VAYYA COACHING

CONVERSATIONS ON RACE AND SKIN COLOR WITH CHILDREN

MY TWO CONVERSATIONS WITH MY DAUGHTER:

There are two incidents with my daughter that I would like to highlight in this post mostly because she is only 8 years old and has been made aware of her skin color much earlier than I was.

First Incident:
This happened when we moved to Boston, Massachusetts. To give you some context of why this is important is because we were living in Toronto before- the most multicultural city in the world. She was going to school with children from all spheres of life and with many different cultural backgrounds.

She was 5 at the time when this incident occurred and was attending a day care. She came back home one day very sad and on the verge of tears. I asked her what happened and she said “today we had to draw each other and my friend colored my face dark brown, I do not look that mommy!” I was upset not because I did not want to have this conversation with her but more so because she was exposed to something like this so early. She had a sleuth of questions ready for me ranging from “Why is my hair not golden brown like hers” to “Why is my color different” It was heart-breaking but I had to explain to a 5 year old why she was different. When I told her that she is partly East-Indian, she came back with an apt reply “But I am Canadian because I was born there”

The next day I was going to school with a purpose. I wanted to see this drawing that had upset my daughter so much. The moment I walked in her classroom, I could see why she was so upset- Her picture was colored in dark dark brown. My blood boiled because I was not sure why the teachers in the classroom did not address the choice of color with the children. I took it up with them and told them that my daughter was very upset with the portrait because it made her look different (which I am quite aware that she is) How was I going to address the issue of skin color with a 5 year old? Then one of the teachers graciously volunteered to have a chat with the class and explain how everyone is different and comes from different places. She even volunteered to talk to the children about skin color of people from different places to educate them.

What I learned from this experience:
Unfortunately white parents are not willing to have these conversations with their children. Soon after, the teachers had this talk with the children, there were a few parents who came and complained that they were not “too happy” about it.

Second Incident:
This one is more recent in the timeline of things. Unfortunately this incident still involved the same daughter. She was at a play date with her friends when all of a sudden, I heard her crying. She came running to me “Mom, I am not a Mexican and they keep calling me Mexican” My younger daughter was with her sister and she confirmed that they had indeed called her “Mexican” I looked at the mother in a hope that she would address this with her children but she shot back with “My kids don’t even know what ‘Mexican’ means or who they are” I was appalled at this statement and chose to leave right away with a very disturbed older daughter who on the way back home kept repeating “I am not a Mexican”
Disclaimer: I have nothing against people of Mexican origins. This incident just highlights of how “color blind” we all are. I would like to apologize in case if any one feels offended with this but I thought it would be appropriate to mention this incident here.

The talk I had with my older daughter:
This was the first time when we (My husband and me) had an open conversation with her. Mind you, at this point in time she is only 7 years old but has had to live with two incidents pertaining to her skin color already. We explained to her that she is unique and different and people around her don’t realize that. We talked about her identity and told her that she is 1/3 Canadian because she was born there; 1/3 Indian because her parents are of Indian descent (I mean India here) and 1/3 American because she is being raised here. She immediately said “I want to say I am Canadian” and we were absolutely fine with it.

Since that incident, she has been more comfortable with her skin color and knows she is different. But what has changed is how her self-respect has increased. She now has friends who embrace her for who she is and it’s amazing that those friends love her and not once has skin color popped up in their minds.

What I learned from it:
Not all “white” parents are willing to have a conversation with the children about race and skin colors. It was evident on how the mother had behaved and would not acknowledge that her children had done something that was unacceptable to my child. She was very apologetic for the fact that my daughter had cried and feeling bad but was not willing to address this with her children.
On the other hand, I have seen parents whose children look beyond the “skin color” because they might have had conversations with their children. To me I also feel that parents who travel more and expose their children to various cultures and people around the world; raise young adults who are more accepting of others.

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