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?
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.
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.
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.
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.