What I am learning from my white grandchildren — truths about race | Anthony Peterson | TEDxAntioch

Translator: Priscilla R. A.
Reviewer: Queenie Lee Damon was five years old
when he asked his Aunt Lily the question: “Lily … am I black or am I white?” I don’t know if his Aunt Lily
was surprised by the question. She said, “Well, your mum is white
and your dad is white, so you’re white.” I’m pretty sure
that was not the right answer, because Damon said, “Well,
when I grow up, I’m going to be black.” (Laughter) Damon was not confused
by his basic colors. So, why would a five-year-old
ask such a strange question? He already knew that it mattered. And at five years old,
he’d already attached value to race. And he wanted answers to questions
that we don’t want to answer. But we have to start answering
race questions, and we have to start answering
with the truth. We tell children that race is real
but that race doesn’t matter, and the opposite is actually true. Race is not real, but race does matter. If that sounds crazy to you,
think about the evidence. I was in sixth grade, living in Hawaii, when I decided I was going
to be an anthropologist; I wanted to study human cultures. To support my decision, my parents bought me the book
“The Color of Man,” by Robert Cohen. And I learned from that book
that our skin color is determined by the amount of pigment in our skin,
especially the pigment “melanin.” Dark skin people have a lot of melanin,
lighter-skin people have less. So while the differences
in our skin color are very real, anthropologists long ago rejected the idea
of races connected to skin color. There is no culture in color. There are no muscular or mental abilities
connected to melanin. There are no character traits, no virtues, no vices, no values
connected to skin color. Yet from a very early age, when our children
are just learning their colors, they pick up that skin color is different
from all other kinds of color, and we don’t tell them why. Elliot loves the human body, and it’s not that normal kind of
four-year-old obsession with body parts. There is Elliot, (Laughter) and his love of the human body. He was instructing me
in anatomy a couple months ago. He told me all
about the respiratory system, the part that the lungs
and the diaphragm play, and he told me all
about the digestive system, what the esophagus and the stomach
and the large and small intestines do, and he told me that the brain
is the control center for the entire body. (Laughter) (Applause) If you were with him, or if he were here, he would instruct you as well, and he might even draw you a picture. (Cheering) Well, I was getting
a little bored with the lecture, so I stopped him. I said, “Elliot, what color is my skin?” Without even looking at me,
he said, “It’s black.” Then I said, “What color is your skin?” There was a long pause. And then he said, “Grey?” Grey? If we pay attention, we can catch
our children in mid-indoctrination. Elliot had figured out
that my brown skin is called “black,” but he had not yet been schooled
in what to call the color of his own skin. And he had not been told why we call this brown “black,”
and that pinkish color “white.” Of course, our notions of race
go beyond skin color to other physical traits and abilities. I learned the word anthropology
from my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Wey. My best friend Ted and I – “TED” – (Laughter) used to stay after school
with Mr. Wey and pick his brain. And one of those days, Mr. Wey told us
about a U.S. senator who believed that black people were not very bright,
but they could run fast and jump high. And as the three of us talked about it and thought about the students
in our multicultural classroom, we had to laugh because the intellectual
and academic stereotypes did not fit the people in our class. And the athletic stereotypes
faired even worse. (Laughter) We also believe that race
is somehow connected to bloodlines. And we believe that bloodlines
trace back to three or five pure races. But again, the science
does not back that up. There are no pure races. I apologize for giving you all old news. This is old news. This is not something
of the domain of these elite experts, and we’ve known it for a long time, but most of us don’t know it. Because in our lived realities, we follow
a stubbornly ingrained false narrative. So, if race is not real,
why talk about it? We certainly have a number
of reasons to avoid race talk. We believe that any mention of race means that there is going
to be heroes and villains, angels and demons, winners and losers. We believe that someone
is going to be called a racist. We might believe that someone
should be called a racist. We don’t agree on what racism is;
we don’t even agree on what race is. We believe that race is the domain
of some people and not other people. And we believe that any mention of race
only exaggerates our differences, minimises our similarities
and exacerbates our problems. But we must talk about it anyway. In her TED Talk –
Color blind or color brave? – Mellody Hobson lays out
the case for pursuing racial diversity in all of our encounters,
beginning with businesses and boardrooms. And she gives us that charge
for the sake of the children. Well, recent studies have told us
where children get their racial ideas. Ali Michael and Eleonora Bartoli describe what they found
in a study of white parents and their white adolescent children. They interviewed the parents
and the children both separately and together, and they found that the parents
reported teaching their children: do not be racist, do not talk about race, do not use the word black, and do not notice racial differences. They wanted to teach their children
that everyone is the same, and that racism is bad. And they defined racism as: overt, violent, and, for the most part, obsolete. But the messages the children reported were conflicting and incomplete. The children reported learning: everyone is the same, race is superfluous, and hard-work determines
where you get in life. They also reported some views they had learned
about certain racial groups, including the belief
that black people are poor, black people are lazy, black neighborhoods are dangerous, and black people are physically
stronger than white people. Those views are not far
from those of the U.S. Senator when I was in sixth grade. Now, I don’t suspect
that this kind of racial teaching is exclusive to white families. The racial mixed messages we give transcend our own family racial histories. And when it comes to race,
to ethnicity, to color, we do talk about it, but not in mixed company
and not in polite company. It comes up when there’s some event
in our national culture. O. J. Simpson, English only, Trayvon and Zimmerman, border control, 9/11, President Barack Obama. Something happens in our culture, and we hear the responses from the media. And we express our own opinions to people who we believe,
we hope, are like-minded with us. And we hear the views
of everyone around us. And sometimes we hear views
of people, our closest friends, that we never knew they held, and we realize that race does matter. These incidents happen and our children who have been taught
to be color-blind are left blindsided. But these incidents give us the opportunity
to tell the truth to children. And there are incidents
in our personal lives. Chelsea was six, she was sitting with me, looking up images from
the Disney animated movie “Frozen.” She stumbled upon a picture of Elsa,
her favorite character. This Elsa had dark brown skin. And Chelsea was not having it. “What?! That’s not Elsa! She is black! It’s ugly!” She’s sitting right here with me, (Laughter) she is almost in my lap. What would you say? I sat there frozen. (Laughter) I could ignore it. (Singing) “Let it go, let it go.” (Laughter) (Applause) I could get angry. “Don’t say that about black people!” But I love our Chelsea, and I wanted to know more. So, I said, “You think
black skin is ugly?” (Yelling) “Yes!” she said. “Well, not your skin … but Elsa is not supposed to be black.” And I could only agree with her. What followed was a loving and truthful
conversation with six-year-old Chelsea, now ten-year-old Damon
and three-year-old Zoe. Three white children
and their black grandfather. And what Chelsea taught in that moment is that our ethnicity
is essential to our identity, even if you are an animated character. When we talk openly
with our children about race, we don’t burden them, we free them. We allow them to embrace
an essential part of their own identity and to embrace the identity
of everyone they come in contact with. We handicap our children
when we operate in racial silence, and we rob them of an essential part
of their own identity. I believe this is especially the case
for white, or “grey,” children like Damon, Chelsea, Elliot and Zoe. The vision I longed for
is not a post-racial society. I cherish my experiences
in multicultural Hawaii and in the ever-growing diversity
of Antioch, Tennessee. When we ignore differences,
it diminishes us all. The vision I longed for,
and the vision I suspect you longed for, is not post-racial, but post-racist – you can clap – (Applause) where the destruction wrought
by race and power is eliminated. We are not here to talk about racism
although it remains stubbornly real. Its inequalities are well-documented, but those inequalities are only symptoms
of something deeper in our psyche. There is the reality that race matters
and not always in positive ways. So, how do we proceed? Well, we start by taking
our cues from the children. We answer those questions. We tell them that race is not real
but that race does matter. We break our silence
when they want to know why some brown skin is called brown but other brown skin is called red
or yellow or black or white. And if we really want
to benefit from our diversity, and if we really want
to break the strongholds of racism, we tell the truth to children
even before they ask. Tell them again: Race is not real, but race does matter. And tell them why. Christian is Damon’s
and Chelsea’s older brother, Christian was 11 when five-year-old
Damon asked one more question. We were in a fast food restaurant,
and the two boys were sitting at a table, separate from the grown-ups
and children. Damon got up, out of his seat,
walked over to us, touched my arm and turned back
to his brother, and said, “I just want to know what color is this.” We could see the reluctance
on Christian’s face, he did not want to answer this question. He’d already learned
the rules of racial silence. So, I tried to break
the tension for him, and I said, “Just answer the question.
What color is it?” (Laughter) Finally, reluctantly,
he said, “It’s brown …” Damon walked proudly back to his seat: “That’s all I’m saying.” (Laughter) He just wanted the truth. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “What I am learning from my white grandchildren — truths about race | Anthony Peterson | TEDxAntioch

  • If you a full grown man its sad grandchildren are teaching YOU SOMETHING YOU SHOULD BE TEACHING THEM.


  • A personal view,
    Race = country a person is born in.
    Dark skin = resistance to shin cancers.
    Light skin = liberal amounts of sun block.
    Ethnicity = where you think you belong.
    The tone of a person skin doesn't determine who they are. That can only be done by their opportunities and experiences in life.

  • I’ve seen indoctrination in my generation. They all say “What white people did…” Not “When such-and-such came over from Britain etc. and the convicts were shipped over”. No, “White people”. It creates a pretty disturbing self-hatred and divisiveness.

  • This taught me that I’d better die childless than birth a mixed child and get white grandkids. Thank you for this talk

  • Oratory skills a bit lacking, but overall positive message… also Chelsea seems to have schooled pops on the fact that you can't ignore ethnicity, especially for a growing child that needs to form a sense of self

  • People will find any reason to subdivide. Sport teams /religions/race / even the streets they live on . Shame on us . What a waist of time. Great lecturer. Thank you .

  • There is no salvation for the so-called White people. IT is hard to hear and hard to digest. But this is the truth and you cant change the word of the LORD. OK. Stop saying that it is possible for them. Read the BIBLE.

  • Melanin actually has a fascinating ability. It can convert radiation into energy and is used by some forms of fungi as a means of living off radioactive energy. Human skin processes the same conversion but can only provide you enough energy to wake you up or get you on your feet

  • This is the major portion of the Hegelian dialectic that the social engineers have been cramming down our throats since forever.

  • When I was a kid my grandma told me the reason there r different skin colors was god got board with one color. This lead to many more questions such as why don’t I see purple people. Yes purple is one of my favorite colors. I remember the talk today. It took place over 45 yrs ago.

  • Hopefully you are not learning much considering race is a scientific term which has decisive data in regards to the differences in peoples. Anecdotes about individual experience has zero bearing on scientific fact.

  • What I want to know is why you are trying to indoctrinate a child into Identity politics. Why not teach your child to judge people by there character instead of getting him to care about your skin colour.

  • I am envy of successful ,wise people only , I am colour blind .

    And I don't believe in racism but there are so weak, small minded People out there .

    Barack Obama kind of people needed in this crazy world .

  • +
    unless his grandchildren are adopted… They are biracial not white….lol..

    But love is love… No matter the skin color…

  • America needs to cut to the heart of the matter: Blacks need to be given their own place to live. Whites CAN'T live with them. ALL other discussion is stupidity.

  • Race isn't real, but race does matter. Race isn't real, but all races need to be represented in the boardroom…?
    I can't do the mental gymnastics required to have those things make sense. Asking a 5 year old to do that… I don't think is necessarily a good thing.

    Adults act like race is a big taboo touchy subject and they get all weird about it, and start spouting things that make no sense. That's what kids pick up on, so that's what's going to be perpetuated.
    I think this guy is great, but there's something at the core of his message that doesn't fully align with reality, imo.

  • Race become irrelevant when you are mix race…. Like we were mix race community (indian + malay) which we look like one race (Indian) and identify ourself as the other (malay)…

  • but isnt it like proven that african people have higher waists then european which leads to the ability to run faster? I dont know if its true but I heard about it several times

  • To say traits don’t correlate with certain races is crazy to me. Just because the stereotypes didnt work in his middle school class doesn’t disprove it. Look no further than the nba and nfl. East Africans win marathons like nobody’s business. East Asians have quicker reflexes

  • When my niece was younger she was in a trolly being pushed around Aldi when she asked my mum “why is that ladies face so dark” my mum literally didn’t know what to say she was so took back by the question and the lady tapped on my mums holder and just said “don’t worry my son has asked why some people are so pale” my mums never forgotten that, I think that women’s words made my mum realise it wasn’t an awkward question it was an inquisitive one and i think it helped her speak about race a lot more openly in the future.




  • While no melanin dosen't affect physical or mental traits other than skin pigmentation…it does how ever indicate a blood line that evolved in a certain geographical location…different geographical locations bring unique struggles…struggles bring on physical and mental evolution…so a persons skin color most certainly can tell you about many natural physical and mental traits of a person…then you get into the nature and nurture…so you start with base characteristics due to nature and then life choices can change those characteristics…but people of different races most certainly do have certain natural advantages and disadvantages…and those racial lineages can be assessed by skin color

  • We lived all over the east coast when my kids were growing up from NY down to Florida and I taught them the way a person treats you is what matters not anything else , its the way you get treated that makes someone good or bad , nothing else .

  • Skin "color" does not exist. If it did, it could be changed almost instantaneously. The Actuality is… Get ready… Complexion! What's the first word in COMPLEXION…. complex. Color is not complex Period

  • Race is a group of people who share common ancestry. Regardless of physical features. They share the same blood line meaning they are the same people

  • Maybe the kid thought his color mattered because he wanted to be like his dad? Could’ve just been that simple.

  • Race is not the skin color. Race is the cultural aspect of each civilisation. But some simple minds are making some things to easy in cutting the way down and leaving out the most important information. If you are interested in how cultures interacted throughout human history I advise you "bill wurtz – history of the entire world, I guess" here on youtube.

  • "parents" plural, that is a big part of success. Being raised by both a mother and father is more important that modern society wants to relearn.

  • There are race differences, gender differences, ideological differences, religious differences and culture differences and they should be talked about with out emotional outbursts and feelings of inferiority or supriority.

  • Race is real! Race does matter! When people mix around over and over people get confused. Your true race goes back to you fathers fathers father father. Your paternal line is what matters to tell you what race you are

  • I have always hated when people try to promote the "We're more the same than we are different." It still sends the message that different is bad.

  • Paul told God that he wishes everyone to be equal and God said man will never be equal with others because he puts a special gift in all of us and I'm sorry but uncivilized are not equal to civilized.

  • Have you ever watched small children, with different skin colors, play with each other? Do they think about other children's skin color? Children don't really notice skin color, unless they have never seen a person with another skin color, then naturally they notice.
    Racism, by those supposedly against racism, who talk about it incessantly, thereby backhandedly promoting it, is so constantly in people's faces, including small children, they can't help but be aware of it and think about it.
    God doesn't care about our skin color. He judges the heart. We should relate to people according to their actions, not their skin color.
    If you are a Christian then you should know that we are all one in the body of Christ. We are one in The Holy Spirit. We should love one others as ourselves. This is what matters.

  • Ffs! Just say people come in many colours and shapes! And you look like people in your family! If you want further detail then darker skin comes from hotter countries and whiter skin from colder Countries!

  • Brilliant. Could we please sentence Trump and his minions to watch this on repeat after he’s impeached? Maybe we should have every congressperson watch it before beginning the next term.

  • You had me until I got you 2 minutes and 35 seconds you're dead wrong there's a lot of physical traits do more research you'll see

  • World is weird man. In Asian countries women bleach their skins. Here in eastern Europe girls are obsessed over getting a tan or a fake tan. Why not accept yourself the way you are?!

  • Until we reach a point when white people are not demonized and blamed for all the worlds problem we will be stuck with all this ignorance.

  • Self hate Starts Very young! The little Whyte gurl hated the Blk gurl(Elsa) but favored her blk grandfather! The Jealously of whose deserving whose Not starts in the heart! Teach the children To respect others!

  • African Americans have more fast twitch muscle fibers, some tribes are immune to malaria causing sickle cell these are only a few biological differences.

  • It's funny when people talk about race! My son had finished school and some white kid shouted out at my then 16yr old son calling him a bloody Indian… My son turned around and said I'm not Indian.. the white guy said you bloody Chinese… My son shouted out I'm not Chinese! he said well what are you then! My son said I belong to the Human Race! …Lol

  • Wow! This was extremely eye opening! As a Southern, white, mom of two young boys, I often wonder what is the best way to discuss race with them. I was raised being told that racism is wrong, but I was also taught the "rules" about racial silence too. However, with the way the country is headed, I understand why that old way of thinking was wrong. With the way our country is going right now, it just seems more important than ever to make sure we raise our kids to see beyond the pigment of someone's skin.

  • Does it matter what color a person's skin is ? It should be about a person's character NOT their skin color. There is only one race, the human race . Power to the people NOT the people in power….

  • For him to say his grandchildren are white makes no sense. His grandchildren are not white if they were he would be white. Is grandchildren are mixed "race"

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