“Mommy, let me tell you what happened today,” my oldest daughter started one afternoon. I was loading the washer when she came in from the school bus, panting, trying to catch her breath. “The light skinned girl and her sister are always fighting. Always. And today…” I racked my brain, trying to remember which light-complected girl lived further down in our subdivision. The city that we’d recently moved to was a mixed community.
Her elementary school was equally black, white and Latino in its demographics with a sprinkle of Asian kids. But our actual subdivision? Not so much. We were one of only four black families in the tiny neighborhood, and they were all brown to darker skinned. So I struggled to think, Do we have light-skinned neighbors?
Finally I just asked her, “Are you talking about the white girl in the blue house? The one with the older sister?” She frowned, “Mommy…,” Then she wrinkled her brow. ”That isn’t nice.”
Now, at the time my oldest daughter was nine-years-old, I’d been a mom for that long and I couldn’t remember being as confused in parenthood than I was at that very moment. “What? She’s white.”
“It’s not nice,” she replied, dragging out the last word. “Calling people that. It makes me feel funny.”
Then, I quickly surveyed my memory of conversations with her and around her to see if I’d spoken of white people in a derogatory way at any time. Nope. Couldn’t recall ever doing that, so how did she come to this conclusion that the descriptor of ‘white’ for ‘Caucasian,’ was such a bad thing?
I tried to explain it to her. “Sweetie, there’s nothing wrong with saying that your friend is ‘white.’ She knows it.” I held a laugh in because she looked concerned. “Seriously. I promise. She, her sister and her parents all call themselves ‘white.’ It’s not an insult.”
Then I thought of a previous conversation years before where she proclaimed that she didn’t ‘wanna be black.’ But that was more of a colorism thing, based on what the black kids at school were bringing in from their respective homes. I promptly nipped it in the bud then, as her peanut butter coloring makes her the ‘odd one out’ in our nuclear family of darker skin tones. Never heard her say anything like that again but this was new.
“Do you call her light-skinned to her face?” I pondered aloud.
“No,” she said, the frown had returned.
“Well. If you think that’s the right term to use, why don’t you?”
She didn’t have an answer for that one.
Me and my homegirls with kids talk all the time about the difference in these children now as compared to what and who we grew up with. I think it’s something with not wanting to see color in their friends which is low-key strange to us. Celebrate your differences, we preach. Then again, a male friend of mine says that his four-year-old daughter recently informed him that he’s a white man. When I heard this, I laughed until my entire body shook. In all actuality, he’s caramel latte-complected with curly hair and dark brown eyes. Her logic is that she and her mom are brown-skinned so his light-skinned status makes him ‘white.’
So yeah, maybe it’s just something all kids have to work their way through. But the interesting thing is that it seems like black kids are the only ones that give the issue of complexion this much light.
PUBLISHED: February 16, 2015. By Nadine Graham
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