A World Without Brown

(Reprint of original September 9, 2007 blog post.)

I’m a parent and I take my job very seriously. In the cycle of socialization, I am my children’s first teacher – it is my responsibility to show them who they are, who they can become, and what the world will expect from them. It is up to me to craft their worlds to reflect their beauty, strength, purpose, and potential. Knowing what the outside world will try to inject into both my brown treasures, it is MY JOB to engineer the best foundation I can for their self-concept development. They are the main reason I control who I invite into our home — physically and through media. Cable/satellite television in our house is a fuzzy memory for them. We have a very brown-skin friendly (not brown-exclusive) home with artwork, books, music, and video selections highlighting brown folks and their contributions to society. Anything that I feel is offensive (or, my favorite word, “inappropriate”) does not make it into this house. This is our haven, our home — and I’ma keep it that way.

My son is knobby-kneed, skinny, inquisitive, thoughtful and affectionate. He currently wants to be an entomologist. I hate bugs but have already planned a summer trip to the entomology department of a New England university to encourage his interest. He has a ball identifying the different types of beetles he finds in our yard (ugh!). He also picks up the rules to sports and games quickly and is actually really good at everything he tries.

I’ve jokingly told friends that my daughter is one of those girls I would have just hated when I was a kid. She has a beautiful smile and great eyes and is more “bootylicious” at 5 than I’ve ever been. She is outgoing and popular with adults and her peers. About two months ago, she even got 10 strangers to sing along with her at Kohl’s one day. She’s been sight-reading for over a year, can out-logic some adults and taught herself to count to 40 in Spanish a couple of days ago with very little help from me. Oh, I would have been eaten alive with jealousy if she had been in my class…

They’re twins. They’re 5. They just started kindergarten. And it is my job and my pleasure to make sure that no one tells either one of them that they cannot be or do anything they want to – even them. It is my job to make sure that neither of them feels less than any of their classmates or peers because of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, or the size of their lips. You get the picture. So that’s why this whole “I want white skin” bothered me so much. Hadn’t I been doing everything I could for these approximately 1900 days of their lives?

Anyhoo, since my daughter revealed her feelings to me – she said she wanted white skin because all of her friends at her then-preschool had white skin – I have stepped up my “teaching moments” game to make her proud of her brown skin. While applying sunblock for a day outdoors, my daughter kept referring to it as suntan lotion. I said, “No sweetie, it’s sunblock. Suntan lotion is for people with lighter skin who want to get brown skin like you have.”

She responded with, “I don’t like brown skin.” This devolved into a conversation about how if she didn’t like brown skin she doesn’t like (insert family member name/title here)’s skin. She responded that she liked everyone I named plus a few others’ skin, but not her own brown skin. I told her as I’ve told her since infancy that she’s beautiful, her skin is beautiful, blah blah blah. That “teaching moment” didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

Ah, but tonight I hit the jackpot! There we were in the grocery store, doing what people do in a grocery store. I was getting irritated with the twins’ bickering and chatter and was looking for some purposeful distraction for them. I looked into the cart and noticed all of the brown things we had in the cart. Mommy “teaching moment” time. I looked at them and said, “Can you tell me all of the things that would be gone if there was no brown?”

Immediately, my daughter says, “There would be no you, or me, or my brother” (forgive me, I haven’t thought up cool pseudonyms for them yet).

I said, “There would be no us, but what about things that aren’t alive. What things in our cart wouldn’t be here if there were no brown?” So both kids proceed to tell me all of the things in our cart that would be gone if there were no brown. My son even said the bananas would be gone. I disagreed because the bananas were green. He then pointed to the brown top part of that holds the bunch together. About 75% of the food in our cart, including every single treat/dessert that they love, had brown in it and wouldn’t be here without brown.

I then said to them while walking down the store aisle, “Wow, brown is a pretty important color. Look at all the things that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for brown.” My daughter, who walks down the aisles with me because she is too big for the cart, turned around and hugged me tight around my waist. Her head was turned toward my back with her face tucked under my arm. I heard thank you, mommy, but I’m almost positive that was my own imagination/spirit.

I’m a parent. And I did my job today. Only about 6,500 days to grow…


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