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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

My Incredible Edible Family: A Tasty Story of Discussing Race With Children

When our African-American daughter, Isabel, adopted domestically, was around 4 I read a book called I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla by Marguerite Wright. In it, Wright discusses the stages children go through in their understanding of race. During the first stage, there is no concept of race—children are not born with it; they develop it as we teach it to them. While we all have different skin colors and have defining physical characteristics—and adults have certainly made the act of differentiation into an art form (if you need proof, check your latest census forms)—children, at first, don’t notice differences in color. In the second stage, Wright explains, children see the color difference but don’t realize there is anything else attached to it. It is only during the third stage when children notice that families, for the most part, tend to be made up of members with the same skin color. It is not until we—or society and the media—teach them that race comes with cultural labels attached to it that they begin to think in the sticky realms of generalizations like, “White people are supposed to…,” “Black people usually…,” and “Asian people are…” Wright suggests we allow children to go through those stages naturally and not force them to come to our understanding of race too early.

When I was reading the book, Isabel, 4, was still in the second stage, while several children her age had already moved to the third stage of noticing that most families have skin tones that look alike. Perhaps because not only is her family—made up of her African-American brother, her Hispanic mother (me), and her Caucasian father—various shades of the rainbow, but each of her Sunday School classmates also had skin of a different shade than hers and many of them had skin a different shade than their parents' skin. Even though we didn't introduce the concepts of “black,” “white,” and “Hispanic” to her, she had allowed her imagination to fill in the gaps.

One day I put my arm next to hers and asked her if she had noticed we are a different color. She said she had.

“What color are you?” I asked.

 “I am chocolate!” was her quick reply.

And so she is; her skin is a delicious milk chocolate color.

“So what color am I?” I asked.

“You are coffee color!”

Yes, I am. Café con leche, to be exact.

“What color is Noah, baby?”

“He is chocolate too, Mami.”

Of course he is.

“And Daddy? What color is he, Isabel?”

She didn’t skip a beat : “He is cheese color!”

Cheese? Huh. I looked at him with that in mind that night. What do you know? He is kind of cheese colored!

Wright explained that this way of classifying is pretty normal. Because Isabel was cognitively capable of understanding skin differences now, I mentioned to her in passing that others might call people like her, who are chocolate colored, black people. She gave me a blank look. “But Mami, I am not black, I’m chocolate.” Good point, baby. So for the moment I left it alone. I knew she would get there when she got there. In the meantime she began to point out all the chocolate, coffee, and cheese people she saw on TV, in picture books, and, worse yet, because she does not have a quiet voice, at Wal-Mart.

Has being an adoptive family led to some interesting conversations about different skin colors or physical features in your family?

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This is very fascinating! I love that Isabel chooses food to describe skin color! It is amazing how she classifies each one. I am enjoying your blog and posts!
~Jessica S,

By Jess84 on Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 3:16 am.

Thanks, Jessica! Thank you for stopping by.

By Gaby on Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 4:51 am.

I can picture her now at Wal-Mart pointing out the cheese people, too funny! My little girl is nearly 2 1/2 and her latest job is pointing out big and tall people—“That’s a BIIIIG man,  mommy.”

By Barbara Herel on Saturday, July 02, 2011 at 3:02 am.

My saving grace is that since she only speaks Spanish to me many times, if my husband is not around, she will say stuff in Spanish. She saw a man smoking outside of Walmart the other day and said loudly (in Spanish, thankfully): Mami, that man has yellow teeth because he smokes!

By Gaby on Saturday, July 02, 2011 at 3:15 am.

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