This was Calvin's response to me while waiting at his allergist appointment a few weeks ago . . .
First, let's back up and get some context here. Calvin often asks me why Max can't talk (he is only 19 months old) and I usually respond by telling him, "Max doesn't speak English yet since he is still a baby." I explain to Calvin how in time Max's vocabulary will grow and so will the conversations between them. Never did I think I would regret explaining to Calvin why his brother does not speak like he does. My mother is also fluent in Sicilian and so is her family. The boys regularly hear them speaking it and Calvin will often mimic them by talking with his hands and all. It's like this:
Here are a two scenarios I have experienced with Calvin lately that have led to me having to teach him about diversity:
Scenario 1 - While waiting to see his allergist, a Hispanic dad is talking to his two daughters in Spanish. Calvin and I are the only non-Hispanic people in the room and he loudly looks at me and says "Mom, they don't speak English! Mom, they don't speak English, right!?" I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide because a) everyone started to stare at us and b) even though he was just plain curious and excited to differentiate between English and non-English it came off as snooty at best and racist at worst. I answered by saying, "Calvin, they are speaking Spanish. You are right it is not English but that's okay because some people can speak two languages, which is cool."
Scenario 2 - We are checking out our groceries at Sprouts and a black elderly man is bagging our groceries. Calvin and Max are in the cart and Calvin looks straight at the gentlemen and says, "Why do you look so angry?" I jumped in quickly and said "He is not angry, he is helping us. We don't always need to smile." At this point I am trying to shove food in his mouth to keep him quiet, unaware of what he would say next because this was clearly a losing game. He then asked the man, "Why does your face look like that? Why are you so mad?" The man was very kind and tried to change the topic and asked Calvin what his favorite food was. Well. a 2-minute conversation had never made me feel more embarrassed and it led to some long discussions on the drive home. Sadly, Calvin was not convinced that the man was not angry. :/
I'm not sure what caused him to think this way. One of my husband's very best friends is black and is over at our house often, and we have a very ethnically diverse church. He plays with kids of all skin tones and colors. I actually think that Calvin was more concerned about why he wasn't smiling rather than his color since he did not mention anything about his skin being different from his.
These scenarios helped me to realize that even though I think my child is well diversified and able to love on people different from himself that I still need to play an active role in exposing him to different types of people groups. The more discussions and experiences we have about how special we each are—all being created in the image of God—the more he will learn to stand up for and accept others who are around him. I want to encourage my kids to ask questions, but to also ask in a way that is respect and considerate. For example, wondering why someone's face looks a certain way is not appropriate to ask in front of anyone because it came make the person sad and self-conscious.
Calvin is starting preschool this fall. I can only hope that he has a classroom filled with kids from various backgrounds. I grew up in Connecticut and thankfully was exposed to so many different nationalities and people groups. I hope that my love of culture and food from people all over the world will spill out onto them (minus curry, I never really liked it but my husband does).
Any advice on how to better share with my kids how it is okay to be different? What are some children books you have read on diversity? Has your child been curious when someone else spoke a different language in front of them?