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Skin Color and the Mixed Race Child

Welcome to the October edition of Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Body Awareness.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted Authentic Parenting. This month our participants are sharing how they activelyinfluence their children’s body awareness and how they experience their own! Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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My daughter is a NativeAfrItalPuertoLankin. (Go ahead, I know you are curious. Click the link. I’ll wait.)

All caught up? Good.

Raising a mixed race child present a unique and often times complex set of challenges. The day I found out I was with child, I knew that one day I would have to answer the question of “why daddy is dark, why mommy is light, and why I am something in between.”

Children don’t see color. Not immediately anyway. Daddy is daddy. Mommy is mommy. All those other people in the world are just other people. No one is light skinned. No one is dark skinned. People are just people. Period.

But then one day the switch is flipped and suddenly, you catch your toddler gently caressing her skin and then looking at your skin with a slight note of curiosity. No questions are asked but you see a wave of realization in your child’s eyes.

Out of this comes the doppelganger effect. In Tiny’s case, every dark skinned man of average build “looked like daddy.”  No man with cocoa skin or tanned skin would be compared to her precious daddy. Nope. Only those men with really, really dark skin would be acknowledged as looking like daddy.

(To be fair, around this same time, Tiny was also comparing bald men to her Papa and short haired women to her “GiGi.”)

A short while later, Tiny proclaimed “daddy has dark skin. Mama has light skin.” There was no mention of her own skin. With her expanded vocabulary, Tiny could accurately describe the skin tone of the two people she was closest to. I made no comment. I just smiled.

And then one day…

“Why is daddy’s skin dark?”

Crap. Why did Rasta Daddy have to be at work with Tiny threw me this curve ball. I knew it was coming. But still…I was ill prepared.

I mumbled something about God and how that is simply what God wanted us to look like. I mean, Tiny was almost 3. I didn’t think she needed me to orate on the need for certain skin pigmentations based on geographic locations, climate, and proximately to the sun.

Tiny was good with the answer for a while. But then she brought in the big guns.

“Mama. Do I have light skin or dark skin?”

Wow. Just wow.

If you are not raising a multicultural child whose skin tone is different than BOTH parents, then you cannot comprehend how complex this question gets. My mind was racing with all of the various responses. I didn’t want to have verbal diarrhea that would deeply  impact how Tiny viewed her skin. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I wanted to be politically correct. I wanted to celebrate all the cultures that come together inside my daughter, the cultures that create her beautiful, beautiful skin. And here is what came crashing out of my mouth…

“Does it matter if you have light skin or dark skin.”

Good one mama. Because a three year old is sooooooo going to get on this train of thought with you. But to my surprise…

“No. It’s just skin.”

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I hugged Tiny and told her that everyone has different skin and no two people share the same one. It is what is in that skin that is important.

I feel good about how Tiny views her skin. She is still such a wee one and I don’t want her to worry about how light or dark her skin is right now. I want her to just enjoy being a child, a child with beautiful skin and a beautiful spirit.

Neither my husband or I use skin color as a qualifier when describing someone. It is simply “that man” not “that black man.” It is simply “the young woman” not “the young white woman.”  At the end of the day, skin color does not define the person and I refuse to ever allow Tiny to think that it does. I want her to wear her skin with pride, anywhere she goes. I want her to see it as a piece of the whole, not the defining piece of who she is.

I am sure one day Tiny will again inquire about skin color. After all, Rasta Daddy and I are at opposite ends of the rainbow. But for now, I continue to model an indifference to skin color and instead focus on the person inside.

How do all of you deal with your child’s sudden awareness of the diversity of skin tone in this world? Any challenges in addressing it?

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APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    • Hybrid Rasta Mama: A reggae loving mama's thoughts on  Conscious Parenting, Natural Living, Holistic Health and General MindfulnessSkin Color and the Mixed Race Child - As a mother of a mixed race child whose skin tone falls between her mother and father’s, Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama tackles the tough question of “is my skin light or dark mama?” You can also find Hybrid Rasta Mama on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

 

  • Momma Jorje: a slightly crunchy mommaKnow Your Body – Momma Jorje shares one way she encourages body awareness and autonomy in her children. You can also follow Momma Jorje on Facebook.

 

 

  • Fat is Just a Word – Laura tries to actively debunk the negative connotations of the word ‘fat’ after a shocking discovery, on Authentic Parenting. You can also find Authentic Parenting on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

  • Does Your Daughter Feel Beautiful - DeAnna L’am of Red Moon School of Empowerment for Women and Girls writes about how Moms can model self acceptance and a strong body image for their daughters.

 

 

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Comments

  1. This post was shared with me because for the first time my kids were asked to describe their race to a doctor, and it was a bit of a muddle. We have 8 kids from 13 to 1 and our experiences have been similar to what you have described. At each developmental stage has come a deeper understanding and interest in their skin tones, ethnicity, and races. For us, hair–the girls’ hair especially–is the most common topic for discussion. And we very clearly assert that God made them who they are externally and internally. It’s a very good starting place for our conversations because it emphasizes a “goodness” and “rightness” and intention to their being the way they are, instead of a “that’s just how genetics turned out”. That’s our approach.

  2. I think I would have asked what SHE thought… but I think your answer (/question) was better.

    I vividly recall the day… my mother and I visiting in her van outside my apartment (she couldn’t come up the stairs). And my sister saying she saw a purple person. My mom and I thought she was nuts and we started looking all over the place. She had, apparently, noticed a man with dark skin for the first time. I think the “purple” hue might have been assisted by the window tint. :-)

  3. This is a very interesting post. We obviously have been confronted with lots of multiculturalism one the past years and to us it’s just such a tricky question in which one weighs his words carefully.
    To Africans however, it is very easy, so they get confronted with that language too…
    But the strangest part to us, being now in Liberia, is that they will call our (very white, blond haired) son ‘little nigga’… Makes me wonder if they even know the connotations of that word, or if they just pick it up out of rap songs and thing it means something similar to ‘bro’…

    Well, I could go on and on about skin color and kids… maybe we need to do a carnival on just this topic

  4. We’ve had several discussions with Mikko about skin color, because (1) he’s very interested in it and (2) I don’t want to be the clueless white person who thinks if I ignore skin color my kids won’t notice that anyone looks different from anyone else. His reaction when I started talking about skin color was akin to relief, so I knew I was right to do it. He wanted the language to describe the variety he saw. And this is even in a wholly white family!

    It’s so interesting to me, because I have super pale, pinkish skin, and his dad has more olive skin, and Mikko’s is like his dad’s, and Alrik’s is (so far) like mine. And Mikko’s been able to pick up on this. It’s been a good springboard for us to talk about how we love all our skin colors and all the people underneath those colors … and therefore we can love people who have any skin color. I think it’s been helpful, and I want to keep talking about it with him (and Alrik, as he grows).

    Anyway, all this to say that I think it’s great you’re opening these lines of conversation with Tiny and helping her seek her own sense of identity when it comes to skin color as with anything. She’s lucky to have such a thoughtful mama!

  5. My husband and I are both Caucasian. Our sons are 100% Hispanic. Our skin questions don’t involve genetics in the realm of dad+mom=you (because that didn’t happen!), so I can’t offer any insight there, but we do go through these conversations as well.

    For us, it started as, “That’s just how God made you,” which was our answer to lots of things when they were really little.

    As they grew, it became a bit of a genetics lesson… our great-grandparents came from Europe, your birthmoms and their families are from Guatemala. Their friends’ families would have come from Asia, Africa, etc. People of various parts of the world look different.

    For us, it is also a pride issue. We try to make them proud of their heritage, and skin tone is part of that. They are Hispanic. It is part of who they are and how the world sees them. It’s a good thing! Our older son is particularly pleased at his lovely skin as mama puts spf80+ onto her skin in the summer sun… and still turns red! :)

    We do get stares sometimes, as people can’t “figure out” how our family was put together. (interestingly, our kids do look a lot like their dad and I) It’s just part of being in a multicultural family…that isn’t genetically connected.

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