‘Mommy, my hand is brown’

My four year old boy came to me the other day showing me the back of his hand.

‘Mommy, look, it’s brown,’ he said.

There I went: ‘Yes, it’s brown, my sweetheart.’

After a while I stood there not knowing whether I had said the right thing or mislead the poor little thing into thinking that he is brown instead of being black. At the same time I did not want to fall into the trap of information overload and start going on and on about the colour and race issues while he is still this young.

Was I planting a seed in him to think that he is brown? I have never heard of that reference in South Africa; it’s either you are black or white.  I felt I was being a bit economical with the truth with him.

When I shared this with my friends they suggested that I leave it at brown for now and later he will figure the truth when he is older. It was with great relief and sadness that I discovered that I am not the only one who has been asked that question.

It makes me sad that our kids feel dissatisfaction with who they are, or maybe they are just curious? One friend mentioned her daughter’s insecurity about her skin colour.  I am all for questions but as soon as words like insecurity creep in I get worried. The little girl did not understand why we are not all the same shade, and she said she wants to be 'English' – I guess meaning she wants to be white. The mother had to tell her that her shade of brown is the best and God never makes a mistake. I am sure she was trying to give the best answer any parent can give.

It’s not only about the skin colour. Kids also question the texture of their hair, why it’s coarse – why theirs is not long and silky. Thank goodness I am raising a boy. I would have been the biggest hypocrite answering this one telling a daughter that all is fine with her hair whereas I am currently sporting hair extensions (human hair). A friend has resorted to keeping hers natural so that the daughter can see that there is nothing wrong with our hair, it’s the way it’s intended to be.                 

There is no easy answer to these questions and we can only try our best to answer them. When my son gets older I have been advised to show him pictures of great and successful black people he can identify with so that he can see that there is nothing wrong with being black.

But then again we’ve had people debating whether Barack Obama is black or brown – thought I had him as one of the black role models for my son. As for my boy, he can be any colour he wants to be for now but he is black at the end of the day. All I can do is to love him as brown or black as he is or believes.

How should we make sense of ethnic difference for our children? Does it matter anymore?
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