08 January 2008

to a preschooler, it's all black and white

When a mom's out for the count, a mom's out for the count.

And kids just seem to know when to kick us when we're down.

I had a bazillion appointments yesterday. And all I wanted to do is go home and hug my daughter.

And hug her I did.

Then, out of nowhere, she says, "Mom, why do people have different skin?"

Different skin?

"Amara, what do you mean?" I questioned.

She explained that there's a girl at her school with skin that's a different color.

I sighed. I never thought I'd get hit with the race question this early in childhood.

How would I answer? My head hurt as it was. I couldn't think of a good answer that a four year old would comprehend.

Then eureka!

"Amara," I began. "We are Filipino. So you and Mommy have a different colored skin than Daddy because he's German. God made us all different so we can learn about each other."

"Ohhhhh. That's why there's girl at school with brown skin," she responded.

"Just like you, Amara."

"Nooooo! Mommy, I'm white."

I stopped dead in my tracks. Those words hit me like a dagger to the heart. Like I wasn't having a bad day as it was.

I have no problems with Amara being half German and half Filipino. But when she has to check off a box on a government form, she has to cross off Asian.

And when people meet her, even though I think Amara looks like Dad2Amara, everyone laments how she looks like me, a Filipino.

She has gorgeous thick black dark brown hair. Her skin is olive. And she loves her rice!

She is not white.

She's brown like me.

And with that I started beating myself up, thinking I was some sort of racist.

But I just want Amara to be proud of her heritage!

Then I realized that to Amara - it is solely about black and white. Skin color is such a cut and dry issue for kids.

But I know it won't always be the case.

How do you describe other ethnicities to your kids? If you have a mestiza, how do you instill pride in both their heritages?

cross posted on being Mom2Amara


daddy in a strange land said...

We've been reading "All The Colors of the Earth" by Sheila Hamanaka and "The Skin I'm In" by bell hooks to The Pumpkin since infancy. Those might be good places to start re: skin color.

Re: multiethnicity... That's tougher. :) I feel you. I grew up hapa--Japanese American and white/nominally Jewish--and now am father to a half Filipina "multiethnic Asian American." This is something we think about a lot.

Race, skin color, ethnicity, culture, language, nationality, and all the different hybridities thereof--it's not an easy thing to navigate, especially since popular language and culture confuse the terms (which are all social constructed anyway) so easily...

But talking and thinking about it is not racist--raising a new generation of multiracial, multiethnic kids, it's necessary.

daddy in a strange land said...
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mamazilla said...

wow. i always wonder if i'll have a similar conversation with the porkchop and the paloma. i used to always think that when children broached this topic with their parents that the parents reciprocated accordingly and helped them talk it out. however, since becoming a parent and meeting other parents, i've found that i assume too much of other parents.

well, i try really hard to expose the kids to all their different heritages.

it helps that we have family and friends of all races, including our own (filipino, irish, puerto rican). and i find that together we teach them language, music, culture and tradition - whether or not it was intended to be a lesson. so they see people talking and singing in multiple languages. they eat a variety of different. i teach them what i can about our cultures/traditions and encourage them (the paloma is the only one in school right now) to share what they know in school (i.e show and tell)

i think it also helps that we read books/buy toys with multiracial characters or characters that they can relate to. i started my booklist from the one provided here - http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/diversity/multiracial/multi_race_picbooks.html

lastly, the thing that seems to encourage my children the most is my own experience. so, i try to relate a story from my own life to something that they're experiencing. for example, they LOVE rice too. and i told them a story about how as a child, my lola made paper airplanes with me and when we needed glue for some reason, we used some rice to stick some paper together... now, the kids want to try using rice for glue. :)

sorry for the long comment! great post!

MarysMom said...

From the time she was born, we had always told Mary how she was half Filipino and half Caucasian and sometimes we even go in to the nitty-gritty-- Spanish/Chinese/Malay half and Swedish/Scottish half. And everytime we talk about it, we do it in a prideful manner, that it is a great and wonderful thing to be unique and different. I think, it helps how WE feel about her heritages. Are we proud of who we are? I am proud of my being Pinay, my family, my Filipino upbringing.
I am not foreseeing any difficulties. The kindergarten she is at right now has kids of different races, even though it is primarily Caucasian.
When people meet my daughter, they comment on how beautiful she is and then they say that she looks like me. (I am Pinay) And I look at her and think that she can't look like me, she IS beautiful!