While my complexion has olive tones, Monkey's complexion has brown tones reflecting his dad's Indian heritage. Munchkin however, has inherited her complexion from my mother and paternal great-grandmother which are paler than mine. Now that we have two kids with different complexions, everyone seems to align fair-skinned Munchkin with me and bronzed-skin Monkey with my husband, no matter whose features they actually have.
The color of my children's skin isn't an issue for me. What disturbs me are the playground conversations. If other parents or nannies aren't asking if I'm Indian, they're asking me about Monkey's heritage. His name is Indian, so as soon as others in my very South Asian-populated neighborhood hear it, the questions begin. Then they ask me about Munchkin and prattle on about how she doesn't look Indian. I understand curiosity, but going on and on about appearances while both children are in earshot makes me uncomfortable. I fear that their appearances are defining them. Or rather, that others are defining them by their appearance.
In the last few weeks, there has been much discussion about race. More accurately, there have been discussions that tiptoe around the realities of race and racism and how they affect this country. I understand some of the caution. After all I've been wanting to write about race for over a year, but I've been fearful of doing so, questioning whether I have the authority to do so.
The reality is, we should all be talking about race and how it affects peoples' lives daily. I applaud President Obama's remarks about the Trayvon Martin case because not only does he gives an honest assessment of what it is like to grow up Black in the United States, he gives suggestions about how every American can work towards equality and peace.
While I can't talk about what it's like to be African American in the US, I can talk about what it's like to be different. I'm Bolivian which, for many who don't know (and trust me, the majority don't), makes me Hispanic. According to the US Census, "Hispanic" isn't a race, it's an ethnicity. There are Black Hispanics, White Hispanics, Hispanics with blond hair and Hispanics with black hair like mine. Yet all my life, I've been questioned and labeled. Some people think I'm Asian, Italian, Middle Eastern or--my favorite--Hawaiian. Others tell me, "I just thought you were white" as if they were giving me a compliment. Being white is what it is, but I don't want to be "just white" because I'm not. Much of who I am--my values, my manners, my second language and even the way I raise my kids--is thanks to my Bolivian upbringing.
Growing up in a very white Midwestern community, there were challenges being part of the only Hispanic family in town. People couldn't figure out "what" my sister and I were and I never quite felt that I fit in. When we left for a two-month trip to Bolivia, all people could think to talk about was the cocaine trade, not the beauty or diversity of the country. It wasn't until college, where there was a sea of dark-haired kids, that I felt I could blend in at last. Ever since then, I've lived in large cities, happy to be surrounded by people as different as me.
When I married my husband, who was born and raised in India, I knew there would be a melding of cultures and I knew our kids would both have black hair and dark eyes. In a testament to the intricacies of genealogy both children have brown eyes but neither has black hair. I have just started to talk to my children about race and acknowledge that people have different colored skin. As a small child, I remember noticing my father's colleague's dark skin and asking my parents about it. As this article indicates, not talking about skin color doesn't mean that kids think that skin color doesn't matter, but that, "...skin color does matter, just in a secret way that nobody is going let you in on."
As evidenced the last few weeks, skin color does matter in this country. This video is a testament to that fact. It is also a testament that kids associate positive traits to people like them. The key to more acceptance and more understanding is to teach our children--and ourselves--that people of all complexions are, in fact, like them.