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The other day LJ and I were leaving her preschool when we hopped into the elevator with Ronnie, a boy from her class, and his nanny. My inane chitchat about the gloomy weather was suddenly loudly interrupted by my daughter who, while staring at her classmate, asked,

Mommy? What color is Ronnie? Maybe brown like chocolate?

Sure, she’s not even 3 yet. Yes, I fully expect her to make innocent observations as she discovers the world around her. Still… I wanted to f*cking DIE. Spontaneously imploding would have been preferable to my red-faced stammering, “Whaaaaat?” as I pretended I didn’t clearly hear what she said (Mistake #1). Saved by the elevator doors sliding open, we said our quick goodbyes and I bolted out of the building and down 7th Avenue. As we walked the sixteen blocks to our apartment, I cursed myself just a little. In my overzealous need to be urban, liberal, multiculturally-sophisticated supermom, I had f*cked up.

The book, “NurtureShock” (which craps on everything ever published about parenting, and is subsequently AWESOME), has an entire chapter on the importance of talking to your kids about race. I gobbled it up, and promptly marched to the bookstore to get some sort of picture book on race that would prompt our deep discussions. Surely, I was the parent of the year! The cover of the book I chose, Karen Katz’s “The Colors of Us”, instantly caught my eye with its brightly-colored painting of a group of young girls. I didn’t actually READ the story until snuggled up with LJ at bedtime that very night. (Mistake #2. Note to self: from now on, pre-read all books before purchasing.) The book follows Lena and her mother, an artist, as they take a stroll through their neighborhood. Here’s some of what they see:

…Mom and I see Mr. Pellegrino flipping a pizza high in the air. He is the color of pizza crust, a golden brown.

…Mr. Kashmir sells many different spices. He’s the color of ginger and chili powder.

Isabella is chocolate brown, like the cupcakes we had for her birthday.

Wait, wait… the Italian guy is the color of PIZZA CRUST?!? Mr. KASHMIR, with his turban, runs a spice store? There’s nothing else to say about Isabella other than the fact that she looks like cupcakes? Seriously? WTF? Is she kidding me with the stereotyping and food references? Parenting fail! Parenting fail! I shelved the book the next morning and with it, I pretty much shelved any formal discussion of race and multiculturalism until I find a better resource (Any suggestions?). For now, I’m using NYC as her guide, and hoping that all the different faces she sees and languages she hears during each neighborhood outing will instill in her a curiosity and appreciation that can’t be found in a stupid book.

Thanks for nothing, Karen Katz.

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