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What I learned when my 2-year-old wanted to wear blackface

The other day, I painted my son's face like Spider-Man. And then things got complicated.

What I learned when my 2-year-old wanted to wear blackface

My daughter, Petra, wanted me to paint her face like Tiana, an African-American Disney princess.

In case you forgot who Tiana is, because Disney did an uncharacteristically bad job marketing her, here she is. She's the smart, funny, independent heroine of "The Princess and the Frog."


Petra actually said, "I want you to make me brown all over, like Tiana."


I couldn't do it.

But how do you explain to a 2-year-old what is so terrible about painting her face to look like a black princess? Petra was coming from a place of admiration, not mockery.

Even knowing that her intentions were good, it felt wrong. But I didn't have the words to explain it.


And the next day, I found the Mother's Day Action Kit, from Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The kit is just a collection of links to articles and resources, aimed at white parents who want to help their kids grow up without racism. They also have an AMAZING book list for children of all ages.

I wish I had read it before. Before this conversation, yes, but also before I even had kids. I want my children to grow up without the centuries of racial baggage that is in the groundwater of American culture. But how?

If you are, like me, a white parent trying to figure all this out, here are the top three things I learned from the kit:

1. Kids notice race.

Babies as young as six months are aware of differences in people's skin color and features. Kids aren't race blind.

2. We need to name race, and we need to start very young.

If we are uncomfortable or silent when our kids point out that someone has brown skin, we send the message that that difference is too shameful to talk about.

3. If we don't give explicit messages about race, kids will come up with their own.

As white parents, we tend to say things like, "Everyone is equal" or "Under the skin, we're all the same." Those phrases are too vague. Kids don't know we're talking about skin color.

After reading this kit, I'm going to be more deliberate about avoiding vague language when it comes to discussing race with my children.

My husband and I want our kids to be race-conscious. We attend a fairly diverse church, where people talk about issues of racial justice. We have "multicultural markers" and baby dolls of different ethnicities. We choose books that show children of different races having fun together. But we have a hard time talking about race explicitly. Because it means admitting that the world is terribly unfair. It means naming the injustices we benefit from.

It means offering Petra a compromise: Let's paint your face as Frog Tiana, because race isn't a costume. But a frog can be.

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Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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