I’ve always considered myself to be a progresive forward-thinking and anti-racist parent. Last week I realized that I’d fucked up.
Our family has never really spoken about our color. I mean, we’ve spoken about racism both in terms of South African and American history. We’ve spoken about some of the horrific racist acts that have occurred in the US, even by the police, who my kids have been taught, at school, are the good guys, the guys to go to when you feel in danger.
But we’ve never REALLY spoken about BEING brown. And why the police are not the best guys to go to when we feel in danger.
Why? Maybe because I never wanted skin color to be anything other than a feature, like an eye color, shoe size, or height. I never pointed out how brown my kids' eyes were, so why point out how dark their skin is?
I do often tell Amber how beautifully tall she is, and how being tall will be advantageous to her in the future. I never point out the fact that my 11-year-old daughter has a larger shoe size than mine, because, guess what? Large feet size in women is not seen as advantageous.
See where I’m going with this? My own limiting beliefs about skin color granted these were formed through decades of growing up a brown person in apartheid South Africa, have seeped into my parenting. Even though I consciously know this is not true, my subconscious still thinks that it’s better to be white.
It's more advantageous to be light-skinned than dark-skinned. That’s fucked up, thanks to media, thanks to history, thanks to racism!
I’d recently started noticing that Meka, my 8-year-old son, was still wearing long sweatpants to school every day, even though temperatures here in Spain are now reaching 30C (86F). I asked him why a couple of times and never really got a straight answer. As this was usually in the morning, when we were already running late for school, I brushed it off as ‘it’s cooler in the mornings’ or ‘I hadn’t yet got to the growing pile of laundry, so he had no shorts to wear”.
But something inside told me there was more to it. So one day I pushed a little harder. “Meka, it’s already 70F outside and it’s only 8 am.” His reply: “I’m cold mom, my legs are cold”.
“Hey love, is there another reason you don’t want to wear shorts? Are you feeling embarrassed or insecure about something”. His silence said it all. And eventually, he let me into a little bit of his world and told me:” my legs are just so dark.
Like, if they were the color of my arms, that would be fine, but they’re not.”. At that moment, I knew that I’d fucked up. In so many ways.
Britt Hawthorn talks beautifully about how I could have dealt with this so much better. Like simply pointing out different skin tones from an early age and celebrating the different skin colors in our family. Acknowledging that our skin color is different and that everyone's skin color is different, makes it easier to discuss the tougher topics of racism when our kids are older. So I took a page from her book, and with tears streaming down my face, I said:
“Meka, my love, your legs are beautiful. Your dark brown skin is beautiful! Yes, I know that you’ve only ever lived in places and gone to schools where all your friends and everyone around you was blonde, blue-eyed, and caucasian. And I know that makes you feel different but remember you are unique, everyone is, and no one is better than the other. There are places where most people look just like you, and people with white skin look ‘different’.
Ricardo spoke to him too, about how beautiful his black skin is, and reminded him that people of color are descendants of kings and queens. That we should be proud of our black skin.
It took a few days, but I’ve noticed him wearing shorts more and more. And I am so proud of my 8-year-old brown boy.
From now on, I will no longer shy away from the uncomfortable discussions about skin color. As parents, we must change the narrative of the past and fix the messed-up thinking that lingers in our media, in our language, and our heads.
I’ve started to make an effort to get uncomfortable and open up more about racism. I’m writing about my experience and talking to anyone who will listen and is emotionally mature enough to debate and unpack these experiences with me. My purpose? To hopefully challenge the narrative that exists in our subconscious, start conversations and begin to learn what we should be saying, thinking, and doing. All of us, no matter the color of our skin.
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