Maya, oh Maya
My second-born, Maya, is my spirited child. She just does her own thing, on her own time, in her own way. And she possesses this rare gift of giving me the sweetest kisses one second, and then in mere milliseconds gives me heart palpitations.
Unlike her older sister, Maya never got a gradual introduction into topics of race and racism. We had her listen to whatever conversations we were having with her big sister. She was introduced to books with deeper, more complex stories and messages much earlier than her big sister did.
Very early on, we noticed right away that she had a racial affinity. Maya absolutely preferred Black and brown characters and people over anyone else. In picture books and TV shows, she would point to the Black and brown female characters and tell me that particular character was her favorite. I used to let both girls play a dress up game app on my phone, and Maya would always ask me to look for the “brown lady” to dress up. She wouldn’t dress up anybody else.
I wondered if at some point, I should be worried. I wanted – and still do – both girls to have healthy racial identities and to know how magnificent their brown skins are. But just how to do this was a constant worry and topic of conversation for me and Trevor.
I never said anything to Maya when she would share her racial preference.
Until one morning when we were scrolling through Instagram stories together. We eventually reached the stories of a Black photographer friend, pictured with what looked like a white friend. Maya immediately pointed to my photographer friend and said, “Ooh I like her the best.”
“How come you like her the best?”
“I like her [pointing to my friend] better than her [as she points to the white friend in the picture].”
“What makes you say that? You haven’t met them. How do you know?”
“She’s pretty [again pointing to my friend in the picture].”
Let me pause here and say that one of my talents is panicking and going into worst case scenarios in a blink of an eye. My brain was swirling in chaos.
Crap, crap, crap.
Did I enable racial bias in her?
Is that bias or preference?
Insert four letter word here.
Does this mean she hates white women?
Do I hate white women?
Why does Maya think that only the Black and brown women/femmes were pretty?
Insert more four letter words here.
Oh my God, this is all my fault.
Breathe….quiet those voices. Sometimes talking to young kids about race and racism is 70% reminding yourself it’s not about you, and 30% some kind of misunderstanding. Or 100% me projecting my emotional crap onto them. After I got my shit together, I responded, “She is very pretty. I think she and her friend are both pretty. What did you mean you like her better?”
And here comes my book crutch. In this case, I whipped out The Crayon Box that Talked** and used the book to talk about how there isn’t one crayon that was better than the other. Each crayon was unique and so needed to complete the picture.
Maya ran to get more books for me to read -- usually a sign that she was so over the conversation. I’ve been curious how to address this moving forward - do I change the way I talk about race? Do I wait until the next time she mentions it? I want both girls to have positive racial identities. I also don’t want them to fall into the falsehoods of one race being “better” than another.
AND, I also know how often Black and brown kids receive all sorts of messages that they are not beautiful, that they are not enough. Would it be so wrong of me to encourage Maya’s racial affinity, to continue pointing out beautiful Black and brown characters and people?
Trevor says this is just Maya’s excitement in finding herself represented in different ways -- from books to photos to shows. True. We’ve had to over saturate Black and brown representation in our household, otherwise the girls would have undoubtedly been surrounded by whiteness (I mean, Maya is now obsessed with Elsa).
At some point, those external messages, steeped in white supremacy culture, that they are not enough or that they are less than are going to start. And I want to make sure that their pride and joy in who they are is so loud that it drowns out that white nonsense.
Other parents (of color) that I’ve shared this with have said the same thing -- they wouldn’t worry about it. But I also recognize the need to work on not letting my own racialized baggage dictate my reactions and parenting.
Kids will say kid things. This is a lifelong journey and the best I can do is make sure our girls feel safe to share with us their stories, experiences, questions and unexpected comments.
**Please note that I would no longer recommend The Crayon Box that Talked. Instead, I would recommend The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler as a better child-friendly book to take pride in our skin, while also touching on the false narratives around what our skin color can and cannot be.