“LOOK! LOOK! There’s a brown girl! Brown girls are disgusting! RUN!”
My daughter was oblivious to it all, me on the other hand, I was furious. How could a three and four-year-old girl say something so demeaning to my seventeen-month-old daughter?
I had never experienced such a thing as a parent. At the moment I was stunned. I was sad. I was angry and hurt and in disbelief. In spite of the emotions boiling inside of me, in spite of the tears bordering my eyelids, I smiled and encouraged my girl to continue to play.
I scanned the restaurant looking for parents. not sure what type of person I was looking for. Disrespect was not visible. Not one person’s eyes said hate. There was no body-language that suggested intolerance, prejudice or just plain ignorance. No one caught my attention. I couldn’t pick out racism in a crowd no matter how hard I tried. There was no parent for me to confront. Simple saying to the three and four year old girls “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” was not enough.
Fast forward two years later and adding an additional girl to my family, I am still hit with the same wave of emotions and still wonder did I do enough. Those whom I have shared this incident with has given me their share of advice and “if I were you, I would haves,” but still, it didn’t seem to be enough.
As I journeyed through these two years, I have been more intentional about raising my daughters, girls of color. There are four core lessons I intend to teach them:
Beauty is only skin deep – A Motown classic by the Temptations is a song that still plays on my Alexa devices. The overarching message in this song is that a woman may be “fine on the outside, but untrue on the inside.” I am teaching my daughter to love herself, take care of her outer appearance, be comfortable in skirts, pants, dresses, high-tops and/or heels if she chooses. Also, be empathetic, a good listener, be compassionate, assertive, courageous and unique. I am taking Michelle Obama’s approach by teaching my daughter to live her life out loud.
Embrace your ‘Brown Girl’ and ‘Brown Skin – My girls know that they should not ever let anyone mistreat them, belittle them or demean them for who they are are, for being brown or black or however the world defines them. Disrespect and degradation of any kind is not acceptable. It is important for both to know that they must be an advocate for themselves and believe in themselves or no one else truly will.
Success is more than money – Being a work from home mom who has two master degrees and having an entrepreneur dad with a degree, I am hoping our career choices speak volumes to our daughters. We are not living paycheck to paycheck, but we do have to make financial sacrifices, we budget, buy clearance, and save for any foreseen major purchases. Success in our home is measured in the memories we create and the fun we have. Our daughters should know how to live a life they love, to achieve their desired visions and goals no matter what they choose.
Have diversity in your friendships – This lesson is definitely something that I must model. I can honestly say that I have not been doing very well with this, but I do seek to have playdates and outings with people who represent other cultures, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic status. Friends are great teachers. They help you breakdown stereotypes, you learn how to love people for who they are. Overall, my daughters and I will grow as human beings by doing life with others, by building a community that actually reflects the world we live in.
There is so much more that I desire to teach my daughters, but this is our start. If I would have sought after those two little girls and their parents, it may not have been enough. I do know that I am making a difference by instilling certain values into my girls, and for now, this is enough. When others RUN from my daughters, they will not have an identity crisis. They will know their worth. They will know their value. They will have a solid foundation to stand on.
I am still open to the “if I were you, I would haves…” so please advise me.
Beautifully written, Paula. It is unfortunate that you were exposed to this, even though your daughter was oblivious at the time. My heart sank as I read it. But the way you responded then, and are choosing to respond now, demonstrates grace, courage, and wisdom. Kudos to you, mama. Kudos!
Paula, as the mother of a brown girl, just know that the lessons will continue as long as we continue to place value on the “external” view of each other. You did the right thing. Be prepared when they have questions. Like when my 3 (or 4) year old yelled from the edge of the pool where she swam with other children, “Mommy, why does her hair look different than hers?” With all the other moms looking on (I was the only POC) I yelled back “Because that’s how God made her!” That was the end of the conversation. Plain and simple honesty. Children can handle it. You are a wonderful mom!!!!
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