My mom likes to tell the story of the day my older brother asked about skin color. He stared at a black man in the grocery store and then asked very loudly, “Why is his skin that color?” I don’t know how old he was, young enough that he could get away with this honest question without too much insult.
I’ve made an effort to place books and toys before my child that have people of all races. The books she read are filled with all shades as are the many baby dolls spread throughout the house. And since she’s a big asker of “why” I knew I’d be tackling the question sooner or later. But, last night, she surprised me by asking the question not as “why” but as “what.”
She said to me, “Mama, what is the color we call our skin?”
And I answered, “Well, that’s a difficult question because there are many different colors of skin. You and I have skin that’s sort of peachy pink I think. Do you think it’s peachy pink?”
“But not everybody has peachy-pink skin. Your teacher, Mrs. K, has sort of golden brown skin. And Mr. M. is so pale that he’s almost white. What about your friend A at school? What color is her skin?”
“It’s peachy-pink too.”
“Yeah, it is. How about Z? Is his skin peachy-pink?”
“No. It’s brown.”
“Yup. Your doll Kevin has brown skin too. And bitty-baby has what is called olive-tone skin.”
She surprised me again later when we were reading Girls Hold Up this World. I pulled it out because it has nice pictures of all different kinds of girls (mostly darker than she and I) so we could talk about more skin color. We got to the picture of a toddler who in my view has medium-brown skin. Up unti now, we’d been placing our own arms up against the pictures to compare and talk about the differences. Again, she held up her arm to this toddler’s face, but she happened to hold up her arm against the child’s cheek which glowed pale pink in the sunlight and declared that she had peachy-pink skin just like Avi.
Rather than “correct” her, I decided to agree. Because it was true. Even though I would have called this toddler a “black” child her cheek was, in fact, peachy-pink in the picture and very close to the skin on my child’s arm.
I am so proud that my three year old doesn’t question why we are born with different color skin and hair and eyes. She simply wants a way to identify and name what she sees. This, to me, means I’m off to a good start in raising a child who is non-descriminatory and welcomes all shades of people into her life.