My family portrait may be a little unconventional. There are only three people in it; my two daughters and myself. My girls have beautiful, thick brown hair and skin the color of a caramel latte. On the other hand, I have skin that is so pale that even the “ghost” tone of foundation is too tan for me. I jokingly call my children my little “Pastafarians” because they are half Jamaican and half Italian. I have LOVED raising my daughters and wouldn’t change a minute of the past decade we’ve had together.
I have raised them to know that they are beautiful, smart, and strong. Their background helps build who they are. They know everyone is different, and that’s what makes them special. However, sometimes it seems that not everyone is giving their child these lessons. Even worse, some adults need lessons in acceptance and diversity themselves.
The “I Don’t Know Better” Comments
I’m getting a little used to the confused stares and stammering questions. When people see us together, they aren’t sure who I am. I’ve been called my daughters’ aunt and babysitter by people who don’t know us. I’ve been with my daughter’s aunt (who is also Jamaican) on multiple occasions and had people assume she was the mom and I was a friend.
Here’s an example of a way too common situation. I’m picking up my kids at a birthday party, and my birthday girl’s grandma says, “Oh, they’re so polite. Their mom must be proud.” My quick response of “I am” undoubtedly set off a deer in the headlights look, a mumble of some sort, and a quick exit from the conversation. I don’t get offended by these scenarios. My skin is too thick for that. Plus, it’s not meant with malice. I know that. Still, it’s a little off-putting that some people are so quick to make assumptions about our family based on appearance.
Then There Are The Hurtful Comments
What I won’t get used to are the comments that make our diverse family seem abnormal. One day I was walking in a mall. Seeing me holding hands with my then fiance, a woman who was maybe in her fifties walked past us. She turned around and said, “Ugh, ebony and ivory, that will never work. I hope you don’t get married.” I was dumbstruck. This woman felt the need for judgment just because we were in her vicinity. Seriously? What is wrong with people? Obviously, she missed a lesson in manners or decency somewhere along the line.
However, I’m an adult. I can internally curse her out and move on with my life. When it comes to my children fielding these comments, that’s a whole different story. I remember the first time my eldest daughter was confronted with a situation regarding her skin color. It was the first play date she ever had where the other mother just dropped off her child. She felt like such a “big girl” and was very excited to show off her home and play with her preschool friend. Soon enough, the little girl spotted our photos on the wall. She pointed at my daughter’s father, “Who is that?” she questioned. After my daughter responded with the fact that it was a picture of her and her dad, the little girl said, “He’s not your color. That’s weird.” My daughter just stared at her. My mama bear instinct turned on, and I said that it wasn’t weird, and that’s just how our family was. Was that the right response? Who knows. All I know is that at that moment, I realized that this situation would indeed be the first of many in learning to accept diversity. So I chose to surround my daughter with plenty of different people and give her opportunities so that she could understand the beauty of diversity. I vowed to provide her with the conversational tools to deal with similar comments and questions that would pepper her future.
My little one was asked why she was brown. She was then asked why she wasn’t white if her mom was. The administration at her preschool remarked on her being “the only one who looks like that.” Fast forward to the present day, and I can’t even count how many interactions we’ve had like this.
More people than I even want to think about have asked if they could touch my older one’s hair, or worse, reach out and touch it. Why? Why do people think that’s okay? I’ve had people ask how I learned to comb her hair (as they feel it – seriously? Keep your hands to yourself, people). I learned as she grew, just as a new mom learns how to deal with cleaning baby boy parts even though she never had boy parts of her own. I learned just like any mama learns how to raise their child. You do it.
And yes, some of the comments came from children. Children who may not know better or have not been exposed to diversity. But they should understand better. Everyone should know better – it’s 2021! We live in New York – I’m pretty sure unconventional is the new normal.
We need to teach our children (and ourselves) to be respectful of each other no matter what we look like, no matter what our families look like. Families come in all shapes and sizes and color combinations now. There’s no one size fits all.
I’ve gotta say, I’m proud of how my girls have handled themselves when faced with these questions. They know who they are, and they are proud. I will continue to foster this diversity and will always be proud of who they are because they are beautiful inside and out.