Today I’m tackling a big one, a sensitive one, a hot button topic. Race.
We are one generation removed from segregation, Two generations removed from “The help” and a few more removed from all out slavery. I think our “forward thinking generation” thinks we are beyond the days of racism, slavery, and MLK. As a society we think just because we have a black president that shows that we are no longer a racist society. But, just when we think we have jumped hurdles away from racism, Cheerios comes out with a commercial of a multi-racial family and it starts a viral vengeance of racist remarks. I wonder if we haven’t really made very far at all.
As parents we often take the route of color blindness. We do not want to offend or call anyone the wrong descriptor. Instead of calling someone black or Asian, we choose the bypass the difference all together and pretend as if it doesn’t exist. This approach only furthers racism by implying that there is something wrong with difference.
It only took our African daughter three months to have enough English you say “why are you Yellow and I am purple mama?” She also told me that school they say she is sooo black. This is true, and I try to remind her that she is special and beautiful because of her skin and how she was knit together as a beautiful black girl and more importantly with a kind and loving heart. As moms, we need to arm our children with the correct vocabulary and with the perspective that different is good. Different is exactly how we were made, to reflect different aspects of God’s creativity and personality. As we say in our family and our family, “Wouldn’t it be so boring we were all looked the same? God has painted us like a masterpiece of art with different colors and textures!” This perspective is broadened and generalized if we look at the world. If all I want to see if other versions of my self, then that is what I glorify. But no, we need to celebrate and acknowledge differences.
I was reminded of this in the mall the other day when Maran laid eyes on a lady in a wheelchair. I knew something was going to come out of her mouth that would make for an interesting conversation. Maran, riding in the stroller, shouts “Look mom she gets to drive herself!” Maran noticed her difference and was celebrating what the woman could do and Maran could not in her current restraint. An innocent comment from my child offended this woman greatly. I racked my brain and explained quickly ” isn’t that cool, she’s really incredible!” This did not at all mend it over with the woman, but I wanted to convey to my child the different is okay. Different is special and it only enhances the story that God wants to tell through us.
Side note: the woman’s reaction rattled me, after being shouted at about how I need to keep my children under control. Grace, Grace.
The other option I had in this situation was to quiet Maran very quickly, which would probably make Maran feel confused and horrible for saying something she didn’t understand was “wrong”. This would’ve implied to Maran that her disability was something to keep quiet, not ask about or discuss. Therefore making it off limits and taboo. This is not the approach we will take on our family.
We will see our God-given differences as gifts. We will celebrate the beauty in Maran and Levi’s dark skin. Reese is actually jealous about water slides right off them in the pool. Wheeler keeps asking me when he will be black too. Maran laughs as she brushes her hands through Reese’s straight hair. We will all take part in brushing and detangling Maran’s hair and learn about how hair is all different. This has opened our children’s eyes that difference is actually normal, it’s not bad and it is not something to be quieted. Now we do still have to coach them in ways to talk about differences lovingly and in ways that do not put people down and make them feel like they are not special or accepted.
One day at school Reese noticed that they were making fun of a black boy in her class. She told me she immediately went over and sat down with him. Reese told me in the car, “I didn’t understand what the big deal was about Trey, Morgan is different because her front teeth are gone and Mallory is different because she has bangs.” I want to continue to show our kids that differences are awesome, they are not something to ostracize. We can remark on God’s creation because after all he showed off all he’s got.
So I say bravo to Cheerios for trying to make normal a family who don’t look all the same. It’s so sad and unfortunate that it had the backlash it did. That only shows the darkness of our hearts around racism still. So lets bring it in the light. Lets make it a daily or weekly discussion withour kids. Some great kids books are “The skin you live in“, “We are different, we are the same” and “Chocolate me“. There are tons more, but these are some of our favorites.
My daughter and son are black and beautiful. My other daughter and son are fair and a beautiful blend of peach and cream. God made them all exactly how he wanted them, reflecting his image and beauty.
Moms lets talk with our kids and not be color blind.
This may be an ongoing conversation about how God makes people all different, different colors, shapes, sizes, abilities. It may be a conversation about how families can look different, moms and dads may be different colors, moms and their kids may not look the same. It may be a conversation about orphans and how millions of children grow up in orphanages with maybe 1 meal a day, no mommy and daddy to love them and teach them. And how some families get involved in caring and adopting orphans and making them sons and daughters. You tailor it to your passions and use your wisdom to keep this as an open conversation between you and your kids. Evaluate your friend group and what that says to your children about race and socioeconomic status. Just be proactive on what we are not only teaching our kids, but displaying for them as well.
I spoke with one of my dear friends who is Congolese and married to an American woman with a beautiful son. They are such a source of encouragement and wisdom for us. He said it this way.
For me, it boils down to a person’s ability to find comfort and pride in their identity within this unfair ignorant world of prejudice and racism in both their opened and disguised forms. I am proud to be black, I am proud to be from Congo, I am proud to be different, I know where I come from and I know that I am important in God’s eye. That’s what matters.
Oh Sweet Jesus please give that perspective to my children!
A few Playground examples from my experience….
Kid: Wow mom she’s really black.
Mom: (frantic and panicked and trying to remain cool) shh son, she is just a regular little girl!
Kid: How is that your son because he is brown?
Dad: Pretends to not hear as panic strikes his face.
John: Yep, isn’t that cool? That is just how God made him! We look different but we are still a family!
Kid: I don’t like you because your black.
Other mom: Are those your kids or are you watching them?
Me: They’re mine!
Other mom: Are they ‘real’ brothers and sisters?
Other mom to me (as my kids are playing chase): “Did you adopt hoping for athletes? Like that movie the Blindside?”
Kid at school: You’re not pretty because you’re brown, like poo poo.
Maran: Jesus made me pretty. Me brown like chocolate.
(This was her story she told me after pickup one day, way to go sista)
How different could some of these conversations have been if their parents had prepared them that people and families all look different and come in many shapes, sizes and colors. That a family is not only a group of people that look alike, but that are committed to love each other and live together and stick up for each other. We have had to have extra conversations with Reese and Wheeler as we bring the kids to their school functions. They get a lot of questions and they will continue to as they get into middle and high school. Right now it is mostly just confusion, comments like “How is That your brother? what?” So we have had to prepare them to answer these questions. One of their jobs in the family is to defend each other, that is what we do in our family. We stand for honesty and we do it with courage and grace. But we will address it kindly and matter of factly. If we choose the route of colorblind and choose to ignore that color exists, we only prolong racism in a different form.
I am no expert on all of this, just a mom of a transracial family figuring it out as I go. I have a long way to go to teach my daughter and son how to be a proud black woman and a proud black man, something I have never experienced. It will be a challenge to help them navigate prejudices, stereotypes, and choices friends or future dating partners make because of the color of their skin. I will have to reach out to awesome black mentors in their life to drive home these truths. I will have a lot of research to do, maybe some family counseling as identities become confusing, and that is ok. That is the journey we are on. And it is a hard and beautiful one!
If you want more reading and additional age appropriate books, Rage against the minivan did a great blog on it here.
I am praying for each of you as you navigate and pave this road for your family.
Thank you to the beautiful Alea Moore for the photos – one of the best photographers on the planet. If you are in Atlanta – book her pronto. You will never regret the moments she captures.