I’ve been trying to come up with a response to this recent question/comment Janine left at my Reading About Race post:
You mention your kids developing raced awareness as toddlers. My daughter (now almost 3) has begun to do so, and despite our efforts from the start to provider her with positive presentations of non-white folks, she just this morning told me, “white babies are better.” If you could share any insights that served you in helping your kids counter this kind of thinking, I’d sure love to hear them.
Earlier this week Dawn had this post about her daughter (who is three and transracially adopted) saying she wished she (a) didn’t have brown skin, and had ‘pink’ skin like her parents, and (b) had grown in her (adopted) mother’s belly.
There was also the adoptive mother I met a few weeks ago who told me one of her elementary school children has said (more than once) that they wished she hadn’t adopted them from Korea, that they wished they weren’t Korean.
Society sends a really strong message. The best kind of person to be is (1) White, (2) male, and (3) heterosexual (and Christian, and middle or upper class). I could go on and on–but I think those first three are the loudest messages.
We cannot shelter our children from these damaging messages. (Having my kids at home fulltime, with no T.V., provides a modicum of protection, but it’s only a matter of time.) Thus, I am heavy on the other side of the scale–(1) people of color, (2) women, (3) homosexuality/bisexuality. We have more dolls of color than White dolls. We have more photos and pictures of people of color (non-family) up in our house than pictures of White people.
I will not buy a children’s book or game (with pictures of people) if it does not include people of color and both genders; we already have plenty of all-White ‘old classics’ in our collection. We looked long and hard to find a monster truck book for our son that included people of color, and ice hockey books (for all our kids) that included girls and children of color.
When my kids play ‘wedding’ (they are still upset that I wore a short dress and my husband didn’t wear a tie at our wedding) I remind them that there could be two brides, or two grooms, or a bride and a groom, or you don’t have to get married at all if you don’t want to. (The ‘two brides’ plan works out well because it’s usually the two older girls who want to play anyway.)
This pro-active equality is part of our family conversations. Every day. My husband and I decided not to purchase bikes for Jaja and Rico from a company that showed only White children in its catalog. And we talked to the kids about this decision; we looked at the catalog with them. We do not order clothes for ourselves or our children from catalogs that include only White models, or even simply a ‘token’ model of color (we cancel them so they are not on view in our house, either). Jaja decided she would like to write a letter to Playmobile, because you cannot buy people of color (not counting the incredibly stereotypical ‘Native American’ sets) in the United States. (On ebay I found a discontinued Black family set that used to be available in the U.K.)
After walking up to the house from my in-laws’ pool, brides with their beach towels held around their faces and trailing behind them like trains, my kids sat on the deck in their bathing suits while I started making lunch. “I wish I had brown skin,” I overheard Gretel say, stroking Jaja’s arm. Rico and Jaja giggled.
“You can’t have brown skin,” they told her, “You can only have tan skin.” And then they went through who in our family has what color skin, much like they recite (almost every day) who are the girls in our family and who are the boys.
Near the end of their discussion, I stuck my head out the door. “Nobody can change their skin color. It’s something you’re born with. You get it from . . .”
“Your birthparents,” Jaja interrupted. (She’s obviously heard this one before.) *
“And your ancestors, like your grandparents or your great-grandparents,” I added, because sometimes multiracial people do not have skin color like their parents.
This is the only way I know how to counteract society’s false messages about race (and gender and sexuality)–through massive front loading. So far, none of my children has expressed a real desire to have a different skin-color, to be a different race or gender, to have been adopted or not to have been adopted. They also haven’t communicated or acted out any beliefs that one race or gender is ‘better’ than another.
One of my deepest held beliefs is in the inherent equality of all people. There are things about my children that they were born with, that they cannot change; their skin color is one of the most obvious. Everyday we look at (in real life, and in books and photographs) and talk about people of all different skin colors and a variety of ancestries. Skin color and race are topics on our table alongside gender, sexuality, class, religion, and adoption. My kids don’t really talk about what or who is ‘better’ than something or someone else.
The only real preference they have these days is in regard to compliments. Jaja wants to be told her lego structure or art project is ‘pretty’. Rico wants to be told his is ‘cool’.
The world is creeping in.
* NOTE: In our family, we say that all people/children have birthmothers and all children have mamas. For some children their birthmother and their mama are two different women, and for some children their birthmother and their mama are the same woman. We’ve also talked about birthfathers/daddies, as well as children who have 2 daddies, 2 mamas, single parents, step-parents, foster parents, or parenting grandparents.