Let’s Talk About Race (Conversations with a 9 Year Old)

My step kid and her pal were playing Guess Who recently and they asked me to watch them play.  The game is actually called Who’s Left but it’s a knockoff version because kids are destroyers who lose and ruin everything so why pay full price for the original branding. While observing and timing how fast a winner would be declared (my assigned task), I noticed that they would each take a turn to say ” Is it…?” and point to a piece of paper they had off to the side.   Initially, I thought, “hmm they really have a special bond that they don’t even need to finish their thoughts, the other just knows!” Once the game was over, I asked what they were pointing to and what it meant.  They both looked at each other and hesitated, smiling sheepishly.  My step kids pal said, “Okay, we can probably tell her.” My response was, “YOU BETTER TELL ME.”

Nothing like a little fear and a stern tone to force your kids to tell you secrets. Parent of the year, I know.

So they both told me, with nervous giggles, that when they pointed to the white piece of paper they were inquiring if the person was white.  If they pointed to the paper with the brown marker on it, they were asking if the person was brown.  They did it this way because they weren’t sure if it was racist to ask if the person was white or brown.


Not sure if you’ve ever played Guess Who (Who’s Left), but in case you haven’t, the purpose of the game is to ask the other player questions about their character’s physical attributes in order to determine who they’ve chosen.  You want to do this before the other player in order to win the game. If you can figure out what color your opponent’s character is you can eliminate half of them immediately. More than half really, because there are more white characters than brown.  It just makes good sense to ask the color question straight off the bat, right!

So, here I was, unfortunately, tasked with explaining what is racist and what is not in 2017 to two girls who are nine and ten.  Trying to explain that they could ask these questions in this game but in real life, maybe not so much.  In my fumbling approach to explain the extremely sensitive racial dynamics that exist in the world, I realized that I don’t know how to do that.  It’s one thing to discuss race with adults who have some semblance of this knowledge but it’s a whole other ballgame to have this discussion with kids.

I was feeling seriously unprepared. Had life taught me nothing? I should be reading more than memes.

I try to think of how things will make me feel as a black woman and how things made me feel as a kid and go from there. Is that right? Is that wrong? I dunno.  I think I’m not hyper-sensitive but I’m sensitive enough? (I’m oversensitive and I know it.)

I think I’m politically correct and try to keep up with the ever-changing pc climate.   I tried to say that identifying someone by race isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s not the way most people want to be identified. And if you are identifying someone’s race because you’re saying you don’t like them BECAUSE of that racial identity then it’s definitely wrong and we need to talk about that.  As an afterthought, I tried to explain that there is a difference between saying someone is brown vs someone is Black or African-Canadian or Brown or Indian or White or Caucasian and that someone might be offended to hear one or the other.  And then I was exhausted and confused because I didn’t know what was right or wrong anymore so I said to hold on so we could ask her Dad.  He laughed at me and said that everyone is offended by everything nowadays and it probably would be considered racist by someone that they asked that.

It’s moments like this I wish I still drank.

Not to be outdone by herself, my step kid decided to quiz me again.  She was telling me about a YouTube video she was watching and she was trying to determine whether it was a real video or if what they were doing was pretend. She came to the conclusion that the video wasn’t “real” and the people were acting because the video that followed showed a crazy clown.  She then asked me if what she was going to say was racist.

Lord, help me.  Too many life questions in too short a time.  I didn’t even have time to google a book that I could refer to, place it in my amazon cart, and leave it there for 2 months while I search for better deals because I’m cheap as hell.

In the video about the crazy clown (a prank video in which they are purposefully trying to scare their friends), the clown was a brown person.  She looked me dead in my eyes and slowly said that she knew it was fake because crazy clowns are always white.

I couldn’t contain myself and I laughed my butt off so hard.  I said, look I don’t know if that’s considered racist but it sure is funny! And again, I deferred to Dad.  That’s my go-to. And when things happen on days where she will be going to her Mom’s, I defer to her.  Step-parenting is hard as hell, so I take the small allowances I can get.

I know that the tests have only just begun and I really need to start the research and development phase of parenting so I can be prepared for the next round of quizzes.  I also need to train my brain to crave a nice jog instead of a can of frosting in these pressure moments but let’s take it one step at a time.

If you have any recommendations of good books to read on how to talk to your kids about sensitive subjects or any pearls of wisdom that work from your experience, drop me a line!





  1. Crazy Clowns… she’s not wrong! 😆 We had one of these talks yesterday – it’s so confusing, trying to keep up with the nuances that pop into your head when you are almost done with any given explanation! The talk yesterday got so far down so many little roads that I️ (what is that thing? Every time I️ type the letter “I️” (sounds like “eye” it comes up as I️?! I’ve (hey!) been seeing that symbol lately. Am I️ part of the Matrix?) – in any case, I’ve completely forgotten where the talk last night started (or ended)! They are encouraged to ALWAYS talk to us about things that they experience around the area that I’ve been referring to more as “white supremacy” than “racism,” in terms of where the biggest problem is. They are also don’t usually say “white,” they say “so-called white,” or they use air quotes when they say “white” in that context. (Which proves that I️ at least started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates!

    I️ love your approach to… pretty much everything!

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