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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : “Daddy, Am I Black Or Am I White?” » “Daddy, Am I Black Or Am I White?”

“Daddy, Am I Black Or Am I White?”

Rusty - March 14, 2007

A friend of mine in the ward has a 5-year old son who is in kindergarden this year. They were recently learning about Martin Luther King Jr.. The son came home asking his parents about King and then had an important question:

Son: Daddy, am I black or am I white?
Dad: Well, that’s not so important…(filled in by other forms of deflection)
Son: But Daddy, am I black or am I white?
Dad: Well, you’re white.
Son: (angrily) Dangit!… I bet A and T (3-year old sister and 1-year old brother) are black, huh?
Dad: um…

Obviously his son makes no connection between the color of a person’s skin to the way we are labelled with colors. He tells me that his son’s class has almost equal representation from a half dozen races (white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.), skin colors from white to black and everything in between, and none could feel like a majority or minority.

I love Brooklyn.


  1. Obviously his son makes no connection between the color of a person’s skin to the way we are labelled with colors.

    This is an important observation, but just as important is understanding what our children do associate with the various color labels. Your friend’s son apparently associates “blackness” with something good. At various points in their lives, mine have not. For example, while preparing for my youngest son’s fifth birthday party some years ago, we asked him who he wanted to invite. He responded that he wanted to invite John, Sam, Jim, and Antwan, but “no black kids.” When we pointed out that he had just said he wanted to invite the unambiguously black Antwan, he had no idea what we were talking about. To him, “blackness” was not a skin color, but an attitude, and one that he did not like. (My oldest daughter has a similar story).

    In thinking about it, I’m not sure there is any value to retaining the color labels at all. They are just understood too differently by different people to be useful. Now days, my kids are more likely to refer to the “black” attitude as “ghetto.” Perhaps a slight improvement, but still too broad. We could discuss that at length, but it would be a threadjack.

    Comment by Last_lemming — March 14, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  2. About 16 years ago my youngest son explained a situation at school in his first grade class. He told me about the students giving reports in class and said that one report got delayed for a day because of activities related to “Dr. King’s birthday.” For me, hearing a 6 year old say that name in that manner – instead of the familiar “Martin Luther King” – meant someone – his teacher, and hopefully his parents – had taught him respect for the man whose birthday is now a national holiday in most states. It may seem silly but I saw that as a great milestone and knew that times were changing. Maybe it’s because my children were growing up in a more diverse community than where I grew up (way more diverse) but that just seemed like such a significant event to me. It really gave me hope that we were making progress, perhaps itsy bitsy progress but progress nevertheless, in how we relate to all of our fellow citizens of the country and the world. I wrote my son’s teacher a letter and thanked her for teaching this to him.

    I suspect I’m a few years older than the average contributor to this page and I probably have seen more of a shift in our attitudes about race. But ceretainly we still have miles yet to go. I love Brooklyn too.

    Comment by Lamonte — March 14, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  3. I love Brooklyn.

    In this case, I love Iowa City!

    This post reminded me of a picture I took at my son’s birthday party a couple of years ago. At the time we were living in student housing at the University of Iowa, where many international graduate student families also lived. Our neighbors came from all around the world, spoke various languages, and had varying shades of skin color.

    Long after the birthday party, I was looking at the pictures I had taken and pointed out to my husband the photo of at least 10 children gathered around a picnic table eating cake and ice cream. “Look, Garrett’s the only white kid there!” I realized aloud. None of us had noticed that before, least of all Garrett.

    It just made me smile that such an atmosphere can be found in a place such as Iowa.

    Comment by Amy — March 14, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  4. When my kids were little we lived in a small town that was very predominantly white—in fact I used to joke around and call it Whiteyville. (Before that we lived in a very racially diverse ghetto.) There was literally only a handful of black people in the town. One sold cell phones at the QFC. Two were (adopted) twin girls in my daughter’s grade. She had one of the twins, named Jenae, in her class. There was another (white) girl named Jenae in her class who was also in her Sunday school class. When I’d ask her which Jenae she meant when she would mention one, she’d either say, “Jenae from church,” or “brown Jenae.”

    But to her, calling a person brown wasn’t a racial thing. It was just a description. She has brown skin.

    I have nephews that are part black, part Japanese, part German on their dad’s side, and part white, part Mexican on their mom’s side. They’re like little rainbows.

    Comment by Susan M — March 14, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

  5. I grew up in Seattle, my father had a good friend who was black and spent many hours in our home – very unusal for the times.

    I was in an all white H.S. until my senior year when they bussed in several black kids. Bob Bas, one of those black kids bussed in became a friend of mine.

    Deep down I have nothing against black, or other races. What I get tired of is their making a big deal out of their race. I think it does effect the relationships of our young people when they constantly hear about “African Americans”. It’s too bad but I personally have seen a lot of progress.

    Kids very seldom see a color line or color barrier – it’s the adults who see them and then pass that on to their kids. We are the ones that have to becareful too.

    Comment by Don Clifton — March 14, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  6. Deep down I have nothing against black, or other races. What I get tired of is their making a big deal out of their race.

    Don, I hear this quite a bit among “European Americans”:) I personally think these labels are pretty dumb becasue they just aren’t consistent or acurate. For example my friend from Mexico City is whiter than I (an American of Welsh descent) am yet she’s called “latino” and I’m “white”. BUT if someone wants to be called something I don’t see the problem in calling them that. Personally I don’t like to be called a “mormon” (Latter-Day Saint would be better) and it would be great if people would respect that.

    Also, I once heard a friend of mine say that the reason Americans of African descent make such a big deal out of their race is because white people have been doing it for hundreds of years.

    Comment by cj douglass — March 14, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  7. My kids lived in Japan from the time they were born. My daughter used to insist she was Japanese. I loved it. Another time one of my students asked me if the music teacher was Japanese or not because she spoke like a native — she’s from Ohio and has blonde hair and freckles. This kind of question from children always fills me with delight!

    Comment by meems — March 14, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  8. I think kids don’t recognise the difference because the children they interact with are usually from the same cultural background (which has a lot to do with geography in this case, too). That’s really where the differences are. Just listen to someone on the phone or reas their posts on a blog (sigh) and you’ll never know what color they are but you could make a good guess what culture they are from. Even “ghetto blacks” will often call a black kid who grew up in the suburbs white.

    Culture is the true king of differences and similarities.

    Comment by Bret — March 14, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  9. Rusty:

    I had a similar experience with Emma when we lived in Brooklyn. I don’t remember the details now, but it was clear to me that she simply did not associate skin color with the labels “black” and “white.”


    What I get tired of is their making a big deal out of their race.

    I think this comment reflects the perspective of one who lives comfortably in the majority. Minorities have historically tried to “pass” as white. We no longer expect them to do that, we just want them to “cover” instead — that is, behave in a way that conforms to majority culture and behavior. Many don’t want to do that.

    Could someone say of you, “I get tired of him making a big deal out of his religion”?

    Comment by Chris Williams — March 15, 2007 @ 5:38 am

  10. Good point Chris,
    I heard someone recently complaining about the NAACP image awards. I think they said, “WHy do they get their own awards show?” What some people don’t realize is that mainstream culture IS white culture. We’ve been having our own award shows for years.

    Comment by cj douglass — March 15, 2007 @ 6:54 am

  11. Maybe my eyes are painted white. I’ve lived too long in a majority white culture. I’ve just found that I’m more comfortable around those of other races and cultures who don’t make their race an issue all the time.

    I have employees who are J.W.s, Born Agains, and whatevers, they all know I’m Mormon but religion isn’t a thing that’s brought up or even mentioned much at all.


    I agree that mainstream culture IS white culture. That culture however has all the other cultures mixed in as well. That white culture is inclusive of the others, maybe not as inclusive as they would like. Considering the population percentage most are more than fairly represented. That certainly is not the case with the NCAAP awards – they exclude all races except blacks.

    Think of the outcry if we had a truly all white awards show!

    I guess my gripe and consern is on the one hand the blacks want to be treated fairly and equal with the rest of society but on the other hand they want to be seperated by distingushing themselves with their own culture and their own labels and their own awards.

    Comment by Don Clifton — March 15, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  12. I guess I can understand where you are coming from Don . But just to clarfiy, the NAACP image awards do not exclude everyone but blacks. In fact they mostly include everyone but whites. Although even that precedent was shattered recently when they gave their Chairman’s Award to Bono of U2(he’s as fare as they come).

    Comment by cj douglass — March 15, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  13. In response to Don Clifton;
    I am a black LDS member, being acquainted with the church over 30 years. I grew up deep in the “black culture” that’s generally spoken of. I feel qualified to comment to you concerning your ‘concerns’. I stumbled onto this website and and have read the blogs. I have found all of the comments interesting. I’ll start off by saying that Don, you are 100% correct in your observation. I remember when I first investigated The Church. One of the first thing I realized was how imperfect I was compared to the Saints. (It didn’t occur to me at that time the hard work saints had done to become that way). IMO (In My Observation), Many Blacks are the same way with “White America”. Many Blacks put extra pressure upon themselves to make the upward climb to be successful in this country. They even feel they must out-perform their White counterparts just to be even with them (even though it took generations of most their White counterparts to acquire what they have). Because of the actions of a few they generalize that most Whites think they are superior to them. Thus subconsciously, those Blacks are always trying to show they are capable Americans to boost their own self-worth. Just look at Jet and Ebony Magazine, they are hardly about worthy content, but about who did this or who accomplished that. The same applies to the NAACP awards. And the result of this human nature becomes a regrettable double-standard that you, Don, are speaking of.
    But I do add a word of caution to you, Don. Some things in life are not about right or wrong, but about strength and compassion. Let me explain with a fictional story. A man pulls a burning dog from a fire. The dog is biting the man from the pain involved in touching the burning flesh. Will the passing bystander say in his heart ‘That is so wrong of that dog to bite that man..’ or will the bystander join in to help put out the flame? Will you criticize the Black man for his folly (I surmised that you criticized those Blacks from your usage of the word ‘gripe’)or will you ‘turn the other cheek’ and continue to treat all people the same respectfully? One of my greatest memories was of meeting Marvin J Ashton, a General Authority. When the conference was over, everyone lined up to shake his hand as he passed by to exit. Being the only Black man in that area, I was accustomed to being singled out and noticed for being the only Black there. But when Bro. Ashton came by, he shook my hand firmly, quickly, and evenly as everyone else. I felt just like everyone else. What a wonderful feeling.
    Just like Marvin J. Ashton, SHOW to the Black or White or Yellow or Red that you care for them for they are and Martin Luther King’s dream will be realized , that we will be judged by the contents of our character and not the color of our skin.

    Comment by Dane Woodruff — March 16, 2007 @ 4:03 am

  14. I’d like to recommend “The Color of Water” by James McBride. I love that book.

    When my Sarah was little, her best friends were the bi-racial twins our neighbor adopted. She has brown hair and green eyes and one day she came in and said, “Me and Keoke and Tarah wish we weren’t bwown. We wish we looked like Bawbie.” I don’t remember when or even if I ever told her they were black. I recall one time when she was a teenager discussing an incident when they were treated badly at school, so she must have realized it sometime.

    I know I’ve shared that, it’s just for those who haven’t heard it. I’m starting to be that little old lady who tells the same story over and over again.

    Dane, Marvin J. Ashton was the first general authority I saw in real life after I became active. He was so human it gave me hope. He spoke of a member named Roger who was sort of his stalker and annoyed him immensely.

    Comment by annegb — March 18, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

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