Mommy, Why Am I Brown?

As we were rushing out the door, the other morning, Antwan asked me why his skin was “brown.”  With no time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart, I said “Because you were born that way, your skin is beautiful.  Get your backpack.”  I made a mental note to come back to it later.  If I had realized that it was coming from somewhere specific, I would’ve just let us be late-r.  But, I didn’t.
But, that night, Antwan was talking to Brian and he mentioned that a couple of kids at school aren’t nice to him.  When Brian asked why, he said that they told him that they didn’t like him because his skin was brown.  And, my heart broke.  As I wondered again, why it’s not ok to jump a kid, haha, Brian did the talking.  He’s good at that.  I’m good at being emotional and writing angst-filled blogs, but not so good at thinking on my feet.  But, Brian is.  So I was very glad that he was there.
He talked to Antwan about how pretty his skin is.  He said that’s how God made him and that’s how he wanted him.  He said that the color of his skin does not make him worse or better than anyone else.  He also told him to make sure to always tell us or a teacher if something like that happens.  He said lots of smart stuff and I could tell Antwan appreciated it.  After a weekend of acting out (I now know why), Antwan finally seemed more settled.
I’m also good at emailing teachers.  So, I did.  And, since Antwan’s teacher is awesome, I knew that she would deal with it.  Just like she dealt with it when she was William’s teacher and a kid wouldn’t let him play on some playground equipment because he was “brown.”
As I waited for her response, I started thinking about my childhood.
When I was growing up,of course, there were black kids in my school.  I don’t remember thinking too much of it.  I knew that a lot of them were poorer than me (because a lot of them happened to live in a lower income apartment building that was near my house).  I knew a lot of them got the free or reduced lunches.  I knew that they often knocked at our door and asked my mom if they could pick the dates from our palm tree.  And, when I finally tried a Date, I knew that those particular kids had weird tastes in food. 😉  I also knew that they were black and I was white.  But, I didn’t think I was better because, of course, I wasn’t.  I don’t remember ever looking at them and thinking that much about their skin. 
I never realized that my parents exposed me to diversity or more accurately, didn’t keep me away from it.  But, I guess they did.  I had a very good friend who was black.  But, she was never my black friend.  I spent time at her house with her and little sisters.  It was never, ever an issue and I was so sad when she moved.  She still remains one of my favorite friends from my past. 
My parents loved “The Jeffersons” and they watched it a lot.  So, early on, I was exposed to an interracial couple and a bi-racial child.  And, although, I was aware that it was noteworthy, I didn’t think it was a big deal.  I don’t really remember what they said to me.  I don’t remember what words my parents used to tell me that I shouldn’t judge a person by their skin.  I only remember what they said about interracial marriage.  They said that it is not a good idea unless you are rich (like on The Jeffersons).  Their reason being that people would leave you alone if they knew you had money.  They didn’t say it was wrong or sinful, just that I’d be putting myself in a very difficult situation as society can be very mean.  Looking back on it, I think that was pretty progressive for the time.
When I was in my 20’s, lived at home, and made a new friend at work who was black.  She was worried when I invited her over to my house.  Will your parents care, she asked me.  I was floored.  Why on earth would they care?  My friend nervously came over and was relieved to see that, no, my parents didn’t care.  The fact that she felt the need to worry is so very sad.
I realize now that my parents, sadly, weren’t necessarily the standard.  But, I’m so grateful that they were my standard.
When I grew up and found myself faced with the possibility of adopting black children, I had my concerns.  I can honestly say, I didn’t really care about the color.  But, I wondered about society, just like my parents had.  I also worried about how I would do a little girl’s hair.  I didn’t think I had to worry about that, anymore, when we adopted our beautiful boys.  But, then Lizzie came along.  Her existence is something that I am grateful for, beyond words; despite the fact that I do terrible things to her hair on a daily basis. 😉  And, I worried that we’d look “odd.”  And, quite frankly, sometimes we probably do.  But, if we’re odd, it’s in a very good way. 🙂

So, anyway, back in 2008, when we got the call asking about the boys, I didn’t worry about any of that, anymore.  I just got right to the falling in love with them part.  And, I regret nothing.
So, I have learned a few things.  Society is way better than it was when I was a kid.  I can’t speak for interracial marriages, but I do know that a transracial family can make it in the world without being rich (although, I wish I could test the “being rich” theory.).  I’ve learned that white people are afraid to say the word black.  As evidenced by a coworker who, after looking at the pictures of the boys, nervously asked me if I had expected them to be “uh uh…”  I finally offered her a helpful “black?”  But, being afraid to say the word doesn’t mean that they have an issue with it.  I’ve learned that black women who I don’t know will offer unsolicited (yet helpful) advice on Lizzie’s hair and almost every one of them will suggest something different. 

And, I’ve learned that as far as society has come, we’ve only come so far.   

Turns out that kids will make my kid feel like crap for being black.  And, my kids, and all the other kids out there, should never, ever, feel like crap for being who they are.

Anyway, as I was typing, I got an email back from Antwan’s teacher.  And, in this case, it turns out that the boys were, apparently, just asking Antwan why his skin is different.  Hopefully, that’s all it was and, if so, that’s totally understandable.  It hurts my heart that Antwan internalized it like that, though.  So, maybe it’s our job to do a little more to instill pride in his skin so that he can confidently answer those questions.  We try, but maybe we’ll need to try harder. 

Do I think that every time will be this innocent?  No.  Do I think that there will be times when the kids are being just plain mean?  Yes.  Do I think that the parents need to step up and either stop teaching negativity or start teaching sensitivity?  Yes.  It’s obvious, to us, that we need to teach respect and understanding for diversity.  But, I guess, it’s not so obvious for the other parents and kids at school.  But, I’m thinking it should be.
So, maybe my kids are a little lucky to be different, after all.  They know not to judge someone for what they look like, what they act like, who they love, what color their parents are, or whether they put on a costume every chance they get. 

The force was with them.

I think that’s going to make them pretty well-rounded, enlightened adults and the world can always use more of those.

Meanwhile, it absolutely breaks my heart that this is not the last time that something like this will happen.  They are going to have to deal with the fact that they are different because they are black, adopted, and a different color than us.  That’s a lot to deal with.  But, I guess, everyone has their challenges and this is ours.  It is what it is.  And, this is who we are. 

Personally, I really love who we are. 

11 thoughts on “Mommy, Why Am I Brown?

  1. I love your \”odd\” family! I'm surprised the comment isn't, \”Mommy, why am I a jedi?\” rather than about being brown… 😉


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