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A 'Where Did I Go Wrong?' Moment

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Kimberly Seals Allers: Despite every mom's best efforts, there will inevitably be those moments where you say to yourself, "Um, where did I go wrong?"

ashamed mother

You thought you were teaching a valuable lesson. But they completely missed the point. You thought you were raising well-grounded kids, despite whatever "privilege" you've been blessed with. And then you realize that they are completely disconnected from reality.

Sometimes those moments are funny.

For example, my children recently engaged in this backseat-of-the-car conversation. Now, before I share the exchange, please note that for the past 18 years, I earned a great living as a business journalist -- an award-winning business journalist, no less -- who interviewed captains of industry as a writer for Fortune and who covered the complex financial markets as a Wall Street reporter for a major N.Y.C. newspaper. With that in mind, here's how the conversation went down:

My 10-year-old girl to her 6-year-old brother: "Linens and Things is closed because of the economy."

My 6-year-old: "The economy? Where's that?"

My 10-year old: "Michael! The economy is not a place! It's a group of people. I saw them working on their computers on CNN."

Boy oh boy, did I have some explaining to do. And I'd thought I was raising business-savvy kids ... LOL! Well, at least they pay attention to my constant CNN-watching.

My girlfriend, whose mommying style I fiercely admire, told me how her daughter, who volunteers at homeless shelters, recycles religiously, etc. ... had somehow befriended a homeless person. The homeless person was apparently overweight, and a great conversation ensued between my friend and her daughter about food choices, the price of processed foods versus healthy foods, etc., and why this homeless person may be overweight. My girlfriend was feeling on top of the mommy world and utterly proud of her daughter's humanity. That is, until her daughter said that she thought the homeless lady was overweight because she didn't have anyone to watch her shopping cart of stuff while she went to the gym.

We still crack up over that one.

But other times, it may be less than humorous. Recently, some cable repairmen were at the house. They put the TV on a random channel as they continued their tests to find the problem. It was an infomercial about a skin cream or makeup product of some sort. I didn't think anyone was paying much attention to the TV, but my son was hovering. 

Anyhoo, about 10 minutes into the infomercial, my 6-year-old son blurts out, "Everything is for white people." Oh. Dear.

Of course, the white repairmen pretended not to hear, but looked at me like I was raising the next Malcolm X/Huey P. Newton.

Now, I don't apologize for having candid talks about race with my children. As a black parent, I would be doing them a disservice if I didn't prepare them for the realities of life in America. And to my son's point, there weren't any brown people at all in this skin care/makeup infomercial.

But I certainly don't want my son to think that everything is for white people. Because if so, then by some very basic deductive reasoning, nothing is for him. And as far I'm concerned, the world is his to conquer.

So I thought deeply about making sure that my preparing my brown babies for the world that awaits them also includes keeping them boundlessly hopeful and full of possibilities for creating and achieving whatever they want in life.

And so I remember my gentle correction that day, and I'm praying it will stick. "No, son," I said. "Everything is for anyone who wants it."

next: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith: Perfect Parents?
18 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous May 19, 2010, 8:00 AM

Of course a 10 or 6 year old won’t clearly understand the intangible term of “economy” - though the 10 year seems to understand the economy/business closing connection.

As for the makeup comment - I would have explained that of course there is makeup for black women and shown him yours.

Lissa May 19, 2010, 9:34 AM

First of I didn’t get to pick being white, just as you didn’t get to pick being black. I am deeply offended. Obviously you lack common sense. What about BET or or the black telephone book… Must I go on; I teach my children to treat others as they would want to be treated that goes for Black, White, Yellow or polka dotted… Or even ignorant…..

Lissa May 19, 2010, 9:35 AM

First of I didn’t get to pick being white, just as you didn’t get to pick being black. I am deeply offended. Obviously you lack common sense. What about BET or or the black telephone book… Must I go on; I teach my children to treat others as they would want to be treated that goes for Black, White, Yellow or polka dotted… Or even ignorant…..

Lissa May 19, 2010, 9:36 AM

First of I didn’t get to pick being white, just as you didn’t get to pick being black. I am deeply offended. Obviously you lack common sense. What about BET or or the black telephone book… Must I go on; I teach my children to treat others as they would want to be treated that goes for Black, White, Yellow or polka dotted… Or even ignorant…..

Read more:

Anonymous May 19, 2010, 10:16 AM

“my 6-year-old son blurts out, “Everything is for white people.”

Good thing that you nipped that racism in the bud, because it’s certainly untrue that everything is for white people when in reality nothing is just for white peoplel

Jilly May 19, 2010, 10:42 AM

This piece was nuts! I don’t get how you went wrong? I seriously don’t expect children of that age to be business savy, particularly the 6 year old???? The ten year old may be able to understand some concepts..I do wonder if that is what you really sit around and have conversations with your children about….do you read them Newsweek at bedtime? HA! Second part, again where did the parent go wrong? The child was helpful and caring, but just made a funny, child-like observation. Third part, I personally am not certain the average 6 year old would even notice something like that unless racism concepts are being intoduced to them. Still, not sure where you went wrong…the child made an observation and you corrected it. Children will always make observations that are sometimes wrong and are not the fault of parents, they just have no knowledge and it is our job to educate.

Amy May 19, 2010, 11:18 AM

This article was just weird.

First- a 10 or 6 year old is not expected to have a firm grasp on economy so it comes across as the author kind of bragging like “oh gee so embarassed that my small children only partially understand economics”

As for the makeup comercial - I think that just shows how racist the author is. The 6 year old would not notice the makeup ad unless he’s constantly being told things are only for whites people unless his parents are the ones telling him this.

Iris May 19, 2010, 1:55 PM

I really enjoyed the article. I think we all have moments like these when we discover our kids completely missed the lesson we were trying to give. Half the time they forget things, too, so we have to keep giving the moral lessons.
I think there are more ads for white people in this world. Also more Barbies, more dolls, more action figures, more movie characters, more books, etc. It is just a sign of intelligence for a child to notice that. The difficulty is how to acknowledge that they are right but not make them feel bad if they are not white themselves.

Anonymous May 20, 2010, 8:10 AM

I have to disagree Iris - I find there is a definite equal divide of ads/products, barbies, etc. for blacks & whites. It’s the Asians, Latins, Jewish populations that are under-represented

Robert May 21, 2010, 1:04 PM

I think this article was great. I think racism is alive and well in America, as is sexism, but in such manipulative and hidden sociological places, a lot of us don’t notice it. Kids do, and I’m so grateful for that - they’re the voice of reason. Unless we change some of our collective psychology, we’re just left with women being frustrated all their lives, men being conquer-crazy and power-hungry, and other races having (still) segregated television shows, magazines, and movies.
Cheers to your son for paying attention!

Nicky May 21, 2010, 1:07 PM

Be careful with the “for everyone who wants it” comment, if your kids are anything like my baby sister (20 years younger) they’ll mistake it for a reason to get anything they want. Entitlement is a tricky thing to train out of middle income kids, regardless of racial background.

Iris May 23, 2010, 1:29 PM

@Anonymous - where do you shop? ToysRUs has rows of Barbies dolls - there are princesses, fairies, doctors, even pregnant Midge dolls. You’re lucky to find one or two dark-skinned Barbies any time you go there. I have actually seen parents wandering the aisles unable to find a dark-skinned Barbie for their kid. FisherPrice has a line of family dolls for their dollhouses. The ones at our ToysRUs are all white. When they first came out, there were some dark-skinned ones and we bought up a family’s worth, but they aren’t there anymore. The baby dolls from China are almost all white. There are usually one or two dark-skinned baby dolls, but that is out of a selection of a row of shelves filled with baby dolls. The exception is probably Bratz dolls, but I won’t let me kids have them because of the way they dress.
Also, although the dolls are dark-skinned, their hair and faces don’t look that different from the white dolls. In fact, my daughter assumed some of her dark-skinned dolls were South Asian.
Disney movies are even worse. They waited until the 20th century was over before they got around to creating a black Princess. And although it made parents glad, I doubt most little girls were thrilled by the idea of a princess who has to work. That’s not the point of the fantasy.

Monica May 24, 2010, 12:07 AM

I guess no one wants to give children the credit they are due. Children are very smart. They may understand more than we expect of them. I think many of you missed the point. The fact that she was a business journalist and is aware of finance and economics she probably discusses how to be wise about money and explains this to her children. So she expects them to understand things about finance that she has obviously explained at one time or another. Much like a teacher would explain the importance of education to their own children then we would expect his/her child to be education minded. Or the child of an environmentalist to be more aware of pollution and recycling. But sometimes when we teach children things some important material gets lost in translation. And that is where we get the “where did I go wrong” moment.

@Amy you assume that just because her son made a comment about everything being for white people that it had to have come from the parent. News flash, he’s 10. He forms his own opinions and quite likely he could have gotten it from a friend at school. The author is not racist. Walk a mile in her shoes and then pass judgment, honey. I guess some people will never ever understand.

'white' people July 7, 2010, 4:15 PM

this is just ANOTHER post where you point out how racist you are… thanks for breeding children to see color - america is never is going to change if people like you keep raising kids to believe the world is against them…

it is sad and so freaking disappointing, if you want things to change then YOU change- stop raising your kids like this.

“prepare them for the realities of life in America.”

YOU are the reality- you are what is wrong in america and the fact that you write for this site makes me sick- every one of your posts is about racism- it is so sad.

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