Do our kids need to be PC?

Political correctness is fast becoming a popular topic for conversation. With more people from minorities pointing out the unfair terminology used towards them in politics and even some politicians such as disgraced candidate Caylan Ford and other politicians who have been exposed for having controversial beliefs towards minority groups. The tolerance for those who are unwilling to treat others equally is becoming lower and lower each day. I myself also have a low patience for politicians who treat others poorly.

I often cringe when my son says out loud, “Is she brown?” or “Is he Puerto Rico?” But it was his most recent conversation that left me almost speechless. Right after the tsunami in Japan, my six-year-old son was visiting my husband at work when they decided to order Chinese food for dinner. Here’s the conversation between my son and the delivery guy:

Jaron: “Did you see the news today?”

Delivery guy: “Yes”

Jaron: “Tough day for you huh?!?”

My husband was mortified, and somewhat amused and embarrassed. My first instinct was more about how empathetic and smart his question was. His observation may or may not be right – I wasn’t there to ask the follow up question about what this man’s background really was.

My son has always been very inquisitive and aware of his surroundings. As all parents know, kids really do say the darndest things. But how we handle it, is probably the part we should stop and think about.
My son has always asked a thousand questions and makes blatant statements; whether it’s about his grandma’s red hair or my butt looking big on a particular day. But I must say, he also appreciates if someone is looking good. One day he approached my friend and told her that her skin looks great! She told him it’s the Invisicrepe ingredients working its magic (or was it some other product?) Anyway, he says what he sees. He wants to know everything and he wants to learn from what he hears and sees.

To my son it would seem the man looked like someone who is from the region in trouble. He doesn’t yet have the tools to wonder if the man from the Chinese restaurant would be Japanese. He may not even know that China and Japan are separate countries and he doesn’t know their differences. He saw someone of Asian descent and his first thought was about how the news affected him. To me, empathy far outweighs political correctness because isn’t political correctness all about empathy after all? He wasn’t making a judgment, he wasn’t implying anyone is better or worse and he certainly wasn’t mocking anyone.

When he talks about “brown” people, he is mostly referring to people from the islands in the Caribbean. Some of his babysitters have been from that area and he makes very matter of fact references about their brown skin. Maybe he heard the reference from an old sitter or quite possibly he just said what he believes he sees. He never heard me describe anyone as a color. My son watches the news and looks at pictures in the paper and when he sees someone with darker skin he also asks if they are from Africa. He hasn’t yet recognized the distinction between “his” brown and black.

So what am I supposed to do? Do our kids need to be politically correct? Do we need to teach our kids to be politically correct? Am I supposed to tell my son that he should ask “Is that person African, African American or Caribbean?” Should I explain to a six-year-old that there are people from so many countries, including our own, who are of Asian descent. I obviously want him to continue to be empathetic and sensitive. I also want to continue to encourage his innocent observations without hampering his ability to speak freely. I think that is more important for a six-year-old than being politically correct.