How My Toddler Reminded Me That Race Is Still MY Issue

I know, I know. “It’s 2016”, you say. “Race isn’t an issue anymore”, you say. Well, if that’s the world you live in, good for you. But today, my 18-month old daughter reminded me that race relations are still a very real and tangible issue that will unfortunately linger through her generation.

So what was the impetus of this post? Well, today I went to my daughter’s nursery. Her caretaker greeted me eagerly, excited to tell me an anecdote from my little one’s day. Their class has started a new theme of emotions, and the first step was for each child to select the color of their skin. My daughter, being the beautiful chocolate girl that she is, picked the color brown. However, when she looked left and right, she noticed that all of her peers were picking the color pink for their skin. At 18 months, my baby reconsidered her options and decided to choose pink.

For someone who’s not a parent, maybe you’re saying, “That’s nothing.” Or maybe you’re like her caretaker and thought it was “cute” and “typical” of their childhood behavior. For me, it’s not typical or cute. It’s an easily ignorable first step into the potential abyss of self-hate and it’s heartbreaking. I can’t control my child or her perception of beauty, and I cannot pretend that I don’t have a huge role to play in reinforcing her natural and inherent beauty. It is my job to remind her that despite her immediate surroundings, there is nothing strange or unusual about her. She is normal, and the fact that the other toddlers to her left and her right have pink faces should phase her not one bit.

So what’s the resolution, you ask? Honestly, I’m not sure. As I am sure many readers can relate to, my initial response was to simply stay calm. Because I understood that as a Black woman, my reaction would not simply be viewed as that of a concerned parent; it would be expanded to an aggressive representation of the entire black female community. However, having stepped away to think, I decided to request that my daughter use the brown paint and that her caretaker encourage and celebrate how beautiful the brown paint is. It is vital to a child’s learning environment that the people that care for them are aware of the emotional cues that make a difference when celebrating diversity. And while I can appreciate the position that at age one this wouldn’t be life changing, my response is: “How do you know?” and “What precedent am I setting for myself as a parent.”

As we discuss things like #BlackLivesMatter and race relations at large, it is important to stand firm in the everyday belief that all races, beliefs and genders matter equally. It is our job to encourage the next generation to understand that their existence and chosen expression of self is enough.

But what about next time? I think my heart will drop every time I have to engage on this topic with my children. However, I find solace in the fact that for generations, parents have been teaching and encouraging their beautiful babies to love themselves despite what their surroundings might lead them toward. This isn’t something that happens in high school or after your first AfAm course in college. It starts at birth. Because of that, I put forth the real inquiry:

How are you teaching your child that they are beautiful, strong and valuable in today’s society?

Feel free to share suggestions, recommendations and more here or via Twitter #AllKidsAreBeautiful