Yes darling. Mummy is black (if that was too confusing I'd say brown... time enough to correct that) Daddy is white (which no one ever corrects for I don't actually think that anyone is white what with all the colour in their skin..........but I digress) and you are a lovely mix of us both (if she likes caramel or golden brown... whatever then so be it!).

Don't be hung up. She's a wee child. She wants to know for the same reason she wants to know the colour of the sky. Now...... that's when the difficult questions come in. "Mummy why is the sky on top of the day?" Sigh...................

hth

Cashncarry Sat 08-Sep-07 09:42:44

Thanks Marslady - that definitely helps loads!

I like the idea of describing her skin as "golden brown" - reminds me of the song - maybe I'll play it and increase her cultural repertoire at the same time smile

No questions yet about the sky being on top of the day [eeek!] - no doubt those are to come! I do get a lot of "why" at the moment and I found myself saying yesterday "because I said so" shock grin

Blandmum Sat 08-Sep-07 09:47:46

I once taught a class on genetics to a class where one of the students was mixed race. I spent the whole lesson studiously finding examples that had nothing to do with skin colour, eye colour hari colour or texture.

At the end of the lesson the student in question (a delightful young man, who was able and very confident) stayed at the end of the lesson and say.

'Right Miss, so whats the buisness of being half caste then? ' (his choice of words not mine)

'Why do I look more like my dad than my mum?'

We then had a very interesting 5 minutues talking about the genetics of skin colour etc.

And at the end of it, I realised that I had been the problem for this poor kid, who at the end of the day just wanted to understand the biology of why he looked like he did. Jusr like all the white kids in the class. I'd just been an uptight middle class white woman. smile

He wnet on to get an A grin

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