On Children and Race

On Children and Race

People love children.

They’re adorable, innocent, and wondrous, little human people.  For the most part, anyway.

And I fall into the societal assumption that children are these beautiful things to be protected and sheltered from harm.  It’s not that I don’t think they should be or aren’t amazing.  I love kids and I think everyone should value and respect them.

But I’ve been thinking that it’s strange how much adults love children compared to other human people.  And when kids are going through tough situations, for some reason, it seems like everyone feels that pain more than the pain adults or teenagers feel.

Today, I felt helpless.

A little girl told me that she didn’t like her skin.

It wasn’t because it was sunburnt or dry or scabbed over from falling while playing a mean game of double-dutch (do kids even play double-dutch anymore?).

It was because of the color.

And I have studied the theories of racism –internal, institutional, personally-mediated.  So, it shouldn’t be a shock when I hear that people dislike, or even hate, the race they are.

And I’ve met grown people who have internalized racism.  And I feel bad for them and it makes me angry beyond belief to think that a person would hate themselves so much because of something so arbitrary (and when I say arbitrary, I don’t mean it is meaningless), as race.

But hearing and seeing a child–a happy, funny, sweet, caring child– look down at her skin and say she hated it, then look at my lighter skin and say that’s what she wants…it completely broke me.

She didn’t say it in a sad voice either.  I think that’s what made it more difficult.  It was just a simple truth to her.  Just like a kid saying they didn’t like brussel sprouts or doing math homework.

I told her she was funny, talented, and beautiful, no matter what color her skin.  But, it didn’t seem like enough.  She nodded and sighed.   Even if I or her family or her friends say reassuring words, the world around her denigrates blackness to such an extreme.  Working towards an equitable society that values and respects the color of someone’s skin is so much more than one person can handle.

And I know that this little girl isn’t a needle in a haystack.  I know there are people, children and adults alike, that dislike how they look.  And just because someone is or isn’t a child, doesn’t mean their feelings are any more or less valid.  Racism, internalized or not, hurts everyone.

It’s going to take a lot more than reassuring pats on the back to make this right, and in the meantime, I don’t exactly know how to move forward.