In my experience, the most meaningful, revelatory conversations happen while we're washing our kids up in the bath. Maybe it's because it's the only time they get to themselves free of stimulus so they are more apt to ponder. Maybe it's the proverbial washing away of the day's worries--whatever it is, I appreciate hearing their insights during bath time. This time as Nate washed K up, I busied myself in the kids' rooms putting clothes away and arranging their books while I listened to Nate and K's conversation unfold.
"I wish my skin was white," she told Nate.
"Why do you wish that?" Nate inquired.
"I don't know," she responded.
To be honest, I didn't hear the rest of the conversation because I immediately began taking inventory of all we did or didn't do to make her wish this. She only has one brown Barbie among a sea of white Barbies; she has one brown baby and two white babies. Characters in the books she has: all white. I immediately felt terrible. All of the stuff we have for her has been acquired in the form of gifts from others--which has been a huge blessing, but it finally occurred to me this weekend that these gifts scream of whiteness. There are only few times in my life where I have been the minority, and each time was uncomfortable. Moving into a new home in a new part of town with a new family of a new skin color...I cannot imagine how awkward she must feel at times. I feel terrible that we didn't think and plan for this.
On Friday I showed my sophomores this TED Talk video from a Nigerian writer (it's embedded below) as they begin to identify the single stories they think people assume about them so they can write pieces that speak back to those stories and reveal who they really are. In the beginning of the lecture Adichie explains that all of the stories she wrote when she was a small girl featured white characters drinking ginger beer playing in the snow and talking about the weather--none of which she actually knew of but had learned about through all the books she read since most of the books she had access to were British. She mentioned that she did not ever see herself in literature as a young child. Sandra Cisneros (one of my favorite writers) also talks about this very concept which is why she wrote The House on Mango Street so she could finally see people like her in books. I don't want K to ever feel inferior because of her skin color...I want her to love her deep chocolate skin and her kinky hair...I've got some work to do.
So, today I spent a good chunk of time online researching the best books for African-American girls and made a trip to the library to find books with main characters that looked like K. I brought home a stack for both kids to read through. After the holidays, I think I will swap out some of her white dolls for darker skinned dolls and invest in more books with kids like her. It's not huge, but at least it's a starting point.