Recently, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I stumbled on a video of a mother, in her car, taping her four-year old in the backseat crying. I quickly clicked to hear the audio. No mother can see a child crying so intensely and not want to know why. The mother asked her daughter, “Why are you crying.” The child was in her hyperventilation stage of crying where she could barely breathe, let alone talk. Her mother asked again. “Why are you crying?” The little girl took a deep breathe then let out in a heave, “Because she wouldn’t play with me.” The mother asked, “Why did she say she wouldn’t play with you?” The devastated child exclaimed, “She said she wouldn’t play with me because I was black.” Turning the camera on herself the mother asked, “She’s four-years old. What am I supposed to say to her?”
Recently, there have been a lot of conversations about race and our sons. From how to behave when being pulled over by police, to pulling up their pants and not wearing hoodies so not to be viewed as a threat, to their ability to vote and gain employment. Much of the dialogue around race has focused on the plight of the Black man. But there continues a very real struggle that has taken place for many generations, affecting women of color whose genesis is in their childhood. What would be considered bullying today was and is traumatic childhood encounters that help shape self-image and arrest the growth of self-esteem.
The conversation about race cannot solely focus on black and white. But, particularly for our minority little girls, it should be inclusive of Black/Caucasian, Black/Black, and Black/Hispanic. I say this because the little girl hurt by racial bullying often becomes a woman who uses words like tar baby and high yellow bi*** like knifes to cut down other women they should be standing in solidarity with. We brush it off as a characteristic of being female and say, “Woman are so catty,” when it is really the manifestation of hurt.
When I was pregnant I was convinced I was going to have a son. After making sure he is healthy, my next concern was whether he would be light like me or brown like his father. It pained me to consider having a light-skinned daughter. I knew all I endured as a light-skinned female in this world and to imagine my daughter experiencing even a fraction hurt me to my core before she ever drew a breath. Despite what we may want, God knows what we need. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter and she was light, like her mother. Inevitably, one day she would come home from elementary school in tears, upset some kids were calling her “white-girl” because she was lighter than them.
She was caught in an all-too familiar limbo. She looked at the white girls and knew she was not white. They even told her she was Black and had an expectation that she would play with the Black kids. Even if they had not, her kinky hair, brown skin (albeit light), and her culture and lifestyle told her she was African American every day. But someone she considered one of her own, was telling her otherwise, as if something was wrong with her. My daughter has always been very bright and extremely observant. With some guidance, it did not take her long to realize the problem was not with her but with the ignorance of others. Still, the pain was real and the experience was forever ingrained in both our minds and hearts.
I knew the world had not changed since I was eight. She was going to experience a slur from a white person or some hurt from another African American simply because of her race or the color of her skin. I knew it was coming. The parental guilt was real. I could have warned her. I could have better prepared her. Up to that point, I thought I had done a pretty good job instilling God’s love for people, pride in her culture, and love of herself in her. However, the devastation on her face that one day made me question everything. I was preparing her to be the great person she is. Should I have been preparing her for the ugliness and hate of others instead?
I felt like the mother in the video. What am I supposed to say to her? When was I supposed to say it? Age eight was too late. For the mother in the video, age four was too late. After we teach our daughters their alphabet and how to spell their name, are we supposed to teach them to harden your heart early so when people throw daggers at you because of your skin color and race, you are already well protected? This is insanity and more frustrating is the fact that I have no answer. I just don’t know. I do know we, the mothers, must teach our daughters about race. We cannot come from a place of bitterness or of our own hurt. But we must prepare them to see the pain and ignorance of others for what it is so they do not internalize it and react to it negatively. Rather, our daughters can become agents of change and examples of love. For their protection and for our healing, we must begin the honest conversation about race and color with our daughters. It must begin in our homes, our communities, and the media…now.