Written by CocoaMamas contributor Mikila.
I just read an article about a woman named Sandra Laing who is a black South African born to white South African parents. The problem for her is that she was born in Apartheid South Africa, 1966.
Yes, you read that correctly, a black girl born to 2 white parents. She was biologically linked to both of them. It was found that a latent gene from black ancestors popped up and Sandra was the winner of the “look totally different from your parents sweepstakes.” Unfortunately for Sandra, her visible differences resulted in disconnect from her parents, domestic violence, and many years of guilt and anger. Today, she is happier and proud. Reading the article made me think about race and raising my own children.
I recall 2 years ago, my son had just started first grade at a local catholic school. He didn’t know anyone at the school, and he was not strong at meeting new people. He mustered enough strength to ask a child if he could play with him, all to be informed that he was too brown to play. Yes, my little 6 year old son had his first experience with racism. My initial response was to march down to the school and rip the child’s head, the parent’s head, and the teacher’s head right off. My husband had a different reaction. He asked my son, “What did you do?” My son responded, “I walked away and found someone else to play with.” Yes, majority of the children in this school are white. Trust me, I was livid.
Many people probably feel we responded in too passive a way, but as a person who grew up in a posh resort town, I know a lot about dealing with white people on a regular basis. I thought about my husband’s reaction, and realized, my son will deal with ignorant people throughout his life. He might as well learn how to handle it in first grade. We explained to him that his skin color is just fine. His classmates’ skin color is also fine. He moved on and life went on as normal.
Three years later, along comes my daughter. Girls really are wired differently. She began to pay attention to color at a much younger age. I had to literally brainwash her at one point, because thanks to Barbie, she told me many times at the age of 3 years old that she wanted to be white with blonde hair. My little girl went from being a wannabe to “Angela Davis” in mere seconds. I then had to add another layer to the issue of color. I explained to her, just as I did to her brother, that her skin is beautiful. I also had to tell her that other people’s skin color was beautiful to, but for them not her.
This is a complicated issue, because you want to raise well-rounded open-minded individuals. The question remains, when do you deal with color, and how do you answer those difficult questions? I was devastated both times I had to face the fact that racism as well as color issues, is something I had to explain to my children. I realize now, both experiences opened the door for me to show them in small ways how to be proud of their color, heritage, past and future. It was nice to see even through all the heartache that Sandra Laing found that out too. Being black is truly beautiful, no matter what someone else will have you believe.
Mikila is a 35 year-old mother of 2 beautiful children: an 8 year old son, and a 4 year old daughter. She graduated from college in 1998, and will be attending Law School August 2011 to study Child and Education Advocacy. She is very passionate about helping parents of special needs children, as she is learning more about how to help her own daughter navigate this world. She has a super supportive husband who is a very active participant in their children’s upbringing. Mikila is also a partner in a debt management consulting firm. A born-again Christian, Mikila also enjoys volunteer work, music, and helping her children grow into the people they are destined to become.
2 thoughts on “being black”
This is beautiful. Although I will not have the same issues to deal with with my son, as he is a white, middle class, male, I do hope to raise him in an open minded and sensitive way, recognizing that he has it easier than some and teaching him that he should do whatever he can to make others feel accepted and valued. Thank you for your perspective and vulnerability.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I was reminded recently that in addition to affirming the beauty of our brown babies, that we also teach them that the incident “wasn’t about them.” That is, the parents of the other child failed to teach that child about difference. That’s a sad thing, and that’s the child’s–and his or her parents’–problem. Our children need to learn that racism is a failure on other peoples’ part; not on theirs.
Finally, I think your son handled the situation in wonderful fashion. But I also think your instinct to march down to that school was a good one. You shouldn’t go to tell somebody off, but I think it’s worth it to draw teachers’ and administrators’ attention to the fact that these sorts of incidents are happening, and that it’s their responsibility to do something about it–to have lessons about diversity, to encourage all kids to play together, to be watchful about exclusion on the basis of race, or any other difference. My 2 year-old is starting school this fall, and I’m already researching books and articles to give to her teacher and school administrators, especially because she’ll be the only one, and it’s part of their job to be aware of the unique issues that can present. (I’m taking suggestions, if anybody has any!…)