Thinking of Ways to Explain Race/ Racism to My Autistic Child
This morning, I had a flash of inspiration. Remy is picking up more and more colors, and getting more and more subtle in his understanding of color. (Earlier this year, I asked him what color his skin was, and he said "Black." He did not understand the concept of brown at that point, and thought black applied to any color he couldn't categorize. We are White, for the record. I am very fair and his dad is darker, but we're both considered White at this point in time.)
This morning, he and his dad had this conversation, while Remy was coloring trains in a book:
"Remy, what colors are you?"
(Some confusion, but after a minute): "Pink and brown."
"Yes, your eyes are green. And look, your shirt is green."
And then talking about daddy:
"What colors are daddy?"
"Orange and brown and white and green." (He may have named more colors, they came tumbling out.)
"And I have a black sweater on, right?"
(Remy gets excited about everything. I think I've pointed that out here before. It's pretty awesome. Remy is the happiest, most passionate kid.)
So. Remy obviously isn't a neurotypical child (he sees the world in a different way than typical kids) and as such, explaining Racism to him hasn't been something I've been able to do yet. As an avidly anti-Racism person, this is something that is both good and bad to me. (My kid doesn't get social theory enough to notice bad social norms, but along with that, he doesn't understand challenging those social norms, either, except in that he's just going to be equally socially awkward with everyone.)
But he does see color (even if he's still learning to properly categorize it). He sees Black women who look like our friend B and he says her name (not telling me he thinks it is her, but telling me someone reminds him of her, is my guess. He can't explain, but he doesn't go up to people expecting they are B. He just says her name to me.)
Similarly, all blonde girls get called the name of his friend C. (And so on.) He is categorizing people, he's just doing it in a way that makes sense to him, through the relationships he already has. This is (to me) all positive categorization. I can't think of anyone he'd negatively categorize at this point in time (wow, that's amazing). Though he has started to fall into the "Mommy stay at home, daddy go to work" line of thinking, because that is our family norm. (So telling him about mommies who do go to work, and daddies who stay home is something I'm doing to make sure he doesn't over generalize the idea.)
Anyway, back to this morning's flash of inspiration. Remy has these new toys (pictured all through this post) called Sing-A-Ma-Jigs (we bought ours at Costco, but the link is to amazon). They're a pair, and he named them "Milly and Tilly" (and this is the first time he has given a toy a name, so that was big. I did help him a little, by asking him what he would like to name them, and suggesting they were "silly" so maybe a rhyming name with silly would make sense, but he chose the actual names. I was sort of hoping one would be Billy. Nope.).
Milly is white, with blue hair. Tilly is purple, with no hair (or it might be the other way around, I forget). They are contructed in exactly similar ways (aside from that tuft of troll hair) but with different colors. It occured to me that this is the PERFECT way to start talking about "race" in a way that is Remy-comprehensible.
And it occured to me that I could post pictures of Milly and Tilly and tell YOU about this idea, too. Ah, the power of the internets. (And then I started thinking about putting a children's book together... but because they are branded characters, I may need to think about that some more.)
Last week, we were talking about Milly and Tilly and noticing their colors -- how most of their colors are different, but there are two things that they have in common colors. Can you spot it here? (Only one is visible in the above photos.)
The first is the whites around their eyes.
The second is that the insides of their mouths are the same (white teeth and pink lining):
And that's where we can start talking about differences and similarities. And noticing them, but not judging people because of them.
I'd like to think that our behavior (our daily interactions with people, our friends etc...) makes this clear to Remy, to a certain extent. But to be more proactive about making sure he does not pick up the cultural bigotry that surrounds us, that's important to me, as a parent and as a person.
Yes, these toys are a silly demonstration (and somewhat annoying in person, since they cannot be shut off and they sing the most silliest of harmonic sing-songs... but they are fun, too, when I let myself get caught up in playing with them). But in talking about race/ racism with a child who has a different way of thinking about the world, they are a good place to start, I think.
How do you discuss race/ racism with your child?