When I had my first child, I was surprised at how light she was. I had always just assumed our kid’s complexions would tilt towards being darker because I’m very dark. But beyond that initial shock, skin color within my interracial family wasn’t something I thought about often. My main focus is simply mothering my children, and that’s enough to keep anyone busy! Honestly, many times I’m even oblivious to the stark difference in our complexions and how it catches many people’s attention. At the end of the day, we’re family regardless of our skin color.
My three-year-old, Ariella, is a very perceptive, curious, and vocal child. Not much goes unnoticed by her. It didn’t take her long to point out the differences in our skin. She observed that “mommy is Black, but Ariella, Micaela, and daddy are beige.” I hadn’t really thought about how my children would notice race until she shared her observation.
Recently, I had the first real conversation about race with her, but it wasn’t planned.
I had just finished doing Ariella’s hair and said to her, “You’re so beautiful! I want to look like you.” I meant this simply as a playful compliment to make her feel good—I always try to build up my girls’ confidence whenever I can. But I should have known my child—she took my comment quite literally. In hindsight, it was clearly the wrong choice of words, which took us down a road that caught me slightly off guard. This is how the conversation went:
Ariella: You do? Then we have to grow your hair and change your skin color. I don’t like your skin color.
Ariella: Because it’s black. I don’t like black skin. I want it to be beige like mine.
Me: I love my skin just like you love yours, we’re both beautiful!
Ariella: I don’t like black though. I like pink, purple, blue, yellow… I want you to be pink and I’ll be purple.
At this point I breathed a sigh of relief. Evidently, racial hatred as we know it wasn’t really what was playing out in her three-year-old mind. I continued…
Me: I love my skin, you love your skin, daddy loves his skin, and we are ALL beautiful just the way we are.
Ariella: Yes! Thumbs up if you like your skin!
And we both shared a beautiful thumbs up moment, sharing acceptance for the skin we were blessed with, regardless of color.
This was an innocent and harmless conversation about appreciating yourself and different colors—pink, purple, black, and white. Yet, for the next few minutes, what had just transpired deeply bothered me. For the first time ever, I wondered if she really wished I were “beige” like them. I had assumed that naturally, our children would grow up to appreciate differences since this is something they’re exposed to daily. It’s obviously a part of their family and my husband and I consciously share diverse shows, books, and toys with them.
But now my mind was in overdrive with all the thoughts and what-ifs for the future. Could this innocent comment morph into a frightening perspective in the way that she sees race later in life? I knew it had to be addressed. Not only for my own peace of mind but to help her grow and understand. So, I called her attention again, “Ariella, we need to talk.”
Me: Ariella, I want you to know that skin color does not matter. If everyone in the world looked the same, it would be so boring. Our differences make us beautiful! Dad is white and mom is black, so you’re half black and half white.
Ariella: No, I’m not. I don’t see some black. Daddy is beige. I am beige. You’re black. I love rainbow colors, I just don’t like black.
At this point, I’m thinking, “Is there a manual for where one goes from here?!”
Me: It’s okay if you don’t like black as a color for your toys and clothes and other things, but when it comes to skin color, you must appreciate and respect differences! Everyone is equally beautiful, regardless of their skin color.
Ariella: I’m sorry that I said I didn’t love your skin. You’re beautiful and you’re the best mom in the world!
For the next few hours, my feelings were all over the place.
I knew her words did not come from a negative place, but I couldn’t help but think of how crazy it is that this world has turned beautiful differences into something that triggers hypersensitive emotions.
My sweet little toddler who doesn’t yet understand the complex reality of race in today’s world was just being a child. But there I was frozen with conflicting and hurt emotions. We took a nice little family walk, and I was myself again. I looked at my little family and smiled at the beauty in our differences, knowing that we are each perfect just as we are and there’s no limit to what we can stand for and achieve, individually and as a family.