Little Brown Boy

Froggy and I recently had a few friends over for a play date. It was a very fun morning, and my friends and I got some much-needed adult time while the kids played. While they were playing, my son reached over and grabbed my friend’s water bottle from her diaper bag and started to chew on it. Her 3 year old daughter said “That little brown boy took your water”. Her mom simply said “His name is Froggy” and we all went on with our play date.

I know that the girl was just trying to specify which boy took the water bottle. At age 3, it is appropriate to label people based on how they look because toddlers do not have the cognitive awareness to realize that it could be construed as offensive to name someone based solely on their skin color. It’s the same reason we don’t say “that fat man”; it is impolite and people don’t like being labeled as fat.

My friend’s daughter was just trying to tell her mom that someone had her water bottle. And, Froggy is a little brown boy. The description let us all know who took the water bottle. I love that her mom simply corrected her by stating his name, and did not bring any attention to what she said. It was the prefect response. I wasn’t offended in the slightest, because I know that children, especially toddlers, sometimes say innocent things that adults take offense to. We make things into a big deal that really aren’t.  The little girl was simply describing Froggy as best she knew how. For some reason, society has deemed it appropriate to say things like “the baby with the curly brown hair” and not “that little brown boy” when both descriptions are accurate and would have let us know she was talking about Froggy.

I think when adults make a big deal about things that children do or say that are unintentionally hurtful or not appropriate it makes the situation worse. Instead, if Buggy makes a comment that may be offensive to others I try to minimize it, and explain why we don’t say that at another time. If I make a big deal and draw attention to the situation it is more likely Buggy will do it again. After all, who doesn’t like attention? It is important to remember that we often need to describe others, and that calling someone black, brown, white, or any other color is an important part of their physical description, the same way stating their height or weight is important if we want someone to know who we are talking about. Now, I don’t really think going around calling everyone “that black man” “or “that brown girl” is very polite, but in some circumstances a full physical description is necessary to get the point across. In other situations, like on a play date with friends, simply correcting the child by stating the other person’s name is sufficient.

Has your child ever described someone based on skin color? How did you respond?


One thought on “Little Brown Boy

  1. Mom has a story that I as a little child would point at white women and say “Mama” and point at black men and say “Dada.” Given the time and place, it pretty much made everyone present a little uncomfortable.

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