6 Things to Avoid Telling Children of Diverse Races and Ethnicities

There are certain things to avoid telling children of diverse races as these remarks may be well-intended, yet they can be insulting and hurtful to young minds. Here is what you can say in its place.

It is beneficial to give children compliments that build their self-esteem. Not acceptable are compliments that disparage a child’s race or ethnicity. Sadly, many well-intentioned adults are unaware of the distinction, and as a result, they offer backhanded compliments or microaggressions that only serve to upset them.

According to Toy Edwards, mommy blogger and head of the African American Parent Support Group in West Windsor, New Jersey, many of the microaggressions that individuals mistake for compliments stem from racial preconceptions and insufficient exposure to diversity. Edwards adds, “Many of these assertions derive from deeply rooted cultural beliefs and misunderstandings.”

Microaggressions are ordinary, accidental, or subtle acts of discrimination against underprivileged groups. Hence, expressions that appear to be innocent compliments might be racist. Even those with the best intentions occasionally make racially insensitive remarks. The fact that they are well-intentioned does not negate the suffering they may cause to children.

When children are young, they do not always comprehend why a specific compliment is inappropriate, but they are aware that it makes them feel uncomfortable. It can be a challenging experience for children, leading them to feel dissatisfied and uncertain about their identity.

These are six instances of phrases that should never be used as compliments.

Bringing Attention on How They Talk

Example: “You are so articulate” or “You speak so beautifully.”

Why is this a problem?

That may appear to be a well-intended term at first glance, but its history makes it suspect. For children of color, this “compliment” is based on racist assumptions that people of color cannot talk eloquently and only employ slang. Noting the speech of a BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) child is akin to saying that they stray from the norm because you predicted that they would not be able to speak properly.

For the recipient, this phrase translates to “You sound exceptionally intelligent for a Black person” or “It’s uncommon for someone of your race to be that intelligent.”

Children do not believe it either. Edwards states, “My daughter hears that frequently and becomes enraged.” “Her initial assumption is that they are angry and underestimating her because she doesn’t speak broken English.”

Even if a person uses slang, this does not indicate that they are not sophisticated, articulate, or eloquent.

What you can say alternatively:

“That was an impressive presentation!” Or, “I adore the charisma you exude whenever you speak.”

Praising Their Mix

“Mixed children are very lovely because they represent the best of both worlds,” or “Mixed children are always the cutest.”

Why is this a problem?

While you may believe that bringing out someone’s beauty is a fantastic complement, attributing it to being biracial is not only disrespectful but also insensitive.

Whether you are aware of it or not, it promotes the dangerous notion that European characteristics remain the pinnacle of beauty and that other standards of beauty pale in comparison. The phrase “the best of both worlds” can be used to subtly refer to the suppression of qualities associated with other ethnicities and the proclamation of traits more consistent with white-passing.

Life coach, podcaster, and mother of two Danielle Faust, can sympathize. “As the mother of two very light-skinned multiracial children, I find it offensive when people laud their “mix” A woman on vacation once described my son as “the perfect blend,” and I wondered what she would have said if he had darker skin, a bigger nose, and curlier hair. It is OK to find the child adorable. Just leave race out of it.”

What you can say alternatively:

“You are very cute.”

Using Their Bilingualism as Reference

Example: “That is quite cool. Express yourself in Spanish, Mandarin, etc.”

Why is this a problem?

A well-intentioned request, such as asking to hear a word or phrase in a foreign language, can be rather humiliating. The recipient of the “compliment” is transformed into your performer or puppet for amusement purposes.

In a time when many Americans resist hearing someone speak a language other than English, it can be disrespectful to ask someone to speak in another language for pleasure.

In addition, if you are uncertain, it may be founded on an empty assumption. Every Latino-looking youngster does not speak Spanish. And not everyone who appears Asian speaks Mandarin, for instance.

What you can say alternatively:

“I have a strong interest in foreign languages and would like to acquire one.”

Complimenting Their Physical Features

Example: “You have nice hair” “I wish my hair could do that,” or “I wish my daughter could pull that off.”

Why is this a problem?

It is cool to admire the haircut of a child from another culture. Claiming that it is possible to “get away with it” and that you should do it too is unacceptable. The term “get away with” does not apply to hairstyles that are prevalent in other cultures, implying that they are undesirable. Saying that you wish your hair looked like that is considered cultural appropriation and ignores the fact that many young people still experience negative effects from their hairstyle choices in social and professional settings.

When people refer to excellent hair, they typically mean hair that resembles straight or looser-curled textures, which are regarded as more controllable and suitable, particularly for Black people. The assumption that curlier and kinkier hair textures are unprofessional, messy, and unruly is the origin of the term “excellent hair.” When you compliment someone’s hair, you are effectively praising their assimilation, which can lead to low self-esteem and identity issues in children.

What you can say alternatively:

“I appreciate your hairstyle.”

Comparing How They Are Distinct From The Others

For example, “I don’t view you as Latino, Black, Indian, etc.” or “You’re not like the other Black children.”

Why is this a problem?

A colorblind society is undesirable. When you tell a youngster that you don’t think of them to their ethnicity or race, you may be saying that where they came from is unacceptable and that who they are is far different from the prejudices you hold about their culture. It also communicates to a child that you do not recognize or choose to overlook their culture and the challenges they may experience, which can lead to complexes regarding their origins.

What you can say alternatively:

“Your rich culture and history contribute to what makes you unique.”

Adopting Their Ability, Skill, or Profession

Example: “You’re Asian, so you’ll be good at arithmetic,” or “You’ll make a great professional athlete because you’re tall and Black when you grow up.”

Why is this a problem?

You may believe you are praising their “natural brilliance” and highlighting their alternatives by playing into racial stereotypes, but you are actually limiting their options.

What you can say alternatively:

“You have plenty of potential and job possibilities from which to pick.”

Meaningful articles you might like: Things People of Different Races and Ethnicities Shouldn’t Say To Each Other, Educating Children on the Subject of Race and Racism, Teaching Kids about Race and Ethnicity