Friday, November 6, 2009

Racial recognition: Yesterday, it happened

Baby screaming, screaming on the monitor - not in distress, but in over-tiredness and anger that it is still naptime. So excuse the poor writing about to follow, it's the screaming 3 inches away and my constant almost baby, almost.

Mom? I'm Brown.

Well, yes honey, you are.

Daddy's brown too - he's dark brown. I'm light brown. Why are you guys white?

Well, who's "you guys"? 

You, and I think Talya's white.

Well, Talya's light brown like you are. I'm white because my Mommy & Daddy are both white and white and white make white. You're light brown because your Mommy is white and your Daddy is brown and white and brown make light brown. Your baby brother will be black because the Mommy & Daddy that made him are black.

I thought for a minute of the whole, "God made you light brown" thing, but I thought it would be good to go ahead and explain that our colors are a product of our genes, not God and a paintbrush. Plus, it can't hurt to go ahead and lay the groundwork for Mommies and Daddies making babies, right?

Mom, I like Indian food because I'm brown.

Ahh, I see where this is going - already with the questions of how race has an impact on what we are supposed to like and what we are supposed to do. I am excited and scared at the opportunity to speak into this - to start to celebrate my kids' colors without letting the world define those colors for them.

This whole color realization thing is kind of a surprise. I've been wondering when it would happen. Simon has seemed decidedly ignorant of the fact that his Mommy is pasty and his Daddy is cocoa-colored.

But, it's not totally a surprise, and it's certainly not an accident. In preparation for our adoption, I've been reading more and more about how kids process race. One thing that's been interesting to note (this Newsweek article addresses it) is that many well-meaning parents specifically do not talk about race, so as not to draw attention to it. Often, however, that ignorance of color is exactly what sends some negative message about race.

I grew up in a home that was absent of racism. I never heard my parents talk disparagingly about ethnic minorities. But, we also didn't really talk about the subject much at all. The result was that I grew into a woman who isn't racist, but who is often afraid of these touchy subjects. My guess is that my experience is shared by many.

So, we've been trying to make race/color/ethnicity/culture a regular part of our dialogue. I want my kids to know that whatever shade their skin, it is a part of them that we love - it is not a secret, it is not shameful, it does not make them better than or worse than anyone else.

I have some throw pillows in my living room that are embroidered with, "I Love India." Simon asked me what they said, and seemed confused.

I love India because I'm brown. You can't love India because you're white.

I love India because I love you and I love your daddy and your Amma & Appa, and you are all Indian. I love India because I've been there and I know people there and it's a part of me too.

Okay, then.

I have a feeling we'll be at this for a while. And, I have a feeling sometimes I'll mess it up. Someday, I'm going to make a joke and it will come out wrong. But, hopefully, if it's okay for us to talk about it here - in our safe, multi-colored home - it will be okay for us to mess up once in a while.

But, we seem to have Lesson One down:
White + White= White
Brown+ Brown= Brown
Brown + White= super cute


Kristy M said...

That's great! It's one part of genetics that seems to make sense. Colors combine and the result is an actual mix of colors, we are all a mosaic and it's an amazing thing.
One extra point - turn your monitor off! It might be time to let it go :)

Susie said...

It's never time to let go of the monitor. If they get used to it as children, they won't even notice it when I'm eavesdropping on them as teenagers.

Rachael said...

Do you guys have the book "The Colors of Us" by Karen Katz? I really like it - it's all about different skin colors (and makes each color compare to a different food so it makes me hungry).

Kirsten said...

Um, you know I can relate to this one. I also completely agree that just not talking about or not making a big deal about race is not the way to go. We need to be comfortable talking about it and our kids need to be comfortable asking questions and exploring what it means to be bi-racial.

And yes: brown + white most definitely = super cute!

The Gori Wife said...

As I was reading this, I already had my comment all lined up about how parents need to talk about race and how I read this article and BAM! You already know all that! I just read the book that the Newsweek article came from and it's been my personal soapbox for weeks now, it was so mind-blowing!