I remember the first time the twins vocalized their awareness that my skin was a different shade than theirs.
The way it played out wrecked me.
It was February and we were at Target shopping for bathing suits so they could swim indoors with me at the gym.
M stumbled upon the Disney princess bathing suit section and picked out one that had Ariel from The Little Mermaid on it. N proceeded to pick out the one with Elsa from Frozen.
While helping them choose the perfect little one-piece, I noticed the Moana suit. I showed it to them, believing that one would for sure be the winner since we watched the movie what felt like seventeen times that week alone.
I was wrong.
M responded, “No mommy! I want the pretty one!”
Neither of them wanted the suit with Moana despite the fact that they adore her in the movie. They clung to the Ariel and Elsa bathing suits even though I rambled on about how beautiful all princesses are with their different eyes, hair, skin, and strength. I even went on a tangent about how beauty comes from what’s inside. (Then I remembered they’re only three and a half years old.)
I gave up trying to persuade them to choose otherwise.
In the check out line just a few minutes later, N said, “Mommy, you Elsa!” in her high-pitch voice that’s always loud enough to draw in an audience.
She pointed to Elsa’s blue eyes, then mine. She pointed to Elsa’s blonde hair, then mine. M piped up and exclaimed, “And that!” while pointing to Elsa’s skin and then mine.
I reacted by simply affirming their observations.
But M didn’t stop there. She looked up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes and said so confidently, “Me and Vay-vay (her nickname for sissy) not like Elsa, Mommy! Me and Vay-vay not white!”
A lightbulb moment for my sweet girl.
Caught off guard and still so new to parenting, I said, “You’re right! You have your mommy’s white skin and your daddy’s black skin! You are the perfect shade of brown. Brown skin is gorgeous! Sometimes Mommy wishes she had brown skin like you. And your curly hair, too. It’s sooo pretty!”
They cheesed and touched their curly ponytails, giggling back at me.
I had (and still have) no clue what to say when having these conversations with them. Never before have I been in conversation about skin color as it relates to beauty.
I want to instill in my girls a belief that they are beautiful, valued, and worthy. I want to teach them that white is not the standard of beauty. But how do I do that when the world tells them otherwise?
It should not require special ordering online to ensure my girls have stories in their bedroom with illustrations of beautiful girls who look like them. Those books should be readily available, but they are not.
It should not take me hours to find clip art of brown girls when I’m making a task chart that I want to reflect them best, but it does. There’s significantly more white kid pictures available on the internet than brown, black, and Asian combined.
I’m beginning to pay attention to how my girls are perceiving themselves and beauty in general. It’s made me sad — even angry at times.
Up until recently, I had never even noticed that bandaids were flesh-toned, pardon me, WHITE flesh-toned. I’d never noticed because I’ve never had trouble finding anything in my shade.
I’ve never struggled to find a foundation that suits my skin tone.
I’ve never looked at an advertisement and thought, “Where am I represented?” Or “I guess that’s not for me.”
I’ve never struggled or felt left out because of my skin color.
I’m pretty sure that’s whiteness.
I don’t understand why certain skin colors aren’t represented or treated equally, but I’m finally aware that it is the reality of the country I live in. Truth be told, I’m embarrassed that I once doubted people had negative experiences because of their skin color. Not in 2018, I used to believe.
I was certain we were beyond that as a nation, but my goodness am I grateful to be in proximity with the very thing I denied.
Twin toddlers came into my life and wrecked it in more ways than one. Because of them, I can’t deny that I’ve lived twenty-something years in complete oblivion.
Unequal treatment and decreased value of a human being based on the color of their skin is real. Yes, even in 2018.
Since that trip to Target, I’ve been intentionally conversing with a few of my friends about my whiteness and privilege. (Woof. It’s not fun and I’m still getting it wrong daily.)
I’m learning what it means to “die to self” while laying all of my defenses and pride aside in order to listen.
I’m excited to share this post with you not because I’m some advocate for racial equality, though I want to become a true ally to my nonwhite brothers and sisters. I’m in the infancy stages of waking up to the injustice that affects so many around me, including the precious babies who have been in my care for nearly eight months now.
Smack dab in the middle of this new awareness and growth, I received a gift in the mail. It was a package of bandages – not your ordinary bandaids; these were bandages specificaly in all shades brown and black called Tru-Colour Bandages! Companies like Tru-Colour are doing their part to value on people of all colors. They released in every Target around the nation last month. It’s one less place my girls will have to feel excluded, not thought of, or less than.
For that, I want to shout HALLELUJAH from the roof tops!
I wish I could wrap this post up with a beautiful summary of how we should stop whiteness altogether and ensure equal treatment and equal value of all humans, no matter the color of their skin, but I can’t.
I can’t because I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers and it bothers me. So, I turned to one of my black friends and asked her what she thought. She advised me to sit in this space and grieve what many nonwhite people have been grieving for years. I trust her and decided that’d be a good place to start.
So, here I am. Holding my beautiful brown girls; heartbroken for the reality of the world we live in that doesn’t value them as much as it values me because of my white skin.
We are surrounded by brothers and sisters, young and old, who have been deemed as less for far too long.
There is nothing pretty or feel-good about it.
I will continue writing more throughout my journey to self-discovery, as I always do, encouraging you to pause, reflect and hold space.
Thanks for reading, friend. I’m praying for continued awakening in all of us.