True Power

True Power

Friday, August 13, 2010

Black and White: Kids on Race


"Mommy, I want my hair to be like my friends hair."

"You do? How is your friend's hair honey?"

It's long and blows in the wind."

"Is your friend a little white girl or a little black girl?"

"She's white and she is so pretty. Her hair is soft and long and blows in the wind. I want hair like hers."

At the beginning of this conversation I knew in what direction it was going to go. I wasn't prepared, but I was prepared. I had been there myself long ago.

It is what happens to little preschool black girls all across America. Many people will not admit it and a lot of little girls know through covert signals they better not even ask their parents the question "WHY AM I BLACK AND MY FRIEND IS WHITE WITH LONG HAIR?"

Tonight I watched Anderson Cooper as he so valiantly tried to tackle the race issue head on. He asked several young black and white children a group of questions using cartoon like figures of little girls ranging in color from white to dark brown.

The kids were asked which kid was bad, ugly, dumb and who do adults think are bad, ugly etc. Overwhelmingly the darkest brown child cartoon drawing was considered ugly, bad, and dumb by both groups of children. To say my heart sank is an understatement. One of my daughters was watching the show with me and we remembered her phase of wanting to have "good hair" when she was in preschool.

I remember having the straight hair talk on three separate occasions because I had three daughters. I looked into disappointed eyes and began to explain why people had different types of hair. I reenacted what I believed it would be like for my African ancestors to have lived in the hot African climate, baking in the high noon sun and how wise God was to give us hair and skin for our particular need in our particular part of the world. I told them how amazing it is that we are encoded with that great gene that causes our hair to curl no matter where we choose to live. I drew pictures on the chalk board of the different shapes hair follicles have and which one was for black people. I explained to be my children they had this genetic gift passed down to them and they would pass it on to their children.

I pointed out different races and made a game of finding the differences that made them belong to a particular group. Then we pointed out all of the similar characteristics we all shared. Each child remembers this point in their life, because it was fun. I did not try to tell them their hair was better or worse, because it wasn't. And not one of my girls was swayed, at that time, into not wanting flowing hair, but they knew the "why" and it opened up a window for a dialogue that would continue throughout their childhood. They understood some things make us different but more makes us the same. I told them it was fine to like the flowing hair and it was fine to like their kinky hair done up with rubberbands and bows. But when it came down to it, whatever hair they had; it was attached to the head of a person I knew was perfect in every way. I told them as they grow older they will want other things changed about themselves. It was a normal part of life for many children. Black, white, red, or yellow you are you and I think that is pretty darn good.

We always talked about why and who may like or not like their features and the features of other ethnic groups. I let them know that their difinition of what "pretty" is; is all that matters. I could not tell them what "pretty" is because it is different for each individual-subjective. But I made sure they were exposed to beautiful black, red, white and yellow people. Seeing and knowing that there is not one true standard of beauty helped them to find their own beauty.

My 5 year old niece said "I want hair like my friend Bobby." Why? "She is white and her hair is long and blows in the wind." I saw a tear form in my middle daughter's eye who thought her little cousin was the most perfect, beautiful smooth dark brown skinned black girl on earth.

I nodded a knowing head signaling to my daughter: "I got this," and it began again.

At first I thought it was very sad; my black child wanting white people's hair, but I had the opportunity to talk and teach my daughters to give them a firm grounding on what beautiful can look like inside and out.

I look at them now, and we laugh. They can't imagine feeling that way once upon a time in their life.

I question how does a child raised in a black household suddenly want to be white? Is it the media's fault? Or is it society's fault? I don't know the answer. All I know is that it happens.

So it happens, but it doesn't have to remain. I challenge all of you out there to help all of our young ladies, at an early age, to appreciate beauty in every ethnic group. Make it a point to show your daughters how lovely people are across the races.

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