Today I bring you three stories of color from preschool aged anthropologists and sociologists.  I love watching children develop and notice differences, whether it’s that we’re all wearing short sleeves now, that Julissa just got a new backpack or that they themselves are sporting new haircuts.  It’s developmentally appropriate, and, I feel, a perfect opportunity to start a discussion of race and/or differences in a safe environment. 

A friend of mine’s daughter is a precocious four-year old.  Her family is multi-racial and spans the spectrum from light to dark, even among siblings.  She and her mother were down visiting some family in the South, and the little girl grappled to understand how she could be related to both brown and white people.  Her mother, sensing a Teachable Moment, explained that though they each had different colors, they were all family.  She herself had had a continuing argument with her sister growing up whether they were brown or black.  So far as I know, it is still unresolved.  Suffice it to say, this little girl looked herself up and down, and proudly announced that her coloring was Peanut Butter.  And so it is.

Not long ago, I was fortunate to be at the breakfast table in one of the preschool classrooms I work in.  This class is racially diverse, including African American children of varying shades, South Asian children, Middle Eastern Children, Hispanic children, and Caucasian children.  Because this is a 3-5 classroom, with children at varying abilities within that range, from kids just figuring out where to hang up their coats to kids ready to run the classroom and lead circle, it stands to reason that their observations on color may vary greatly.  I myself have been told by a more observant child that Kimi and I looked alike because we both had black hair.  While I wasn’t about to correct the child on the finer point that my hair is dark brown, I did laud her efforts at matching her Jewish teacher’s appearance to that of the little Chinese girl in her class.  In the other classroom, however, the children had a more refined view of differences and color.  Breakfast is a social time, and it stood to reason that children get talking and making observations.  Jessica and Jasmin began discussing very insistently, “Well, you and Quadir are brown, and so is Taylor, but Tutti and Sara are just light brown”  “Yeah, but Jonathan is dark brown.”  “And Kuran is just white.”  “No, he’s light brown, too.”  The Indian girls whose coloring has been determined to be “light brown” just looked at each other and shrugged.  Their teachers, a woman the kids would probably determine is “brown”,  and a woman who would likely be “just white”, both looked at me, their eyes alight with amusement as they let the kids observe differences and answer that age old question of color.

Finally, I bring you the other half of the “Transformer Tea Party” saga, from Friday’s post.  I was having lunch with Marco in his Head Start classroom.  For some blessed reason, the class was not playing the “quiet game” for once, a tool the teachers invented so as not to have to listen to social chatter at lunchtime.  I was taking full advantage, asking Marco about activities at home and school.  He told me about playing in the house, how he was the Dad and there was a baby and on and on.  Then he started talking about a party. 

“What kind of party?” I inquired. 

“Oh,” he replied, “a tea party”.  And as if to shock me more, he added, “A Transformers Tea Party”. 

Now that I wanted to hear more about.

Marco started telling me, “All the white kids can come to my party,”  so I pressed on. 

“What about the other kids?”  I asked, unsure if I wanted to go this route. 

“Oh, the brown kids can have their own tea party.” 

What is this, Brown v. Board of Education?  So I tested him:  “What about Jordan?  He’s your best friend.” 

Marco considered.  “Oh, well he can come too.”  And quickly, I was able to let him notice color while supporting him to realize he actually wanted the whole class at his Transformers Tea Party.  He was simply expressing that he noticed difference in his class.  He had separated the colors of his peers in his head, but not in his class, where they sat boy-girl-boy-girl, in similar little uniforms, a sea of different colored faces.