On Skin Color

An interesting thing happened a few months ago that I have been processing ever since. Froggy, who was five at the time, wanted to draw a picture of my family.

This is not the unusual part. Hang with me for a bit of explanation. My parents and one sister live in Texas. My other sister lives in Tennessee. Froggy has met and spent time with my parents and TXSis recently enough that she remembers them and occasionally still mentions their visits, but the last time (only time?) she met TNSis was when Froggy was pretty little. So, she does not remember TNSis at all.

So, Froggy was drawing a picture. She drew Gran and Grandad, me and TXSis. Then she sat for a while staring at the paper. I was standing nearby because Froggy does not like to do anything by herself (something we REALLY need to work on!). Finally, she looked up at me and asked, “What color is TNSis?”

I didn’t understand the question at first, so I stared at her dumbly for a minute and then blurted out, “Same color as you.” Froggy looked down at her arm and went back to drawing.

It finally occurred to me that Froggy really didn’t know what color TNSis was. She knows that people can have dark or light skin, but she has no idea why that is. Some of her friends are brown and some are light-skinned. Some of her brown friends have at least one light-skinned parent, and at least one has a light-skinned sibling. So, why should it occur to her that skin color has anything to do with the people you’re related to?

I was and have been utterly fascinated by this little exchange ever since it happened. If only we could just let children be, they would save us all. As it is, I wonder in sadness how long it will take for someone to introduce her to racism. Our systems are designed to perpetuate it. Can I protect her from that? Is it possible that she could grow up seeing people first and skin color only when she’s ready to paint or draw?

I have this huge responsibility to help her understand the horror of our racist past without instiling any of that racism in her. Can I do that? I was raised in Texas. I have a long way to go just to purge the racism out of myself. I can’t do anything about my family either (I keep trying, but seriously some of them don’t even think they are racist, even as they hold their purses tighter when a black person walks by).

I mean, obviously being a parent is a huge responsibility. We all know that (or should know that) before we have kids. In most cases, I think I’m up to the challenge. But, this one is really difficult. I’m going to have to have help. At least I am aware of that now. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. Froggy is amazing like that, always challenging me with new problems. 😀

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