A few years ago, my military family and I settled in a new town a few miles north of Los Angeles. It was a bittersweet move because it was the second time the kids had to be uprooted during the school year. As before, I knew the best course of action would be to get settled as quickly as possible and get them back into a routine. So, we spent the entire weekend unpacking and by that Monday afternoon, they were all enrolled in school. The next day, I dropped everyone off, ran a few errands and returned home, patiently waiting to hear how amazing their day was; instead I was greeted with frustration and even tears.

My son, who was in second grade, was asked to introduce himself to the class and talk about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He gave some background on our family and then shared with the class his desire to be a cartoonist. He told me the majority of the class thought that was really cool, but one student didn’t. He told him that because he was black he had to be a rapper because that was all that black men could be.

My oldest daughter, who was in the eighth grade, was interrogated the entire day. Her classmates asked her things like, had she ever been to Compton, was she in a gang, had she ever shot anyone, did she know anyone who had been shot, did she know her real father, was she wearing her real hair or a weave and could they touch her hair. One student raised his hand and asked the teacher if the students would have to learn “ebonics” now that my daughter was in the class. Just when I was hoping the questions didn’t get any worse, she told me at the end of the day, she was presented with a student-led petition demanding the that school start offering “soul food” as a part of the menu.

You’re probably reading this thinking how unbelievable it sounds. I felt the exact same way, but it only reassured me that what my husband and I were teaching our kids regarding seeing another person’s race and color was the right thing to do. Here are four main reasons I teach my kids to see color:

It helps them to self- identify and take pride in who they are.
My oldest was in preschool when she began to recognize the difference in her skin tone versus her best friend, who was Asian. It was at this moment that we began teaching her about African-American history, traditions and culture.

It helps dispel false narratives seen on television and social media based on stereotypes.
Whether you teach your kids to see color or not, they will see it and they will talk about it eventually with their peers. Educate them so when the conversation arises they can speak intelligently and respectfully.

It increases their desire to learn about other races and cultures and that teaches them how to interact appropriately in diverse situations.  
Being a military family has placed my chlidren in many diverse situations. Educating them on different races and cultures has helped take the akwardness out of making new friends who don’t look like them. My kids have friends from Japan, the Philippines, Switzerland, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

It helps my children to discern when someone’s questions or comments are based on curiosity, ignorance or mockery.
Being aware of another’s motives helps my kids decide how best to address the situation, even if it means not addressing it at all. While the students at my oldest’s school were curious, the student who started the petition and asked about “ebonics” was mocking her. The Principal made him apologize and held an assembly on tolerance and respect that following week.

I teach my kids to see color because teaching them the oposite won’t make color or race go away. They won’t wake up tomorrow and not be black. So, I might as well teach them to embrace who they are. I’ve been told that teaching them this way creates divisiveness; I feel like teaching kids to not see color is what really divides us because it denies other races of their uniqueness. It also gives off the appearance that we all come from and share in similar racial experiences. This makes it difficult for children and adults to empathize with certain struggles that are indicative of particular races. Other parents have commented that color isn’t important and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. If that were true, tanning salons would be non-existent.

I will continue to teach my kids to see color and I hope you will do the same.

Danielle Lyles

Danielle Lyles, is a freelancer and screenwriter from St. Louis, Missouri. A seasoned Navy wife and momma of 4, she enjoys writing faith-based films and blogging about the African American parenting and military experience. She’s been featured as a guest blogger on Army Wife 101 and currently writes for Purpose Driven Women Magazine launching in 2018.