Growing up with four siblings was always interesting. Especially since two of us were brown and the other two were on the lighter side of yellow.
I knew early on that there were certain people who would go out of their way to compliment my lighter siblings, and even make it a point to take them places more often. I recognized early that some people determined their favorites based on skin color.
And then there were the questions as I got older: “Do y’all really have the same parents?” Apparently, people had no clue about how genetics worked. And, unfortunately, they still don’t. Especially young children who aren’t being taught certain things at home.
My sister, who was one of my lighter siblings, married a man who is biracial. His mother is Pacific Islander and his father is black. He’s never said he was anything else but black. He pretty much looks like your average black guy who happens to have curly hair. If I were to describe his complexion, I would say he was a little lighter than the singer Miguel.
My sister and brother-in-law have two little girls, ages 9 and 2 1/2. They’re two of the smartest little kids I know. The 9-year-old, who favors actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell, has been reading since she was 3, and not only is the 2-1/2-year-old quick-witted, but you also have to remind yourself sometimes that you are indeed talking to a kid who’s barely out of diapers. Never once has my sister or her husband told their children they were anything but black. But as smart, self-aware and beautiful as they are, it’s unfortunate that because of society and people who don’t teach their children that blackness comes in a variety of colors, the 9-year-old is already experiencing other kids questioning her blackness.
On Monday my niece came home from school and explained to her mother that a little girl, who also happens to be black, told her she wasn’t black. And it hit my niece pretty hard. To the point where she was saying that she wishes she were darker. Folks, this is fourth grade. This is not how life should be for a child.
The little girl who told my niece that she wasn’t black probably doesn’t know better. Is it the fact that she wasn’t taught better at home? Or is it because she’s already formed her own opinion about who’s black or not because of skin color and hair texture?
How do we teach children that there’s not just one form of “black”? And whose responsibility is it to teach children that? I’m pretty sure that my niece will get this throughout her life. And my sister even informed her that there will be people who’ll want to treat her better because of her skin color, but that they’re just as bad as those who’ll want to treat her worse because of her skin color.
My niece is supposed to spend her time playing with dolls, practicing her ballet and sending me funny videos that practically have me in tears. Not worrying about if she’s black enough and wanting to be darker just so kids won’t say she’s not black. But, then again, we still have adults who are enamored with colorism and still question other people’s blackness. So I doubt anything will change anytime soon for her.