Thursday, January 19, 2012

Color and Race

I bungled my first conversation with Meg about race. To be fair though, I wasn't expecting it -- especially not in the middle of watching "Toy Story 3."

We were watching the movie the other night when Meg asked me if Woody's hat is black. No, I said, it's brown. Then she asked about Mr. Potato Head, was he black? Nope, I told her, he's brown. She asked about slinky dog next, and Mrs. Potato Head, and about Buster (the dog in the film). I told her none of them were black, they were all brown.

Then it dawned on me what was going on.

Somewhere Meg had picked up that she is black, and that it has to do with the color of her skin. Being the smart kid she is, who knows her colors, including the difference between black and brown, there was now some confusion. And I was doing nothing to help the situation.

I paused the movie and looked at Meg.
"Baby," I said, "your skin is the color brown. People may call it black, but it's color is brown. And no matter what color it is it is wonderful skin, and I love you very much."
"Is your skin brown," she asked.
"No, it's pink," I said. I figured that would be easier than explaining "pasty."
"Is Daddy's skin brown?"
"No, his is pink too, but we are your Mommy and Daddy and we love you."
Then she asked me to turn the movie back on and snuggled in.

After she went to bed I laid awake for about two hours after that wondering how I could have better handled it. Her skin isn't black, but she is. That black really has nothing to do with color and more with racial construct. That there are some people that have much darker skin than hers that will never be identified as black.
I started wondering if I should have brought up Dr. King. Then I remembered she is two.

I am hoping the next time I am better prepared. I am also hoping the next time is as innocent, and doesn't involve her feelings being hurt because of racism, or feelings of rejection due to a realization about the differences in our colors and what they mean.

I know those conversations are coming, I am just hoping that I am better at this when they do.

Oh, and that she still wants to snuggle with me after we are done talking.

20 comments:

Cindy said...

Timely. My daughter just walked up to me and told me my people sprayed her people with hoses when MLK was alive. Like 20 minutes ago. Wasn't expecting that one either....

Nicole said...

I think you handled it pretty wonderfully. Short, honest, and with a dash of support and love in case she was feeling insecure about the color differences between you. Brava, momma.

Kelly said...

I think you did a good job. I still don't really get why black people are called black people when they are really brown.

You better get used to those unexpected questions when you least expect them, that's when all the big ones happen.

Mea usually drops these when we are in the car waiting in various drive thru lanes, the bank, the pharmacy, dinner, etc. Last one she laid on me was where do babies come from. I loved having the pharmacist come on speaker while I was explaining that one.

butwhymommy said...

I think you handled it beautifully. We haven't had that conversation with Lion yet but we have with Bunny. We are pink, she is peach and Lion is brown.

BugginWord said...

Wow to Cindy. I totally lost track of what I was going to say...

aki! said...

Probably a lot of parents facing the same question as you do.

Following you back!

Riot Kitty said...

I think you explained it just perfectly. What kind of fucked up world do we live in when one's two-year-old is asking questions about race?

Mr. RK is pink, and I am yellow.

Cindy said...

I think you did a great job by the way :-)

Phil said...

I think you did great and no matter what you say, as long as the love comes through she'll get the right message.

Rassles said...

I don't understand how you could have bungled that up, because I don't know anything better that you could have said. Well done.

Jen said...

The other day, E told me she knows why people have different skin. She says it's because that's one of the ways we are all special.

I think you handled it well.

Hippo Brigade said...

way to go mommy! you handled it great. and the best part was that she was satisified with the answer. It's the worst when they keep asking you questions. It's like in math class when you keep getting the answer wrong and the teacher points that long ruler stick thing in your face.

G said...

I think that you handle it very well.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

I'm reading a book you might find helpful, _Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent's Guide to Raising Multiracial Children_. My kids are mixed race, but the book does also address transracial adoption.

The Twisted Tine said...

You did a very fine job with that, I'd say. :) No bungle, from what I can see. Serious talks come later, I'm thinking.

Our five year old brought up the color-of-skin thing about a week ago, himself. I'm sure it had to do with the curriculum of MLK that they're teaching in his Kindergarten class. We had a good talk about it all, and he schooled me and his mom on the subject somethin' fierce. It was awesome.

Also, just wanted to say, I used to follow you a while back as the "I am writing you today" blog guy. I look forward to catchin' up. :)

Summer said...

I don't think you bungled it at all. Being a mother of biracial children, I've been taken off guard by these questions too. My kids are light brown, I'm white, and my husband is very dark skinned. Race is a constant conversation in my house. I've learned to be very open and honest, while keeping it simple. Sometimes we read more into the questions, sometimes not enough. The older she gets, the more intense the questions will be. Six months ago, Elijah said that he wished his skin was white like his friends. My heart burst for him to even think that,and for my husband and oldest son who both became infuriated upon overhearing this conversation. I'm fairly certain I had tears in my eyes as I said, "WHY would you ever say that? Why? You are beautiful Elijah, and we wouldn't ever want you to change anything about yourself. Why would you say that?" Turns out, the thought came from him, because majority of his preschool is white. Nobody had even said anything to him. If you ever need to talk, I'm here for you.

Sam said...

I think you were a master there. One of the books I read in the early days had the best advice I follow to this day: "need to know basis." Kids want to talk about race and adoption about as much as they do any other subject: not very much, and not for very long. And they will cue you quite handily when they are done. I never launch into larger issues when my child has just interrupted our touching moment with "Do we have any fruit leather?" :)

Three Cats and a Baby said...

These conversations are just your warm up ones. I think you are doing great. Keep blogging about it so it helps when I get there, ok? :)

Egg said...

That is the cutest thing! I love it!

harriet glynn said...

I think you did great actually! My son is nowhere near that level of conversation of or ability to distinguish colours. It is slightly different for us because my husband's skin is as dark if not darker than my son's (but my husband is not "black"). I think you did well. I always think, when the time comes for tricky conversations Keep it Simple!