The child looked at me, pointed in my face and asked why are you so black? He kept pointing in my face!
It was almost as if he was accusing me of something. It wasn’t the first time a child was curious about my skin colour. It was the first time though that a child asked that way. I was shocked. I usually have responses for children but this shocked me to my roots. He was only about 4 and I didn’t quite know how to handle it immediately. I needed a minute to get myself together and process the reality of what had just happened. I needed to process my thoughts so I wouldn’t react in an inappropriate manner.
I called out to my mentor; at this time l, I was still an Early Childhood Education student in my second semester. I mentioned what had happened to her and we talked about what to do. Together, we went back to him and talked about people having different colours. I asked him if he was the same colour as the friend who was standing beside him and he said no. I realised it was a teachable moment and anything I did at the time might impact his opinion for several years to come.
I decided to make a teaching plan out of this. I was going to show the classroom of preschoolers the different kinds of skin tones that might exist. I went ahead to find books in the library and in the room that were suitable for this lesson plan. Examples of such books are:
It’s Ok to be Different
We’re Different, We’re the Same
Skin Like Mine
And many more…
One of the educators in the room also made home made items in different colours for us to connect to the message from the books. We had nutmeg, coffee, honey, dark chocolate and a few other items in jars to show the children different colours that exist.
I made sure that I called this particular child to have a close look at all these colours while I left the book open for him to look at. One can only hope that this made a huge impact on him. A few days later, he asked me the same question but in a different time. When I was away, I was told he said “black is bad” to a new child. There were conversations around speaking to his parent. I never had an encounter with him anymore till I left the center though.
It made me wonder how I would react if this was an adult. Would I speak up? Would I be able to educate them? Would I defend myself? What would I do differently? I’m aware I might not be able to change everyone, especially adults but one child at a time, we can educate about inclusion and diversity.
It’s ok for children to be curious about what they don’t know or understand. I had another child ask me why my skin was different from hers and we had such a nice conversation about it. We spoke about colours and how no two people might be the exact same colour. I asked if she has a sibling and if they looked the exact same way and she said no. She told me she liked that I looked different than her and she particularly loved my braids. She told me my hair is beautiful and she would like to have hers look like that and I told her hers was beautiful just the way it was. It makes me smile still.
We need to be prepared for situations like this. It’s sad that radial prejudice exists in the world and that children get to imbibe some of these values from the adults in their lives but we do need to be prepared and we also need to prepare our children for such situations.
I have conversations with my children and let them know that the problem is not on their side if someone thinks they are superior because of skin colour. The problem is on the side of the other person and it doesn’t diminish them or their value. It does say a lot about the values of the other person though. Different does not mean less or better. Different is just different.
How lovely would it be if we lived in a world that had everyone getting along with no racial prejudice! I’m not even black by the way, I’m brown skinned and proud of it.
As my wise daughter once said,what’s all the fuss? We all bleed red anyway…think about it, that’s a very eye opening sentence.
Have you and any such experiences? Care to share?