I’ve mulled over this entry for the past week. I realize that the subject could turn into a dissertation, so I’m going to do my best to keep it simple.
My son is Black.
And he knows it.
My son, in my opinion, has been racially conscious since before he was 1-year-old. Maybe not conscious, but he definitely showed cultural/racial affinity at that time.
Meet Quincy. He is the trumpet-blowing pre-schooler on Disney’s show, Little Einsteins. He is also the first character my son developed an attachment to, or rather, showed preference towards. I, in my say-it-loud ways, was excited that my beautiful Black baby boy immediately connected with the only Black character on the show before he was able to walk. When he became able to talk and walk, he made it clear that Quincy was not his friend or best buddy. He made it clear that he WAS Quincy. “Mommy, I’m Quincy!” “Mommy, look at ME on TV!!”
According to this Newsweek article, babies as young as 6 months old judge others based on race. Of course, further exploration suggests that babies are drawn to people who look like them and the people they are around the most in their formative months and years. It would make sense, then, for a White baby to prefer White characters or toys that remind him of his parents or his own reflection. So then, it isn’t simply about “racist babies” as some have called this phenomenon. It is more about understanding the differences in people’s appearances and developing a certain level of familiarity and comfort in these differences.
I realized, or thought I did, that it wasn’t about Quincy looking like him. Clearly, he is a different skin tone from Quincy. It wasn’t about Quincy playing the trumpet; Garvey prefers the keyboard and drums. Garvey could have just as easily identified with the lighter skin-toned White male lead character, Leo, if it were simply about the character who looked like him. So I figured maybe it was because Quincy has brown skin like Mommy and Daddy (his father is dark chocolate skin and I’m on the caramel side). I basically brushed it off and enjoyed the fact that he had a vivid imagination where he saw himself as a character on a TV show.
Over time, however, I began noticing that he continued to show preference for Black male characters. His newest favorite is Shout, the Black male from the Fresh Beat Band, a group of musicians on Nickelodeon (along with Kiki, the Latina, Twist, the White male, and Marina, the White female). He exclaims, with confident certainty, that he IS Shout. It has gone so far that he assigns characters to his family (I’m Kiki, Daddy is Twist, Janniyah is Marina). I had to think, why didn’t he make Daddy Shout, since they are the closest in resemblance? So I asked him. He says, “No no no Mommy, IIII’M Shout, not Daddy!”
I think that’s the most I will get out of him. Despite the tests run on 3-year-olds in the article, they are not exactly scientific in their own explanations of why they show racial affinity at such early ages.
Another example is gymnastics class. He has two primary coaches: Coach Phil (Black male) and Coach Jonah (White male). Initially, Garvey was not very responsive to Coach Jonah, but if Coach Phil got a hold of him, he was compliant and responsive. Over time, he grew warmer to Coach Jonah and I realized that this was the first significant White figure in Garvey’s life thus far (he’s had almost zero contact with my maternal family). It took three years for my son to come in close contact with a White person. This was not anything intentional, but rather the circumstances of where we live and the types of contacts he’s had with the outside world.
When I found out I was with child, I made a very conscious decision about two things: One, my son would be raised with an appreciation for his African heritage and he would learn everything I could teach him about the greatness and struggles of his people in this country and the world; Two, my son would be exposed to people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities and I would do the best I could to not enforce any ideas of supremacy or prejudice.
The article says that parents, mostly White parents, do their children a disservice by taking the “colorblind” approach to race issues. It suggests that kids basically figure it out on their own if we don’t intervene and teach them in our ways and beliefs. “In reporting her findings, Katz concluded: “I think it is fair to say that at no point in the study did the children exhibit the Rousseau type of color-blindness that many adults expect.”” Citation
So while I was trying to not thrust my own oft-radical racial views upon my son (until he was at least 5 lol), he has figured things out on his own thus far. It’s rather amazing how this works. Why is this on my mind now?
My son is about to start pre-school and the discussions about education and socialization are very important. In his gymnastics class, he befriended not any of the White or Latino children, but one little Black boy named Max and a Black girl named Chloe. He gravitated to them on his own, with no encouragement or bias from either of his parents. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Now, as we begin making schooling decisions, we have to take into considerations how environment can shape his racial views. As a mother who went to a predominantly Black and Latino private middle school, a predominantly White boarding school, and then a predominantly White Ivy League university (but stayed almost completely isolated within the small Black community there), I understand how much of an impact schools can have on the shaping of one’s racial consciousness and experiences. I want my son to have as much exposure to other races and cultures as possible to develop understanding and embrace diversity, but I’m not sure how that desire meshes with my desire for him to be a strong, culturally conscious, heritage-loving, say-it-loud Black man.
For now, he seems to be carving his own path. I’ve begun teaching him about his namesakes, Kwanzaa, and among his diverse library of books, there are beautiful characters of every shade of Brown in stories from Africa and Black America. I don’t want my son to be bigoted, prejudiced, or God-forbid racist, but I have to admit that I’m secretly loving his preference and his identification with his own Blackness.
Is that bad?