My children don't use the word black or the word white when describing people. Instead, they use words like "brown" or "cream-colored" or "pinkish" or "caramel." This would be of no consequence if it wasn't offensive.
Of course they don't do it to give offense. They use words that make sense to them -- usually literally. Now, they are aware that the color-words commonly used to describe people do not refer to skin color exactly but to something else, something not entirely seen. That is, they do know what race is -- basically. They simply choose to use the words they prefer. In truth though they know of the races, the idea of calling something (such as skin) that is not white, white is plain irrational to them. They've learned to expect this level of silliness from grownups, though, no matter how much I protest against those the-kids-are-smarter-than-the-adults shows on Disney.
And you'll notice it right off if you hear them speak. The terms black and white don't come out right; they don't sound serious, as though they're unsure of the language. You can almost see their minds go but white people aren't actually white.
It comes off as offensive by no fault of the kids. The problem is it became common to teach that there are no races, that there is only various shades of brown skin. This sounds fine on the surface, but it is actually unhelpful and hurtful. The truth is the human race is varied. There are many differences between individuals and groupings of individuals. Skin color is tied to race, ethnicity; therefore, we are not all brown. We are different. Ignoring real difference only works to invalidate and suppress anything that is not the accepted norm. The goal is to unify, but the effect is the creation of us or normals and other.
That's a big bag of luggage to tag onto stuff kids say. They sound related. They feel related. They're not related. I have to learn this again and again every single day. It doesn't matter how many times I messed up yesterday; I will still make this mistake again, always. Jumping to conclusions. Something falls over upstairs, I yell for the oldest. Without facts, without checking things out, I know for certain he did it. Now, sure he often is the culprit. More often than he is not, but he is not always the instigator -- not nearly as much as he's assumed to be. I make these associations that just plain aren't right. Everybody does it. It's part of how our brains work to navigate the world, but it's a perversion.
So, what do we do?
I've reluctantly taught my children to use the words black and white to describe people over their more precise descriptions of skin color because brown means everything in your suitcase -- other, invalid, inferior, false education -- even when it only means brown, a color. Through language they will and have come to understand the words. They use them infrequently still, and it still sounds foreign. That's ok. I kind of hope it stays that way for them.