Technically Brown

TW: anti-Black sentiments, racism, colorism, anti-immigrant sentiments, suicide, brief mention of Freddie Gray

My daughter TJ and I are Hispanic. We’re light-skinned and have curly hair. TJ’s hair curls into ringlets. My curls are a bit messier. Many times we’ve been told that while it’s a shame our hair isn’t straight, we’re lucky it isn’t “bad hair”.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, I always heard people talk about “morenos” in a negative light. When I moved to NYC several cousins warned me to be wary of Black men. My totally not White grandfather used the “n” word against African-American people. He used it against Afro-Latinos. His mother was not light-skinned and she had what he called “kinky hair” but she was loved in our family. He and his mother were brown but they weren’t THAT dark so they were OK.

When I was in elementary school in PR I was made fun of because of my nose. I had a mess of curls and a big nose. To my classmates I was “negra”, clearly from the Dominican Republic. I obviously must have sneaked into the country and lied about being Puerto Rican. There was another classmate who was dark skinned. He was so bullied he contemplated suicide. We were in fourth grade.

When I took my daughter to PR to meet my family, I heard a lot of back-handed compliments about her “white” skin and light-almost-blonde hair. Such a ‘shame it’s so curly’, but thankfully she’s “tan blanquita y linda” (so white and pretty). They were shocked to learn that her father is half-Dominican. “Como puede ser si es tan blanquita y rubiona” (how can that be when she’s so white and sort of blonde”?

I thought perhaps naïvely that I wouldn’t have to talk to my five-year-old daughter about racism just yet. In a previous post I wrote about having to explain to my daughter about oppression and some of the types she faces. We had to have that conversation again when her teacher’s White “cop friend” paid a visit to her class. Having the cop visit wasn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was that he handcuffed the kids. Her class was made up of primarily children of color. This was not long after Freddie Gray’s murder in Baltimore. It just seemed like this cop was normalizing this to these kids. I was upset and TJ asked why. “But we are peach, mama.”, TJ said after I explained systemic and institutionalized racism in the most age-appropriate way I could think of. “Yes, but we’re technically Brown too”, I said not sure if any of this stuck.

Once again, these will be ongoing conversations which will be expanded as she gets older and better able to understand. She’s only five yet she’s already had to learn about sexism, racism, misogyny, and classism. She’s already experienced them and will continue experiencing them.

I feel so powerless. All I can do is continue talking to her and make sure I arm her as best I can with the knowledge and self-esteem to know she isn’t limited by her gender, race or social status. All I can do is hope that as she gets older that previous sentence becomes true.

Technically Brown

Trying to Raise a Socially Conscious Child

The sex talk is not the hardest talk I’ve had so far with my kid. That conversation has been the easiest, actually. Everything was straight forward and easily explained.

Explaining poverty, racism and sexism along with other types of oppression is way tougher. How do you explain to your child who  is five years old and falls on several axes of oppression about the oppression they will face? Oppression they are facing right now?

Recently, my kid and I were reading a book about different types of dwellings around the world. One picture showed favelas in Brazil. Another showed a house made of scrap in India. My daughter noticed these houses weren’t as nice as some of the other pictures; like the farm house in France. When I explained a bit about poverty, she asked why those people were poor.
If I start explaining poverty, I have to explain all different forms of oppression. She asked why we live in a shelter; that would lead into a conversation about domestic violence, rape and systemic oppression. This is just focusing on the USA. If I expanded the conversation to include Brazil or India, then we get into colonialism and how capitalism needs poverty in order to thrive.

Another time we were playing an online doll dress up game and I made my doll Black. She said the doll was ugly. I asked why she thought so. She couldn’t articulate why. This is why it’s so important for diversity in children’s toys and media. She’s already getting the message that Black equals ugly/bad.

I explained why what she said was hurtful. I told her, in age-appropriate terms, about racism and how racism kills. I reminded her of a conversation we had about a month before:

In her kindergarten class, she was taught about MLK Jr. I doubt they went into much detail, other than him “having a dream”. We were in a store once, and she saw a special edition magazine about the 60’s. She recognized his picture, so she flipped through the magazine and saw that picture of him lying dead in the balcony of that hotel. She asked what happened to him. I once again explained in age-appropriate terms. She seemed to get it and apologized.

At school, she’s dealing with a bully who used ableist and misogynistic slurs against her. I explained to her what those words meant. This kid is a few years older, he obviously has no idea what those words mean but he knows that they’re used to hurt women and disabled folks. He knows they have power.
The school seems to be laying the responsibility of not being bullied on my daughter. Which once again takes me back to the conversation of systemic oppression. She’s a girl, she’s a POC (person of color), she’s of low socio-economic status; the school most certainly won’t take her seriously.

This is all heartbreaking and defeating. She’s seen so much already and I cannot shield her forever. These are ongoing conversations, that will have to be added to as she gets older and better able to understand.

Even as the sex talk gets expanded it will never be as difficult as every other conversation will be. I was lied to. The sex talk is a breeze.

Trying to Raise a Socially Conscious Child