Simone doesn’t keep much to herself. At lunch, she hit us with this: “A kid at school asked me how I got my skin color.”
It was a Sunday.
“Tell him God gave it to you,” I told her.
Simone was silent, and I provided another answer.
“Ask him how he got his color.”
Later, I asked her to repeat the question to me because I knew I wanted to write about it. I also asked her about the race of the person asking. It was a white child.
Here’s the thing. Adults often say children don’t see color. I don’t believe that. They see color just like we do. We teach our children to identify cars, houses, toys, pretty much anything, by color. If those who say children don’t see color mean that kids don’t know or understand race, I agree. Children don’t know the history. They don’t know that some people won’t like them because of the color of their skin. They don’t know about slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights. They don’t know about any of those things. As a result, they will play with any kid on the playground. That’s a beautiful thing.
But at some point, adults start talking to children. The children start noticing the differences and they begin asking questions. The question posed by the child could be innocent. He could simply want to know why Simone’s skin is a little darker than his. She could explain that her Mommy is black and that her Daddy is white. She could tell him she is a mix of both of our skin tones.I just don’t know whether the answers to such questions provide any satisfaction for a child.
The question also could be more serious. He could be noting how Simone is different and making her see it. He could be drawing boundaries, developing expectations. We’ll never know. All I know is that when children ask questions, it’s an opportunity to teach them.
I love how Simone communicates with us. Nadia doesn’t tell us much of anything and doesn’t ask questions about race. Simone shares the information, but she doesn’t invite conversations about it. I don’t press her because I want her to keep sharing with us. I’ll listen and help when I can. I will give her some answers because I want her to have something to say. She needn’t feel powerless when people ask about her identity. At the same time, I understand she will have to form the answers to such questions for herself and navigate this thing called race in her very own way.
Have you been here before? How did you and your child handle it?