Two weeks ago was one of those periods of time where the world seemed to shift once again.
A breaking point for humanity where some serious work had to be done individually, and as a larger group of people, so we can change our reality for the better.
And while the world digitally protested by blacking out their profiles and tagging #BLM, we didn’t.
No, we’re not racist. And no we’re not above it either.
Personally, we just weren’t sure what the point of it was, and if we were going to make a real difference in the world, it wouldn’t just be with a color block on my instagram profile.
We didn’t attend a protest either. The simple answer for that was corona virus concerns.
But what I did instead was I started looking at myself. Then at my husband and then at my child. And when I finally sat down to talk to Acacia about the subject of Race, I began by showing her a simple picture-book.
I pointed to an Anglo girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, then to the girl next to her with black skin and afro hair. I asked her if she thought the girls looked nice or pretty and why.
Her immediate response was to point to the white girl and said it was because she looked like ‘Elsa’ from Frozen. I accepted her response (begrudgingly of the comparison) then asked her about the black girl.
She said ‘no’, she didn’t think she was pretty because of the color of her skin and that she didn’t like her hair ‘messy like that.’
My heart sank. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My child was racist.
We live in a very white, middle class part of Australia. We’ve never met a black child in the playground and we’d be lucky to see a person of color on the street.
Most of the generic books we’ve read never seem to have black protagonists in them and the classic movies I allow Acacia to watch are, you guessed it, all white cast.
Truth be told, besides knowing we lived in an unusually Anglo part of Sydney, it never dawned on me that I was setting up my child for systemic prejudice.
We’re of Armenian descent, being part of a once prosecuted minority of people who wouldn’t really consider themselves to be typically ‘white’.
Yet here I was sitting with my part Armenian child while she told me she didn’t like the look of black skin.
So, what did I do about it?
1. TOLD HER A LITTLE STORY CALLED ‘SLAVERY’
‘Once upon a time not very long ago…’ was the beginning of my tale of American Slavery and Apartheid. It lasted about ten minutes and guess who started crying? Me.
There’s something very powerful about telling the story of something terrible to a child for the first time, in a simple and gentle way, that tears at the soul. Having to see their eyes tremble watery, at the thought of humanity hurting one another, breaks you.
And once she saw me cry, she allowed herself to cry for all the people of the past who had to die at the hands of injustice.
2. I PLAYED HER FAVORITE SONGS, THEN SHOWED HER THEIR FACES
From the time Acacia was old enough to communicate (around one) she was in love with Louis Armstrong.
The entire album of classics would be played on repeat in the car, then at home and then sung to her to sleep. By age two she knew all the words to ‘What A Wonderful World‘ and wriggled her bottom to ‘Jeepers Creepers‘ in the living room.
But she never knew he was black.
So I hopped onto youtube and hit play on Louis’ ‘best on-stage performances’.
I watched Acacia as she gazed wondrously at Louis’ shiny, black smiling face, puffing out his cheeks to play the trumpet. She noticed his band were all black too and how much fun they all looked to be having, playing her favorite songs.
It didn’t stop there.
I showed her a picture of the glamorous Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Etta James and so many more (yes I’m a huge Jazz and Blues lover) while their music played on our speaker system. Their gorgeous curly hair, brown eyes and glowing dark skin dazzled her.
Eventually, Acacia began to point out how her hair was a little curly like theirs and that her eyes were also the same deep dark color.
Acacia’s discovery that her slightly darker complexion compared closer to these beautiful black women of jazz than it ever did with ‘Elsa’ or ‘Anna’, was a wondrous and important realization for her.
3. WE WATCHED A POWERFUL ANIMATION SHORT CALLED ‘HAIR LOVE’
If you know me then you know I’m pretty militant on the screen time content I choose for Acacia. So trying to find an animation that showed a ‘realness’ of black girls or boys was a challenge. Though I knew of the Disney Princess and the Frog, it didn’t seem authentic enough to just show her another Princess movie that swapped out nothing but the color tone of their skin.
Luckily I found a beautiful Oscar winning short called ‘HAIR LOVE‘. It was the perfect tale of black experience for a young girl struggling to contend with or style her naturally beautiful afro hair.
As we watched each tragicomedy bit after bit, I told Acacia of the time I almost permed my hair at University because I loved the look of Afro hair so much. How I always wanted big curly hair like some of the black girls at my school.
As soon as she saw my love for black beauty she took it on herself instantly.
It goes to show the power a parent’s views on the world has on their own child.
4. I WENT SEARCHING IN THE LIBRARY
Books are a window to the world we choose for them to know.
It never crossed my mind that Acacia was naturally affiliating with the only white colored girls in her books, because most of the books about anything were told primarily from a white child’s perspective.
It wasn’t until I looked closer at her book collection that I realized the glaringly obvious.
There wasn’t anything in any of my child’s story books that spoke from, or told the tale of, a black girl or boy.
So I delved into what the library had and found a trove of wonderful books such as Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Ada Twist Scientist, Black is a Rainbow Color, Bold Australian Girl, Grace at Christmas, The Proudest Blue and Under the Love Umbrella.
Her favorite since starting to read them is the story of Rosa Parks, particularly the part where she says “No” to standing up for the white man to sit down on the bus.
5. I FINALLY BOUGHT HER A DOLL. AND FOUND ONE THAT WAS AFRICAN AMERICAN
Believe it or not I had been intending to buy her a black doll for some time now. She’s never had a Barbie (I detest the things) and I wanted to inject some racial diversity into her world of play. But I had put it off again and again.
Last week’s world change was my catalyst to making sure I found the right baby doll for Acacia. We landed on this one:
Her name is Sushi, named by Acacia, and fittingly multi-cultural in the way I hope she continues to view the world. Learning to love a baby like Sushi is, I believe, a key step to encourage and direct a healthy outlook for our children towards diversity in skin color, culture, nationality and self-identity.
Sushi is already so loved. Possibly more so BECAUSE of her skin color now.
However we choose to tackle the challenge of racism, let’s do it with love in our hearts, starting with OURSELVES first.
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