White people are unbelievably uncomfortable talking about race or skin color.
This is a fact that I have become acutely aware of in the past three years. In part, my observation of this fact came about with my becoming more accustomed to using skin color as a qualifier for myself.
Annika notices and mentions often that I’m white. She has compared me to random people out in public. “Hey, she’s white like you mommy!”
She has noticed that Toyin’s and her own skin colors are more alike than mine, and made sure to mention it. She’s also followed it up with assurance that she still likes me even though we’re different. That one was interesting to me because I’m not sure if she thought I’d be offended, or if she was repeating something she heard.
More importantly, an observation I’ve made over the past few years is that white people seem to think that their skin color is of no consequence and when discussing skin color with their children, they must discuss other races’ skin colors, but not their own.
For quite some time now, I get questioned by my white friends about how to talk about skin color with their children. It’s something, I am supposed to know about.
The truth is, I’m not more comfortable and I don’t know any better. I have just learned a few basic lessons. I can give a knowing nod. I have been known to roll my eyes about a typical white person faux pas. And I still make them too.
Something I have definitely learned is that white people have skin color too. We can talk about our own skin color.
When discussing skin color with your children, get comfortable with your own.
In general, other races don’t seem to have as much problem talking about race and skin color because they aren’t afraid to discuss their own. Because of our nation’s history, people of color have gotten used to being labeled with a skin color. White people, not so much.
To some, this might seem backward, going in a direction that many want to shy away from. White people who consider themselves enlightened and open to diversity will proudly point out that their children don’t notice skin color, or that it’s of little consequence. They lament the differences and wish for utter equality of the races, looking forward to a future when we are all the same, and when we are all truly equal.
While I agree with the latter part of that statement, I disagree that we must all be the same. Let’s embrace our differences and enjoy them. Let’s not assume that we must be the same in order to be equal. And let’s stop thinking of skin color as “theirs.” We have skin color too.
Ironically, when I first began to really ponder this idea, I finally understood why many black people will point out that their skin is not really black. My skin color is not actually white, but a very light shade of brown. Annika, at only 3, has emphatically pointed out to me that she is not black, but she is “light brown” and her daddy is “dark brown.” And while she calls me white, because that’s what she’s heard us say about my skin color, she has also noticed that I am just lighter brown than she is.
Maybe we aren’t so different after all.