The other day Toyin asked Annika what color her hair was, she responded, (to my surprise) “Brown!”
To me, her hair looks black. To Toyin, it looks brown.
Her hair, just like her identity, will look to each side of the cultural equation, more like the other one.
I realized recently that I have already made a mistake about the race discussion.
I have been waiting for Annika to get older, or to see if she brings it up, instead of doing what I knew subconsciously what I should have done. I should have already started talking to her about it.
It’s not so bad. I mean, her language skills are still developing. As with many topics that are hard to discuss, I kept thinking I’d wait for her to notice that her skin color is different from mine. I mean, she’s only 2. It seems to be so obvious to other people, I guess I didn’t think she’d take long to notice.
But to her, we are normal. To other people, we are not, at least, not most people. Even our friends, who like us and don’t care that we are a blend of colors, it is still a noticeable difference.
I have been asked plenty of times now if Annika is adopted. Some people with less couth just say things like, “Is that your daughter?”
Then the other day a little girl asked me flat out, “Why is your skin different colors?” as she watched me nursing Annika. Wow. I was totally unprepared for such a guileless question.
It was the most refreshing exchange I’ve had with another person on the topic since Annika was born. I mean, this kid did not assume anything. She had no judgments. Her only agenda was to get her question answered. It was so simple. So wonderful.
I told her that it was because Annika’s daddy has darker skin than mine and so she was a mixture of our skin colors. Even after I said that, I fumbled more, trying to come up with something a little more…. profound, maybe? I don’t know what I was searching for.
Her mom jumped in and explained, saying something like, “You know how my hair and your dad’s hair are different colors and yours a mixture of ours? It’s the same thing.”
The little girl seemed satisfied with that.
I was grateful for the additional explanation. But even more grateful for the question.
It made me realize that even with all my reading and thinking on the subject I still don’t know exactly what I’ll say when Annika starts asking questions. It made me realize that maybe I’m not quite as comfortable with the topic as I thought I was.
So, I decided to test the waters.
Yesterday as I sat with Annika on the couch, I held our arms together. I pointed at her arm.
“What color is your arm Annika?” I asked her.
“Brown!” She said with a proud grin.
I pointed at my arm.
“What color is Mommy’s arm?”
She looked confused and then looked up at my face for guidance.
I could understand her confusion. I mean, really, what color is my skin?
In all reality, it is just a much lighter shade of brown. But I was pointing out to her that our skin color was different. She understood that much.
I said, “They’re not the same color are they?” I said.
She nodded, no.
“So what color is Mommy’s arm?” I asked again, curious what she would say.
Heh, heh. Well, I guess that’s close enough.