Wednesday, February 8, 2012
A conversation about skin color
Well, this afternoon we had a conversation, the kind that many adoptive parents dread. Anya Rashi was sitting at the kitchen table doing a Perler bead project. Out of the blue, she said, "Mom, I wish my skin was white like yours."
Inside my brain, it sounded something like this: "Aaaaaughh! Despite our best attempts, we have raised a child who is not comfortable with her beautiful, brown, Indian skin! We are failures at parenting!" Thankfully, although she is very perceptive about other people's emotions, Anya Rashi cannot yet read minds.
What I actually said was, "Hmm. Why is that, sweetie?"
Anya Rashi: "Because it looks funner to be white."
Me: (WHAT??!) "What do you mean?"
Anya Rashi: "Well, most of the kids at my preschool are white, so it just seems like it would be more fun."
Me: "What about A___, I___, and B___ in your class? They don't have white skin."
Anya Rashi: "No, they don't, but I still wish I had white skin."
Me: "How come?"
Anya Rashi, pointing between herself and me: "So we could look like each other."
Me: "So you wish we looked like each other . . . because we love each other?"
Anya Rashi: "Yes."
And then, I'm not kidding, she starts belting out a song from the movie "Mulan." A movie which she has not even seen -- but she heard this song on a Disney CD we checked out from the library. The lyrics go like this:
"When will my reflection show
Who I am. . .
So, I recovered my wits and said, "Do you know that people with different-colored skin can love each other and be a family?"
Anya Rashi: "Yes."
Me: "And do you know that I love you?"
Anya Rashi: "Yes!"
Me: "And that you're my favorite 5-year-old on the whole planet?"
Anya Rashi: "Well, my favorite 5-year-olds are A___ and K___ from preschool."
And then we went on naming other favorite people, and ended with me saying, "You know what? I'm glad you tell me what you're thinking about. I love that."
Yikes -- these conversations pop up out of the blue. The first time we talked about skin color, Anya Rashi was three years old. We were looking in the mirror as I helped her brush her teeth. She said out loud that we didn't look like each other, so I asked her what was different about us. After talking about our skin, hair and eyes being different, she stuck out her tongue and said, "But our tongues are both pink!" And then she was done with that conversation.
Since that first time, we've talked about skin color many more times, and I hope we are building a pattern of being able to speak freely about the ways we look different from each other, and how our family looks different from other families. This was the first time she said she wished she had white skin, though -- that kind of threw me for a loop.
We've had conversations about skin color when she sees other people of color at a our sons' school, at a store, etc., when we've read library books about people of color, or she sees people of color in a video or on TV. Or just when it's on her mind. Children are absolutely not color blind, which is a good thing, because the world they're going to be living in is definitely not color-blind either.
We have two books that I love for encouraging conversations: "Amazing Grace," about an African-American girl who wants to play the role of Peter Pan in her class play, and "Martin's Big Words," about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Once after reading these books aloud, my middle son said, "It's a good thing that we don't have to worry about racism anymore." I love his sweet, pure heart -- but his comment also reveals the reality that race is something Caucasian adults and kids aren't forced to deal with very often.
So how are you handling the topic of skin color with your children? Have they brought it up, or have you chosen to introduce it first? I'd love to have everyone chime in about how they're navigating this subject, and share what's worked well (or not!). Edited to add: And I really do want to hear from everyone -- if you're a Caucasian parent with Caucasian kids, it's just as important for you to be talking about race/appearance and racism . . . and if you don't have kids yet, please also chime in about what you plan to do.