When your daughter says she wants to be white…

IMG_4347

Claire often takes me by surprise with the things she says, but the other day she said something that stunned me. She said, “Mommy, I wish I was white.” My heart sank. She caught me completely off guard. I didn’t expect it, certainly not at the tender age of 4. What do you do when your beautiful, perfect daughter tells you she doesn’t like her brown skin?

IMG_4522

We have worked so hard to ensure that Claire and Heidi see themselves in their books, toys, and friends. We have added so many wonderful books to our home library that feature black and even mixed-race characters. We have sought out black baby dolls for our toy baskets. Even Claire’s school has a number of other mixed-race children (the black and mixed-race kids actually far outnumber the white expat kids). We have tried to cultivate an environment in which the girls can feel good about themselves, their skin, their hair, and their mixed heritage.

IMG_4759

I was at a loss. What should I do? What should I say to her? I said that inside, everyone is the same, that we are all human beings. I said that her brown skin is beautiful, that I love it, and that she should be proud of her skin color. I said that there is a whole rainbow of skin colors in the human race, and that her skin is just as lovely as all the other colors. I said that she IS white, and she IS black – she IS both. Claire just looked at me, disappointed with my unsatisfying answers.

IMG_4678

I didn’t see this coming, and I’m wondering if I handled it in the right way. I’m sure this isn’t the last time our children will want to discuss race and skin color, but I want nothing more than for my beautiful girls to love the skin they’re in. I can only hope that Claire’s comment stems more from a desire to look like her mommy than from not liking her own skin color. My friend Carly gave me a great suggestion for the future: respond by talking about all of our similarities. We both have curly hair. We have the same big, inquisitive eyes. We have similar smiles. We both love to dance.

IMG_4318

Last night we read Rachel Isadora’s version of Rapunzel, in which Rapunzel is a gorgeous black woman with long flowing dreadlocks. Claire always points out her favorite illustration in the book, where Rapunzel was a young girl. Claire says she thinks Rapunzel looks absolutely beautiful – and she does. I only hope that Claire knows that she, too, is absolutely beautiful – inside and out.

FullSizeRender 6

This entry was posted in Parenthood and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to When your daughter says she wants to be white…

  1. Muthoni says:

    My daughter’s best friend in school is mixed race and once in a while will tell me she wishes her skin was white like yasmin’s.. She’ll also point out that my skin is more brown than hers (she’s a 4.5y/o black beauty) this breaks my heart as I don’t want her to grow up thinking she’s any less of a person because her skin color is not “right” so I keep telling her about different color chocolates and how we must have her darker color chocolate to create a lovely rainbow of chocolates and everyone’s chocolate is super important…

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Gah, our babies are faced with such complex questions at such a young age!

    • Jenna says:

      Excuse me, I’m a 13 year old girl who needs help with a friend of mine. I’m white as a sheet of paper, and a close friend of mine is Asian. She’s recently become obsessed with making her skin pale, saying it’s to become beautiful. She puts cream on her face to look paler, and it just makes her look sick. She’s got horrible anxiety and I’ve told her again and again that I still care for her no matter her skin tone but it honestly worries me that she’s doing this. Does anyone here have ideas on how to help her?

      • Mama Mgeni says:

        Jenna, it’s so wonderful that you’re looking out for your friend! She is so lucky to have you. I’m not qualified to advise your friend, but it might be a good idea to connect her to a trusted adult. If not her parents, then maybe a favorite teacher at school, a guidance counsellor, an aunt or uncle. Kudos to you for being a wonderful friend!

  2. Gladys Achieng' says:

    Powerful stuff. Is it ok for someone to share on her social media page? may be without the photos?

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Thanks, Gladys! Share away – these girls’ photos are plastered all over the Internet anyway… 😀

  3. Mama Fadhili says:

    You’ve just come from visiting the States, where she had an interaction with her other half of her culture. Her need for full appropriation with your culture may come from the things she witnessed, and would love to have more of compared to the other cultural half. Such is the reality of biracial children. They will often find themselves wanting to relate more with one part of their parent’s culture over the other, these dynamics will keep changing as they grow older.

    The only thing we can do as parents is ensure some form of balance. Let the mixed children experience both parts of their culture, unbiasedly, and with time they will find their place between the two.

    I think about this in relation to my children too. Right now we are raising them in a predominantly white (homogenous) society, they might grow up identifying more as Danish than Kenyan. Yet, it is my duty as their Kenyan mother to also ensure that they have as much interaction with my culture, not the pedestrian/tourist like interaction, but a full immersion into my world, so that growing up, they too can find balance in their duality.

    Good luck to us.

  4. Shiroh says:

    She will outgrow it. Maybe it’s her school mates? Also, i think kids go through different stages of identity crisis.

  5. samantha bonham says:

    Hey lovely Tara
    I can only imagine how that caught you off guard…you and your family are beautiful. Claire really won’t realise what she has said and I think that sticking to basic explanations is just spot on..We have fun issues with language at the moment over here. Thomas the eldest has embraced both french and English…He is more french than anything. Where as Jacques isn’t at all. He’s not happy with the french and it’s hard encouraging him to make the effort and not be so stubborn. He wants his friends to speak English like him ..sorry not comparing the scenarios but just wanted to say that kids don’t realise that what they say makes us feel horrendous but a little explanation and not side lining helps. Look at me think I was an expert in parenting! Not at all just bumbling along with the boys the best I can xxx love to you all. Xx

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Hey old friend! You’re so right… And it’s fascinating that Thomas has taken to the French, while Jacques hasn’t! They’re each their own little people, aren’t they?? Can you imagine us throwing around such existential parenting questions 15 years ago… Haha!

  6. Samoina says:

    The tough questions. This cannot be easy for you Tara, but I hope as you go along, you will be able to address her concerns.

  7. Mamamixedchics says:

    My 5.5 yr biracial daughter wanted to be Elsa (Frozen!) so badly that for her birthday she wore a blonde Elsa wig (courtesy of an Aunt), I was embarrassed! I know it has nothing to do with me/us but still … She prefers french(dad’s language) to swahili (mine) even though she understands swahili well and will speak it if she has to, she prefers to flaunt her french at the drop of a hat . Ahh well, I break it down to beauty being skin deep and the beauty of the rainbow lies in it’s varied colours …our garden is especially nice to look at because of all the different colours. And God up above looks down on all the beautiful people below and He knows all of us by name – because we’re all so different – yet the same! She also doesn’t like her name because it’s African – of course it doesn’t help that when we travel – the first response to introductions is always “huh???” when she says her name, it makes her recoil and shy away in uncertainty. Hollywood (read Disney) has made tremendous progress over the last decade but we still need to see more heroines/heroes who are as diverse as the world’s people…when we relate to things we see everyday, we begin to think we’re alright. I am so sure at the end, they’ll be just fine – I remember wanting to be blond and blue eyed in kindergarten when most of the other kids in my school were white…I got over it.

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Oh man, don’t get me started on Elsa and all the other Disney princesses! I was so excited about The Princess and the Frog, until I realized the beautiful black lead woman was in the form of a frog for 95% of the film! Gah!!!!

      • Lilian says:

        Our kiddos are growing up watching the Kardashians held up as what’s ideal, and they rarely see anyone that looks like them being portrayed in the media that way. Yes, we have Lupita and Zendaya, but their beauty is ‘exotic’ and ‘unusual’ and ‘avant grade.’ None of those words make sense to growing, impressionable girls! I say we start as a culture by cutting out references to ‘bleaching’ and ‘yellow-yellow.’ Like, seriously – can we ban bleaching creams from our stores? And get those blonde dolls out of our stores, tafadhali. That might help some. Oh, and less body snarking. If I had 5 bob for every time someone refers to looks/weight/skin tone/body-something-or-other, I’d be living in Malindi in a cottage somewhere.

  8. Regina Whitnell says:

    Hi Tara
    Coming from a different generation I am hearing Claire referring to her visit to
    the states. She is identifying with you and your relationship with
    your mom and grandmother. All so normal whether she is talking
    about skin color or hair color. Claire is a beautiful child and
    will undoubtedly realize that in years to come.

  9. Jessica Sangutei says:

    Hi. I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks after it was forwarded by a friend when you were mentioned in the work blogger post. I have really enjoyed your perspective of parenting in Kenya, and I am inspired and encouraged. (Someday we hope to live in Kenya, at least for a time). My husband is from Kenya (Rift Valley near Kapsabet) and I am from NC in the States (and I am white with the blue eyes and the freckles galore!) We live in NC and have 2 sons. Last year they went through a phase where they wanted blue eyes -a combo of being like Mama and there “favorite” color is blue. They did move past it. But we did like you and focused on the positive attributes of both and on the gifts of diversity of God. We also end up having conversations (usually started by them) where we talk about and compare our differences and similarities. When we show them their uniqueness in how they are a “mixture” of Mama and Papa (skin tone, some freckles, curls, etc) we can a sense that they do feel “special” and they respond well to these talks.

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Hi Jessica, thanks for sharing your experience! It’s so nice to hear how other parents of mixed race kids have handled this!

  10. Noortje says:

    Hi Tara.
    I can imagine you were shocked when your daughther told you she want to be white. But actually it is a healthy development, when they are this age they are looking at their family and see who is who and how we all look like. She isvery observant,what i like at that age. She is not afraid of telling you what she thinks. Its good to keep the conversation open with her. A next time you can also ask her what she wants in the white skinn. What is nice about the white skinn? She has a reason why she wants it,and it might be something else than you think now. It will make it easier for you to give her the right answers. The mind of a child is different than ours, maybe there is somethings else behind it,something small, like the red dress is so nice on mummy’s skinn. Sometimes we think only adult-thoughts when a child has a question.
    By the way ,you have two beautiful daughters

  11. Joy says:

    Mothers are the models of beauty to their children, so i think that your daughter in her limited way wants to express that she wants to look like you. When i was little, i was always disappointed if people didn’t remark on how much i looked like my mum because to me that meant i wasn’t beautiful. Take heart, it’s not as bad as it sounds!

  12. Christine says:

    Hey Tara,

    Nothing encouraging to share but this post terrified me. I still am. I’m probably naive but this is not something I thought “our” kids go through.

    Xo

  13. Daisy Mwai says:

    I’m brown and my husband is dark,, my daughter has taken her dad’s colour,,, she would always ask why she is not light like me an would always be disappointed whenever people remarked that she resembles her dad.. I had to always reassure her that she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Like you Tara I showed her pictures of beautiful dark girls and I think she is slowly coming to terms with that

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Daisy! It seems many little girls want to look like their moms…

  14. Zahra says:

    I’m 30 and mixed and went through this as a child- for me it came down to wanting to be like my white mother, who I adored. I was constantly being asked by strangers whether she was my mother, whether I had been adopted, etc. I agree with the post above that said you should stress the similarities between yourself and your daughter.

    I have more to say but am nursing my one month old, who at this stage looks totally white like his father and maternal grandmother!

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Zahra! I would really love to hear more, when your little bundle allows it! 😊

  15. gakiiDaniels says:

    Hi, it is tough for mixed race children! My daughter is mixed (am black and her dad is white). This last weekend I was so shocked when she announced on the train that she loves her white cousins very long blond hair and hates her own. Then she added that she was unlucky to have a dark skinned mama. I was horrified and it cut like a knife. All were staring. So I talked to her and said how beautiful she was and how lucky she was to have hair that someone can style differently everyday. So I thought everything was settled until she dropped another bombshell today after school. She asked me if there is a place where someone can go to make their skin white because she would feel better in white skin. I really do not know what to tell her. It is very scary. We live in Germany in a relatively white neighborhood but I have Friends from all over the world and I do not know what is going on. Lately she is also in a bad mood, angry and rather aggressive. I had a talk with her today again explaining how beautiful she is and does not need to change. Her dad will also have a talk with her and we see from there.

  16. Fulbe says:

    Some kids are more prone to this than others and it has much to do with personality. I have a 17 year old mixed race daughter that was so skin colour conscious from the age of 2 years. Her references were black like daddy, white like mommy and brown like me. Even in West Africa where we spent months a year, she was brown and everyone else was black. In the US, to her most people are white and she is brown. Even with other mixed race kids she goes further and the discrimination becomes along lines of she is more black, I am more white, my hair is more white, her hair is more black.

    She has had strong contact with the African side, our home and lifestyle regardless of whether we were living in Africa or US has been very afrocentric. She has contact with both sides of the family. The only time she identifies with being non-white is when it comes to racism otherwise she tries so hard to be ‘white’. Won’t even go out in the sun for fear she will get darker.

    She is so acutely aware of skin colour, of injustices, of unfairness ….. despite how much effort I had made to ensure that whiteness is not promoted more than Africaness …Have no idea what more I can do other than to let her figure it out and be there when she needs me.

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think you’re right – we can try to build an environment where our children can feel comfortable with their color and identity, but we also have to let them feel what they feel. The thing that frightens me most is racism, and how that will make my girls feel about their skin, their identity, and their African heritage. We haven’t had much exposure to racism yet, living in Kenya. When we are in the US, the girls are protected by the umbrella of my white privilege. But that won’t last forever. Wishing you both wisdom as you navigate this identity maze together!

Comments are closed.