Why we talk about skin color at home

When we lived in Cincinnati the parks we frequented looked like the United Nations. My best friends had multi-race families and we, too, have a child of color. Skin color is something we talk about a lot in our house. Lola says often that her and I are twins with our brown skin and Charley and her daddy are twins with their pink skin. Her new friend at school is African American. She came home last week and told me that she made a new friend. "His skin is black and he is nice." With age and experiences I become more and more aware of racism in myself. Racism and ignorance, I’ve learned, go hand-in-hand. I combat it by asking lots of questions and talking about it openly with my family. 

Last week my dad and I sat on the back porch beers in hand. I talked to him about my continual surprise at the language people use when talking about people of color. He asked me, “What if your mom and I taught you from a baby on to fear anyone that was different than you?” This struck a cord with me because the most significant lessons I learned from my parents were the ones taught without words. Kids don’t have to be taught to fear with words. They can learn by example. They can learn by simply being raised entitled. 

My initial reaction to Saturday wasn't tears, it was anger. Deep, hot anger. I was surprised though that when preparing my mind to write and meditating on all that has unfolded how my anger turned to sadness. Deep, hot sadness. I thought back to my dad’s words and my heart went from fire to lead thinking about the fact that - still today – fear-filled people are teaching their kids to be fear-filled, too. All in the name of self-preservation. How are we to expect children raised by racist parents to grow up and not operate in the way they’ve been taught to operate?

I know people break generational patterns all the time (both my parents and my in-laws are living proof), but when repetitive patterns are consistent and the insecurities rampant (hello, Mr. President) not everyone sees the freedom they have to see different. To be different. They are simply fear-filled children, stunted in their maturity, living in grown-up bodies.

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In times like this I go through the same pattern of thought. I feel confused and then I feel helpless and then I feel guilty and then I look at my children and I remember. There is something I can do. 

I can continue to operate with conviction. Unapologetic conviction.

My stance can be known in a significant way right here at home.

I won’t raise my kids to be “colorblind” because being colorblind is not what our world needs. When we choose to not talk about our differences in a way that is positive and enlightening our kids will make conclusions on their own. If I chose this mode of thinking and if my kids were old enough to access the internet I would be deathly afraid of how they would be making sense of what they are seeing today.

Instead, we talk about cultures and skin color a lot. We celebrate the fact that this world is filled with people who are all beautifully diverse. We travel to places where people groups are different than ours. We eat food that is different than what we typically eat at home. We read books about people and cultures that are different than ours. 

Our greatest, most important work, is right here at home... teaching two humans that will play a very small part in a very big upcoming story. If they know they are loved deeply, they will view others with the same type of love. Our job is to instill in them the confidence to live amongst people who are not like them and to celebrate differences unabashedly. Our job is to show them that diversity is both critical and beautiful.

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We went to the bookstore this week and we read about Harriet Tubman. I found it nearly impossible to properly explain slavery to my five and seven year old. They were so confused. (Thank you, God!) 

We watched Pocahontas and talked about Native Americans. (I was both surprised and happy that in the Disney movie the Powhatans referenced the Europeans as the "pale people." It made for more talking points.)

We went hiking yesterday and swam in icy cold water. I walked slowly over to what appeared to be a dead monarch. It was laying on its side. As I got closer it’s wings opened and tiny baby blue butterflies flew out from under her (or his?) wing. She wasn't sleeping, she was simply protecting them from a world they're not quite ready for. Nature again was teaching me. My babies are still young, protected within our wings for now. When they are old enough to go out on their own they will approach this life with the same unapologetic convictions they learned at home. 

Taken shortly after I saw the monarch. Spruce Flat Falls. 

Taken shortly after I saw the monarch. Spruce Flat Falls. 

p.s. I highly suggest reading the book Nurture Shock or this article, at minimum. If you are not openly talking about skin colors to your children I would start today. 

p.p.s. Two books we bought this week that I have loved reading to my girls are The Girl Who Ran and She Persisted.