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"Mommy, Why is Her Face Brown?"

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Mom•Logic's Jackie: How my 3 1/2 year old taught me race relations.


When my husband brought my two boys to visit me at work this week, my older boy shocked a room full of Moms when he asked me loud and clearly "Mommy, why is her face brown?" upon meeting one of my co-workers.

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren't we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have "dots" (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she'd like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat--thought about what she said--and then asked if we could watch Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice--it's natural. It's when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that's hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.

next: Grade School Hickeys?
38 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anna January 21, 2009, 2:02 AM

So true, what a wise observation

Air Force Wife April 21, 2009, 9:39 PM

I have worked in childcare for years and I had a student that wouldn’t let me or the other teacher touch him because we were African-American and looked dirty. He refused to play with other “dirty” children also.

WOWZERS May 26, 2009, 10:13 PM

This is disgusting!

Melissa Steph May 27, 2009, 8:11 AM

This is a classic case of white privilege. If you don’t know what it means, look it up. Why did your co-worker have to answer a question that was fielded to you? You are the parent and should have provided the answer yourself.

One of THOSE people May 27, 2009, 11:06 AM

So your kid has lived on this earth for 3 1/2 years and never encounters brown face on a regular basis?!

Wow. What ARE you doing wrong that he would say something like that?! He was probably shocked to see one of your peers with a dark complexion. Hmmmm.

Colorblind?! The world you are living in is ColorLESS. Poor thing was probably just so shocked to see one of mom’s peers with a dark complexion. No, don’t pat yourself on the back for that ridiculous response.

P.S. Your coworker thinks you’re a putz.

Kim May 27, 2009, 6:36 PM

“I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered.”

No you asked your co-worker b/c YOU didn’t know how to answer the question. Why should your co-worker have to teach YOUR child about race. That’s your responsibility. Get some books and show your child that the human race comes in all colors. And while your at it, educate yourself. Read the article below.

Kim May 27, 2009, 6:40 PM

You really need to be aware about race since I see your adopted daughter is Asian.

Kim May 27, 2009, 6:42 PM

You really need to be aware of race since I see on your blog that your adopted daughter is Asian.

Cassie May 27, 2009, 6:52 PM

I figure you meant well, but PLEASE don’t teach your child that POC just loooove being asked questions about WHY they look the way they do. They’d rather, you know, live their life without being treated like an oddity.

yolanda May 27, 2009, 7:42 PM

Please tell me this is a joke. I promise you that if a child asked me a question like that I would assume their parents were morons.

shelly May 28, 2009, 12:06 AM

You seem to be feeling proud of yourself, and you really should not.
You fail at race and you seem to be tickled to death about passing your failings onto your child.

Did you tell your kid to touch her hair, too?

Anonymous May 28, 2009, 12:30 AM

You could have told him the very same thing.

Caoimhe Snow May 28, 2009, 1:12 AM

You don’t seem to realize that your child DID treat someone differently, as did you.

You furthermore don’t realize that you rushed back to the Internet to tell everyone what you “learned” — when really you did not learn a darn thing. You are wallowing in ignorance and privilege.

Witchsistah May 28, 2009, 3:08 AM

People of color are NOT your social wet nurses.

Chrisette May 28, 2009, 10:42 AM

You have no idea how many black web sites, blogs and message boards this little article of yours has been linked to, do you?

JP May 28, 2009, 1:35 PM

Wow, you really did not learn anything from this experience.

It’s not your co-worker’s responsibility to teach your child about race. In fact you should be lucky your co-worker answer the question at all! Your child requested the answer from YOU! You wasn’t really “interested in how she will answer the question” You just had no idea!

J.J. May 28, 2009, 4:19 PM

First of all, it is not a POC’s responsibility to educate you whitefolks. You could’ve easily answered that question yourself. By the way, where in the world have you and your son been in order for him not to know what a black person looks like? You need to expose him to a more diverse range of people, you really do.

Secondly, stop with the colorblind thing. Colorblind means that white people ignore POCs’ culture and identity and try to relate it to white culture and identity. As a POC myself, I don’t want you to look at me and ignore my race, I want you to look at me and not make assumptions based on my race.

Thirdly, race is no where near the same thing as eye color or having freckles. Until people have been discriminated for those things, don’t compare them. I will also say that you need to really look up the term “white privilege” because you have it.

I hope that you’re really paying attention to what these comments are saying.

Robin May 28, 2009, 10:55 PM

If my son said something like that, I’d give an answer similar to what your coworker said, but I wouldn’t expect or ask my coworker to answer. Doing so is treating your coworker as if she has an obligation to educate people, and also as some sort of interesting spectacle who should explain herself. If you were interested in hearing how she would answer, you DON’T place her on the spot by asking her to field the question; you answer the question yourself and then approach her later, in private, to ask if there’s anything else she would have liked you to say. (And do it with sincerity and willingness to learn, not because you’re hoping for a good-white-person cookie for being non-racist enough to ask a PoC for her opinion.)

The good news is that you can take the experience of getting these comments and learn from it. As was recommended above, learning about “white privilege” is an excellent place to start. Then start reading blogs written by PoC (I’ll start by recommending,, and - don’t post comments on the blogs, just sit quiet and read and learn. (By keeping quiet you’ll prevent the risk of hurting and/or upsetting people by making unintentionally racist comments - it’s pretty much inevitable that even educated white people unintentionally say stupid things, so I advise a long period of *silent* learning. I’m speaking from experience here - I’m a white person and, despite what I’ve learned, I still say plenty of stupid things without meaning to, which I try to avoid as much as possible by just staying quiet and learning more. But I’m speaking up here because it’s the responsibility of white people to educate other white people - it’s not right to place the responsibility on PoC to step up and do the educating for us.)

I know right now you’re probably smarting from all the negative comments, but I hope rather than getting defensive, you can take a deep breath and understand that the people posting are angry because they have to deal with oblivious white people every day, and they’re understandably very tired of it. So please don’t get upset; try to recognize that you have a great opportunity here to start educating yourself about racism and privilege. :)

Sarah June 3, 2009, 10:40 PM

I’m sure you meant well, but I do think you need to ask yourself why your son is not used to seeing brown faces. One of the best ways to fight racism is by exposing your children to a diverse range of people on a regular basis. If you don’t have any black friends, you might want to examine why that is. You don’t want your children to be colorblind, and frankly, it is very naive to think that way - colorblind racism can be even more powerful than regular racism.

Lisa in Oakland June 8, 2009, 3:50 PM

You think we’re all supposed to be colorblind? Only white people have the privilege of thinking it’s a good idea not to have a reasonable level of awareness of race. To ignore race is to ignore an important fact about each individual. Yes, every person of color’s experiences are individual, but you can’t overlook who someone is and think that it’s a good thing to do that.

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