In this climate we all hear a lot about the topic of race in a variety of ways. In the last year, I’ve seen different organizations and populations tackle ‘The Talk. If you don’t know, The Talk is a conversation that parents of color often have with their children to prime them for the discrimination and racism they will face as they grow up. Some of the videos are heartbreaking, and some infuriating. The fact remains that as a parent of color, I HAVE to make sure that my child is aware, much earlier than her peers, of all of the ways that her skin color will make things different for her. Whether your privilege allows you to scoff and stop reading here, or you’re interested in another take on it, here are three conversations that I’ve had with my daughter on race.
Why is Your Skin Brown?
Kids can be the most brutally honest critics and cheerleaders, not yet possessing a functional social filter. The lack of which provides for some of the most rich teaching moments. In our house we read. We read books with a variety of characters, human and animal alike, who are navigating all kinds of situations. I want her to see all of the different people, gender, skin colors, hair types, abilities, etc. So we read books with little brown girls and boys too. Through literature we’ve been able to talk about why we are brown; it all comes down to who our moms and dads are. That’s it for now, keep it simple right? So we are at dinner with some friends, and a new little girl we just met asks my daughter why her skin is brown. Her adults are a little panicky, but my daughter is unphased. “My skin is the color of chocolate, duh! My mom is brown so I’m brown too.” Simple as that. As she ages the complexities of genetics and DNA might come out, but for now playmate to playmate, that answer is good enough.
Why are some people so rude?
I might not have mentioned it but my daughter is five. There are naturally some things that I don’t show or share with her – but when she’s out of my care and in someone else’s I have little control sometimes. As we are laying on the bed doing some reflecting, she tells me about a news story she watched at Nana’s (insert Mom cringe here – come on Nana, the news?! Was Paw Patrol not on?) where someone was really rude to a brown-skinned girl who walked out with a doll. I had two choices here – remind her that we can’t walk out of stores with stuff we didn’t buy, give her my own opinion – she’s a child for goodness sakes just let her return it like the rest of us did at some point and move forward, or take a third route. When I asked her what she thought about it, without putting any context on it – we were able to have an age appropriate conversation about why some people are treated differently. And at the end she says, well that’s not fair. When I grow up I don’t want that to happen to me or my friends. See, through these conversations, allowing her to lead, giving her enough information to form her own opinions, I am creating the next generation of advocates. And I will continue to do so, and continue to allow her to explore her identity in her own ways.
They don’t want to play with me.
The hardest conversation that we have had together was over this past summer. We were at a park, and it was pretty dead except for a little girl and boy. They might have been siblings; I’m not sure. Their caregivers were across the park from me, and I never spoke to them. Now, I have a pretty outgoing kid. She’ll talk to anybody, ask anyone to be her friend and if they want to play, whether they are a bit younger than her or way older. If I had to guess, I’d say these kids were only a few years older, maybe 7 or 8. My kid made multiple attempts to ask them to play, and have them join in with her, or ask if she can join them. At first they didn’t say anything they just ran away. And after five or so minutes the little boy finally said, No! we don’t want to play with you, you’re little and brown.
Of course, I don’t know if he was just annoyed, or if that was legitimately true. But the damage was done. How do you console a child after someone tells them that? I really want you to reflect on what you would do, if some child told your kid they wouldn’t play with them because they are [insert your own thing here]. My face got really hot, and I got up and played with her. I was angry, and I tried not to let it show. We played tag, and we raced down the slides, and we attempted to play hide and seek. And on the way home, we talked about kindness, and character. Someone else’s words and choices do not determine who we are as people. Brown is beautiful, and even when other people don’t see it we see it and we love it. Our skin, our hair, our attitude – we are beautiful. We can be kind. We can remember how it felt, and try our best not to make others feel the same way.
Conversation on race will only get harder over time. If she’s anything like me, and I’m told she is, being African American – the culture, the resilience, the joy – will lead her to pride, and to social justice.