At nine months old, our son experienced his first serious cold and developed breathing problems. After two months of doctor’s visits, x-rays, and blood tests he was placed under observation at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. They discovered and removed a piece of plastic from his throat. Even after a full recovery, this ‘injury’ threw off his speech and language development.
“Sissy is pink”, he commented as we colored at the kitchen table one evening. Our two year old had spontaneously spoken. Sharlene and I gave each other the look. The look that communicates, (1) did he just speak and (2) did he make his first observation…about race?
“Ummm….what is Sissy?” Sharlene asked.
Holding up the pink crayon and then continuing to color. “Pink.”
“What color are you?” I asked.
“Brown.” he said picking up the brown crayon.
“What color is Mommy?” Sharlene asked.
“She’s pink!” he said smiling with dimples.
“What color is Momma?” I asked pointing to myself.
“Brown.” I admit that this conversation left me with a mix of emotions. My baby was talking and he identifies as brown.
At two years old, I understood his identification of race was as simple as his understanding of gender, hair color, and the parts of the body. It is simply a category to label the world around him. For me, it is the first time I recognize that he identifies as brown, like me. Up until that point, he had been everything Sharlene. The dimples, cleft in the chin, and beautiful eyes were all hers. His bubbly personality, top of his lip and belly laugh all ‘came from her’.
“You’re brown. I am brown.” I said.
My son is brown, but lighter than me. We have no biological connection, but a similar biological background. At six there is no denying that he and I share a lot in common. He has a level of sarcasm my family can be proud of, he places a lot of pressure on himself to do things ‘right’, and he always wants to help others. We have the same eclectic taste in music and love to read. When we go out as a family, I am always identified as his mother first because we look alike.
Racism is an everyday experience, as is sexism and homophobia. I am fortunate to co-parent with a woman who lives to address these issues. Because she is ‘pink’, our kids will have the support of someone who ‘believes’ and recognizes that racism is an issue in this country. Because I am ‘brown’, our kids will have the support of someone who attempts to remain compassionate in the midst of it. To quote Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
My son continued his observations of color through several conversations. We are proud that he is still aware and comfortable talking about ‘color’. As his social world grows, we encourage his personal value and cultivate safe spaces to create positive stories about himself. I read more and more about raising kids of color than I ever had. Our hope is that when our kids encounter a world that places value (positive and negative) about their color, gender, and family; they will use the storage of resources available to families.