In our house we have always seen color. But my kid saw too much of it that day. Adam used to always talk about the color of people’s skin as a matter of fact. Children notice these things. They say stuff like, “his face is square.” You have round eyes mom, but Dawud has long eyes.” That day he didn’t just see it; he made the kind of judgment I didn’t expect from him. We were in the car, going somewhere. He looked out the window and saw two teenage boys playing. One looked like him. Brown, not too dark I suppose. The other was black. They were playing in the park. He pointed at the brown kid and said I like him, but I don’t like the other one. Before he could complete his sentence our car had zapped passed the boys. My heart had already jumped in my throat and my mouth was dry. My next words had to come out carefully. I was silent. Thinking, assessing… Unsure of what had just happened. How? Why? Just then my younger son asked his brother. “Why Adam? Why don’t you like him?
Adam: because he’s black.
“Because he’s black”.
The words were echoing in my head. Pounding. Just pounding away. Have you looked in the mirror lately? My precious little brown child.
Why is my kid saying this? He’s a sweet little boy. We don’t talk like that in our house. We have never given him the idea to judge people on how they look. Have we?
Me: You don’t know if he’s a nice person. Maybe he’s really nice and if you were in that park maybe he would play with you. If he could hear you say those words it would hurt his feelings.
Would you like it if someone told you that they don’t like you because of the way you look?
Adam: “Like if I’m brown? If people like you and Dawud better because you are white?”
Where? Where was this coming from? We are all from the same place. Dawud and I are lighter skinned compared to Adam and his dad and he notices it because he’s observant. But we’ve never made him feel that he’s less loved or liked because of it.
Me: Yes, just like that. If someone saw you and said, this boy is too brown or that his hair is too black. I don’t like him. Wouldn’t you want to say to him; “why does that matter? Everyone looks different. I didn’t make myself this way. I know some really cool games. If you gave it a chance and came to play with me we could have done some really fun stuff.” And most of all it would have made you sad that he thought that way about you when you didn’t even do or say anything bad to that person.
He changed the topic. We have talked about how people look. Why people look different and race plenty since then. I have bought books.
I don’t want to raise colorblind children. However, I don’t want to raise little racists either.
I chose my words carefully that day. Don’t know if they were the right ones.
This opened up a whole new chapter for me. How do I make children so young part of a discussion they don’t yet understand?
This little boy has started looking around him that he is not as well liked as his brother who is whiter than he is. Or that his friends who are whiter than him are better treated solely because they are whiter and have lighter colored hair. He has noticed that he is better liked compared to the African kids in his class. We can better word these articles and make these “politically correct” but this is the world we are living in. We don’t like to talk about it but this is what we are sending forward. I can avoid writing about it because it’s hard to write about because it’s my little boy and to me those are both my little boys. I can say I am raising them right and we are self-aware. I can end the discussion at because we are a brown family we know what it’s like and just leave it at that and not talk about the uncomfortable truth that it trickles down. Not talk about the reality that all of this has taught my son to look at the world from painted, tinted glasses. He is learning that maybe, just MAYBE the darker you are the less likeable you should be. It is a hard truth for a 4-year-old boy going on 5 who is dark-skinned himself. Imagine what kind of deep, dark self-hating, self dis-liking road this would have sent my son on. Just the other day he was laying on his father shoulder half asleep and I was sending him off to bed. I kissed him and said you are a very beautiful boy. Do you know that? He says, “yes I do”, I said, “people tell you that? That you are beautiful, inside and out”. He says, “yes they do.” The one thing I know for sure about this kid is that he says what’s in his heart. He never says anything to keep face. If he’s thinking it he will say it. If he feels it he will tell you. If he doesn’t want to say it he will keep quiet but he will not say something he does not mean.
He knows his parents love him and his family members care about him regardless of what he looks like. And that we all think he is beautiful. I am glad he believes it. However, he also knows, KNOWS that the world thinks he’s less liked than his brother who is lighter skinned. I can’t change that for him. His brother who is a wonderful, loving little boy as well can’t change that for his brother. They just have to grow up in different worlds. In two worlds where they both know they have been in each other’s shadow through no fault of their own. In worlds where they are going to have to fight each other and one is going to have to get left behind every now and again through no fault of his own.
I just hope their relationship can remain strong through this and they can weather the storms of this kind of discrimination that’s not even true discrimination but it’s as real as it can get at age 4 and 5.