I didn’t want to write this post. I’ve thought about it and typed and erased about 100 times since the incident but I think it is time.
How do you talk to toddlers about race? Do you talk to toddlers about race?
I have never embraced my race. I’ve always tried to sit quietly in the back of the room as if people will only notice my color when I open my mouth. I make sure to pronounce every letter of every word. I divulge to everyone that my husband went to an exclusive private college preparatory school for his entire childhood. When I am without my husband I fidget with my promise ring band that shines brightly under my diamond wedding band wrap and engagement ring to prove that I am not a black single mother. I agree when people tell me I’m an “oreo”.
And yet no matter how hard I try to conceal my race it finds its way into my life. When I got to UVa I found some great black friends. They were intelligent. They were kind. They loved the Lord. They accepted me for me. I (foolishly) assumed that my old friends would accept my new ones because they had no reason not to, after all, they were just like me. It turns out they were too much like me. I was asked why I found so many black friends and some of my old friends stopped being my friends because I “didn’t like white people anymore”. It was devastating but I moved on and thought I covered up my race again… until I had my children.
When I told my pediatrician that we decided to co-sleep with my son, he said that although it was common for people “of my kind” it was unsafe. It hurt that this thing I’ve been trying to disguise was somehow revealed. How did the doctor know what people of my kind do? I certainly didn’t because I tried to stay away from those people.
Fast-forward 11 or 12 months. My mom wanted to help me care for my little ones and put my daughter’s hair into pigtails while I rested. I woke up horrified and screamed at her “I DON’T WANT HER LOOKING LIKE A LITTLE BLACK GIRL!!!!“. I still can’t believe I let that come out.
And now. We have found a playgroup that I love. We are Christians. We discipline our children. We teach them manners and respect. We take them to church. We let them explore the world around them. We teach them to love one another. Wait, how do we teach that? This latest incident has shown me that my children will not be able to hide their race and that is killing me. I have had a permanent knot in my stomach since then. It sounds sick that I want my children to be ashamed of who they are, I don’t. I just don’t want them to grow up with the constant heartache and inconvenience being black comes with. So, the incident. We were having a wonderful time playing outside in our friend’s huge backyard, soaking up the unusual February sun when the friend said “I don’t like [V]’s hair. It’s hard.” He then rubbed my son’s head. My daughter, who is never too far behind her big brother, came tottering up and the child exclaimed “I don’t like her hair either.” I quickly did what I always do when someone notices my race. I agreed. I said, “Yeah, his hair is hard, isn’t it? [Luci]’s is thick and messy, huh?” Why couldn’t I spew out something about loving one another? Or do an impromptu lesson on opposites by comparing and contrasting their hair textures? Why couldn’t I explain to him that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139: 14)? Or simply tell him how much I absolutely love my daughter’s strong black curls? Am I raising a racist? Am I teaching my children that being black is not okay? What do I do? How do I teach others about my race? The recent case of Trayvon Martin scares me because we live in a gated community and there is a convenience store within walking distance. That could have been MY child. If I teach my son to hide his race like I have tried so hard to do, he won’t realize that he is just as susceptible to total embarrassment, blatant rejection and brutal crimes as his classmate with corn rows and baggy jeans. What do I do? What can I do?