Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brown is Stinky

I did my own version of an old social experiment recently. While shopping, Mercy was looking at two nearly identical dolls. The only difference was that one was brown and one was white. I asked her very nonchalantly which doll she preferred. She looked them both over and proclaimed that the white one was "so cute" and the brown one was "stinky".

Break. my. heart.

We talk routinely about how we are different on the outside, but the same on the inside. We talk about how even though she is brown and we are white that God brought our family together and made us ALL good. We've read books celebrating a diversity of colors, and yet here is my brown daughter saying that "brown is stinky".

We do talk about race in our house openly. I think it is silly to pretend that we are colorblind. We choose instead to celebrate our differences, than pretend they don't exist. I'll never forget the look on her face when I told Mercy there were a lot of white people who paid good money to get their skin more brown. Clearly, that was the craziest thing she had ever heard.

Mercy has told me that when she was a baby she was white (really?!). She's also said she wished she had a brown mom & dad, not a different mom and dad than us per se, just that she wished that WE were brown. I don't know if she just wants to "fit in" (in her mind) or if she just wants no distinction between her and the rest of our family.

It's tough. I want her to be completely & utterly proud of her beautiful brown skin.

So how do you celebrate diversity or teach your children to be proud of who they are? I'd love to get a good dialogue going on this subject. Respectful comments appreciated!


Kathy C. said...

We have always said we are white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. We have always had dolls in all colors. So far none of them have wished to be a different color. We've always just talked about how nice their skin is as it is. I do them that white is really boring : ) Jasmine does wish for white texture hair though! She's a tenderhead and surgeries have left large scars that are very sensitive.

The Gang's Momma! said...

I have no advice. But I will be checking back to see what others have to say. We're constantly telling Li'l E how gorgeous her beautiful brown skin is and the kids are always measuring their "tans" against hers but she's not yet three so it's not sinking in the same as it would be for her if she were Mercy's age. So interested to hear what others will share!

Dr. D said...

Having been a "brown" child in a white dominated private school I did have those times of viewing my skin color as inferior. I always viewed my mother as gorgeous, and I look alot like her. Yet, I didn't view myself in the same manner. Strange. Thankfully, somewhere in my teens a very healthy and happy view of myself and my appearance began to emerge from somewhere deep within me. So I would say that there are perhaps some personal journeys our children will go through that we cannot avoid. We just continue to love them, value them, nurture them. The good seeds consistently planted in them will bring fruit ... even if the harvest is slower in coming than we'd like.

On a side note, I sometimes think that framing our children's choices in "white/black" terms (like with dolls) can inadvertently reinforce in their minds that "it's white vs black". To me, this compounds the self image struggle, especially if the child is already struggling with race/ethnicity issues.

I love how you said you celebrate the diversity rather than pretend to be color blind. Children are not color blind. And they are very open to diversity. :-)

Bill and Christina said...

For us we talk about the different shades that we are and we name them. I allowed our Haitian daughters name my skin color and they named me vanilla. One of them says that they are black and one says they are brown. Then we have caramel. We talk about the many shades that we are. We also talk about how created them in His perfect image. I tell them that they look just how God wanted them to look. The older girls often ask me to straighten their hair. I tell them no because I love there hair. I love it because that is what God gave them and it is perfect and beautiful. I also tell them that we are created in God's image and if we are created in His image then we all look like Him and if we all look like Him would it stand to reason that in some way we all look alike in some fashion, be it God's character, his heart and the list could go on. I really try to set in them that they are perfectly and fearfully made!


Annie said...

I don't have a whole lot of experience with race or skin color, personally.... I do think that at her age Mercy is probably primarily wanting to be like "everyone else".... It reminds me a bit of Anastasia desperately wanting glasses just because nearly all of the girls in her new school were wearing glasses. No one PREFERS glasses, thought I - but she did (enough to have a good old tantrum when the eye doctor proclaimed her vision perfect.)

I also thought of my older daughter who went to a very multi-cultural Montessori school wanting to be Indian....and actually stamping her foot and demanding an Indian mommy! No way that blondie could have long, silky black hair and that was her ideal at the time.

As time goes on, and Mercy experiences prejudice, which surely is out there, I'm certain that there will be some tough moments and challenges for you. But all kids do have to face pain. That is life. Some have intellectual disabilities, or emotional issues that are embarrassing, or problems like bed-wetting, or stuttering that make social life painful. And it has occurred to me that the least lucky children are the ones who grow up feeling perfect in every way - beautiful, athletic, smart, articulate, intelligent, well-to-do.... How hard it must be for their parents to teach them compassion!

How did you feel when you were in Ghana? I'm curious.

I recall one day being in a certain clothing store that caters to blacks, and realizing I was the only white person in the store. It DID make me feel odd! I even thought that it would be a good experience to have to go for a while "standing out"....just to understand what it felt like.

Poirier said...

Hi. What insightful comments! Here's a comment on the humurouse side. It was one of those "out of the mouths of babes" moments. My daughter and I were discussing how even if we did have the same skin colour we'd still be different anyway. "Yeah," she pointed out, "'Cause I don't have pimples." Ha, ha. Thanks for that!

a Tonggu Momma said...

I have found that the best way to build a positive self-esteem for a child is to develop diverse relationships with both children and adults of many races, especially those who are the same race as my daughter. This meant my husband and I really had to step outside of our comfort zones to place ourselves in situations that weren't exactly comfortable and/or convenient (for example: driving 25 minutes each way to preschool to attend a diverse school, instead of attending one of any of the five in our town that are basically all-white ... another example: being the only Caucasians in an all Chinese-American church). It's been worth it for our daughter. I also think it's extremely helpful that our daughter gets together OFTEN with other transracial adoptees.

I've also worked hard to develop a diverse media collection - books, music, movies. And we don't simply have "China" books or "adoption" books... we have stories from all around the world, as well as books that discuss and celebrate special needs and different subcultures within America (the Amish, for example).

When I started realizing that this was important to and for my daughter, I started small by asking myself, "is this an opportunity to increase the diversity within our world?" I did that with everything - library book selections, a decision about which ballet school to choose, FCC membership, and on and on. For us, it didn't happen all at once - it took lots of time and God opportunities - but our world is more diverse now. Most especially - In the past two years - I've developed two very close friendships: one with a woman who is Japanese-American (biracial: Japanese and Caucasian) and another woman who is Caucasian, but married to a Chinese-American man, with one biological biracial daughter, and another daughter adopted from China. It's been wonderful for my daughter to see that I am friends with Asian-American adults, and not simply white parents who have adopted transracially.

Anonymous said...


God's Grace said...

Goodness, this is such a great topic! I have sons...one Haitian and one Chinese. I think boys are so much different than girls with this. But I do try and refer to our ethicity or heritage (outside of skin color) on a regular basis as a way to celebrate our differences (but we also call our skin difference foods- like Kathy, Choc, cinnamin, vanilla!)...all is good! I want them to know that God made us all in His image and are all good. I've pointed out that Daddy is Scottish, Mommy is Welsh, One Brother is Chinese and the other is Haitian. That way we are all "ethnic" and have a heritage to celebrate :) I even have an "Asian" living room and we are working on our "Caribbean" 3 season room.

Anonymous said...


I stumbled across your blog by accident - actually not sure how I got here (blog hopping). You really have a wonderful blog. This post especially caught my attention because I lived in RSA for a while so I saw what it is like to have a skin color that is not the norm. (Though I must say in South Africa, skin color is more than just the color of your skin. It also decides which part of society you are supposed to be in. I "chose" to make my life more complicated by having only black friends, even though I was going to a church - English speaking - that was all white and to a gym - Afrikaans speaking. I had to learn that a white girl is not supposed to be friends with black people and that the three groups don't mix well. As a foreigner I ignored both facts and lived my life the way I was raised to do: be friends with those who are nice and don't talk to those who are not.)

I am not sure how my mom did it, but I personally don't "see" skin color anymore. I mean, I do see the color, but to me it is a feature like brown or blond hair, blue or brown eyes ... it just makes the person this particular person, but doesn't tell me anything about them. To me, the way I was raised, behavior is far more important, but that might be because since I was a baby I have been around different ethnic groups. Since then I have traveled a lot and have found it quite enriching to learn about different cultures, customs, habits, even languages. To me all of it is just beautiful because the way I view it - and that's how I was raised - is that God created all of us in His image, but different from each other so that we might enjoy life together.

I think, though, that it is more difficult to get this view in a setting that is dominated by one ethnic group. I have lived in the countryside as a teenager and was quite repulsed by some of the things I heard being said about other ethnic groups.