PMM Reader Feature: Color Does Not Define You or Me
In the beautiful words of Indie Arie:
“I am not my hair… I am not this skin… I am not your expectations, no I am not my hair… I am not this skin… I am a soul that lives within.”
We are all beautiful souls who inhabit beautiful bodies in this world. Part of what makes our bodies so beautiful are the unique physical attributes that set us apart from one another, to provide the rich diversity that creates the spice of life.
But as we become a more blended country and society, we start to experience these physical diversities within our very own household. Walk down any street in NYC these days and you’ll easily spot a family where the parents possess different physical traits from their children. I smile every time I see this.
As a brown black woman with a light-skinned mother, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of hearing people question my relationship with my mother simply because my skin tone was darker than hers. No 6 year-old wants to be asked why she looks different from her mommy, or if her mommy really is her mommy. It was hard to face that issue growing up but it has taught me many important lessons that I apply in my daily life now, the most important of which is to embrace and be comfortable in my own skin and accept the beauty that comes with difference. My parents will always be my parents, regardless of how they look compared to me; how we look doesn’t define our love for one another, but does make our household that much more colorful 🙂
My experience is but one of many in current-day households across the country where there is physical diversity within the household, particularly relating to skin color. We’ve received numerous stories from our readers on this topic and wanted to share their experiences below.
Starting with our very own Editor-in-Chief Madeline Jones, who shares her personal story about color diversity within her own family:
“Skin tone was never an issue for me; maybe it was because my family members all looked so different. Some are very fair with blonde hair and some are very dark with curly hair. When my husband Luke and I had Madison, we knew we wanted her identify with both ethnicities. Little did we know that WE would be put to the test before Madison ever would.
I remember taking Madison out in a stroller in my neighborhood and people asking me who she belonged to. They thought I was the nanny. Once a nanny approached me to tell me that it’s not appropriate for nannies to show so much affection to their client’s kids. Imagine the shock when both those women were told that I was her mom!
I never got upset because I know that Madison does favor her father and that people genuinely do not know. The issue for us began when people would say things UNDER their breath but loud enough for us to hear, like we were not going to say anything. One time at a restaurant, a woman began to discuss with her girlfriend how she would never do THAT to her child. She wants her child to know where she comes from. I thought about not saying anything, but in my soul, I knew I needed to address how ignorant her assumption was. Did I change her mind? I’m sure I did not. But for her, her friend and anyone else that was listening, they all heard a different side to that story.
My daughter having a different skin tone than me has led me to face uncomfortable situations like the one above. Does it bother me? Of course! What can I do? Absolutely nothing. All I can do is make sure that I am aware of my surroundings and that my daughter is not being bullied for it either. In our family, we make sure that Madison is aware of who she is, that she is beautiful, that she is smart and that she is beautifully made in God’s image.”
If you are dealing with color issues in your family, Lisa Clark suggests teaching your child at an early age to respect everyone regardless of how they look:
“When the time presents itself, tell them that color is a small factor of what makes them unique. Show them that color is beautiful regardless of the hue, give examples of how color beautifies the world everyday, whether it is a field of flowers or rainbows in the sky. Tell them to embrace whatever hue they have, for it makes them unique. Instill in them that a person’s inner beauty is their heart and mind.”
Crystal Nanavati recommends the book Nurture Shock to mothers with fairer skin, on how to speak to their children about skin color and race:
“I found that book really useful on examining how institutionalized racism and my own upbringing taught me to talk and think about race. It was useful to begin to consciously change so that when I talked about race with my kids, I wouldn’t continue the cycle.
Discussions are hard, I think perhaps particularly as the white mom — I have privilege that she will never have, so I can’t speak to what she is/will go through from a place of experience. I often ask friends who are Indian American or other persons of color for advice or reassurance that I’m doing this right. I think it’s natural to be uncertain and to feel inadequate to the task. But have the conversations anyway.
My daughters have dolls that resemble them (American Girl is great for this). I consciously look for books with characters who look like them (Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani is one example, and the Ms Marvel comic features a superhero who looks like them). I sometimes bring up race when I notice that all the main characters are white.”
Anita Ramjit shares:
“It is extremely important for children as well as adults to embrace who we are individually, regardless of the difference. This pertains to the ‘whole child or whole person’; whether it pertains to appearance, culture, education or status. It is imperative that we feel confident as individuals. I feel this kind of self assurance makes an individual genuinely happy with themselves and can only make that person spread their inner happiness as opposed to feeling worthless and exuding this self hate onto others. It means we have to be accountable about things we say or do that may hurt others. We have to teach our children about acceptance of ourselves as well as others. We have to teach that there are no real differences between us physically. It stops with me and with you. One person at a time!”
When it comes to how color is addressed in society, Michelle Hartman says:
“Unfortunately, color is still a segregation issue in our society. We are experiencing it right now in Hollywood with the Oscars. And just recently, Beyonce’s performance during the Super Bowl. Hollywood is screaming for African American recognition with the nominations. Articles popped up in my news feed that Beyonce didn’t have a single ‘white’ person in her dance troupe. What society needs is to see that there is no more ‘White & Black’. There is a growing population of mixed race children who cannot identify with any of the issues they are constantly hearing about in the news.”
At the end of the day, what should the overall message be on this topic? Lena Short believes that:
“Beautiful people come in all different shades, shapes, sizes and origins. Just because one looks different than the other, doesn’t mean you love them any more or any less. We are all people at the end of the day. My daughter may be pale and have blonde hair but she’s every bit of her African American mother as she is her Caucasian father.”
Anastasia Buchter adds:
“Be proud of who you are. Everyone is beautiful. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. Whatever ethnicity you are, rock it and be proud of who you are and where you came from!”
Devon Rosado says:
“I just want my boys to grow up not being automatically known as the ‘mixed’ kids of the neighborhood or school. I just want them to grow up in the Love of God and to know that yes, Mommy may be a different color, but their heart beats the same as mine. And the heart is what matters.”
These families are living proof that love is pure and our physical bodies are merely one aspect of who we are, and should be embraced as a thing of beauty rather than something that divides.