It began with my daughter’s mention that the backup nanny was “very black chocolate.”
Inwardly, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Outwardly, I asked questions in a casually light voice just to gauge her awareness and perceptions of race and complexion.
Oh, what color are you?
Satisfied that she was merely noticing complexion differences and had not assigned value, we chatted about how people come in all sorts of flavors and all of them are good.
But a niggling feeling that I’d mentioned to my husband as an aside from time to time came to the fore.
Our daughter was far too often the lone brown child in a sea of white faces.
Her ballet class is full of adorable little pixies in tutus. But, looking back at the photos of a term spent learning to plié and leap, my little ballerina was the only brown girl.
And she and an Asian American classmate are the only children of color.
Ditto with gymnastics.
Her preschool class is a bit more diverse with several biracial children. However, at a recent school fundraiser, I counted on one hand the number of black parents–and heck, my husband and I were two of them.
As they danced to some rockabilly song that left my husband and I clueless, I thought to myself “Yeah, this has got to change.”
Two years ago I agreed very reluctantly (read: dragged kicking and screaming) to move a 10 minutes drive north of the DC line after we were priced out of our preferred urban neighborhoods.
And I love our tree-filled, urban-adjacent neighborhood with its bohemian and family friendly vibe.
Our home is filled with eclectic African and African American art. We read a diverse selection of adult and kiddie literature and listen to music from many genres.
Our friends include a mix of folks who represent varied ethnicities, sexual orientations, social economic statuses, etc…
We are, quite undeniably and more than a bit proudly, an African American family.
So we were stunned when, just a few short weeks after my daughter’s mention of complexion flavors, she described a substitute teacher as “the black teacher.”
It wasn’t so much that she noticed the teacher’s race.
It was that, already for her at age 3, white had become the normative race and others are, well…other.
Cue tire screeching.
Pump the damn brakes.
It was time to intervene in a big way. We had a discussion about people looking differently and how those differences are great. We reinforced that we call people by their names, not their color.
Her father and I decided that when the term ends she’ll attend a much more diverse dance school in the fall.
We enrolled her in a community rec league soccer team back in our old “hood” with a black coach–even though we’ll pass a huge soccer field with much less diverse teams to do so.
Ditto on summer swim classes.
We do these things because little African American children are bombarded often and at an early age with negative images that eat away at their self esteem in ways that are subtle and profound.
I still remember keenly the first time I traveled to Ghana and saw a sea of billboards, commercials, and television shows that reflected people who look like me.
I cried from joy and the pain of realizing what seeing only a few token images of yourself does to you.
I had no idea such lack of reflection had caused deep pain. And, mind you, I grew up with very culturally aware parents who did their best to provide strong images and examples.
I want much more for my daughter.
I want her to move in varied circles with a bone deep confidence that reflects cultural pride.
Already her world is so different than the one I grew up in.
She has only ever lived an existence where the First family occupying the White House resembles her own blue house-dwelling family.
We are not naive enough to believe that’s enough.
But it’s a start.