Friday, August 29, 2008

Finally, He Noticed

During the Beijing Olympics, we talked about people's countries of origin and Benny could see the difference in appearance between people from different parts of the world. When we learned about voting and did the suffrage worksheet, we discussed how voting rights were limited depending on where your ancestors lived. We also talked about how Barack Obama's nomination was the first time that someone whose ancestors lived in Africa had a real chance of being President. Somewhere in there, I think Benny has finally noticed ethnicity. He is eight.

Today we went to the spray park. It's the last day of the summer that the outside pool at the YMCA will be open during the week, so even though we were worn out with travelling, we had to brave the threats of thunderstorms and go play in the spray.

I overheard Benny saying to a guy, "Did your ancestors live in the United States of America?" I don't know what the guy said, but it didn't really make that much of an impression -- Benny talks to everyone and asks weird questions. I've given up trying to interpret for him, since I noticed that rude responses don't really bother him. People just have to do the best they can, or ignore him -- it doesn't grieve him either way. But later I heard him approach one of the lifeguards, and say, "So, did your ancestors live in China?"

My first reaction was to shush him. I decided it would be worse for me to leap over there and apologize or try and explain, so I just breathed deeply and listened, hoped that she wouldn't be offended. I couldn't hear her side of the conversation but he told me afterward that she was from Korea, that Korea was divided into north and south, just like Egypt was before King Menes, and that they were getting to know each other. He kept going back and back to talk to her -- she must have been treating her very sweetly. Then he would report to me how the friendship was progressing. At one point he said that she looked like her ancestors lived in China. I briefly explained that just because her ancestors lived in Korea didn't mean that she had lived there, or would be able to answer all his questions about Korea.

I didn't say anything else in terms of generalizing about appearance and ethnicity, but I gathered from the things he was saying to me and others that he now realizes that different people look different based on race. He truly had not understood this until right now. I don't know whether to be proud or horrified, or just to be amazed that he could have lived eight years in this world and just think everyone looks different from each other in random ways, like I look different from him, like he looks different from his friends, and that race and ethnicity had nothing to do with it.

As for Sadie, she liked the ice cream:

Do you talk to your kids about race? At what age? I suppose it's something that kids just pick up from paying attention and making connections, if they are inclined to notice and absorb things like that. But I wonder, how do you handle it?


  1. Aw, Benny. William still hasn't said anything much about how people look different, but he was a bit late noticing himself. I just wanted to pass on a book recommendation. I think Mr. Benny would love this one:

  2. When my daughter was two she became fascinated with learning information about people from other countries. Of course, at two her knowledge and understanding was FAR different than an eight-year-olds. But still, we had tons of books with international and multicultural characters and, in hindsight I realized, not as many with white characters. She would occasionally go up to people and say, "Are you Muslim or Jewish?" or some such question. They would be taken totally aback!

    A couple times my husband and I pretended not to understand what she said because we weren't sure how to deal with the awkwardness. Not great parenting, I know, but sometimes when you're thinking on the spot this happens!

    Anyway, she has totally moved on to other interests now that she's four. Stuff like Hello, Kitty. Which is a tad depressing since I liked the "International Stage" she went through. But I think that stage did turn her into the kind of person who has never thought of one particular kind of person as being normal.

    You kids sound very interesting and fun!

  3. You have been nominated for Alasandra's Homeschool Blog Awards.