The girls and I were watching a cartoon the other day. At one point, my older daughter gave me a puzzled look and said, “hey, why is everyone the same color?”
“You mean, their skin?” I asked.
“Yeah.” Wow. I was dumbfounded. “Hmm, I don’t know. That’s strange, right? Not at all like at school?” She nodded. She went back to watching the show.
Indeed, every character in that cartoon was white. (Well, actually, they probably only appeared to be white — but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
So at this point, I am mentally patting myself on the back. I win at parenting! I have taught my daughter to be race conscious and to value diversity! Or have I?
I grew up in Southington, a smallish-mediumish Connecticut town that was made up of primarily white families when I went to school in the 80s and 90s. White people as far as the eye can see, much like the town I currently live in. These towns have grown somewhat more diverse over the past few decades, although I say this anecdotally. When you’re a white kid who goes to school with mostly other white kids, you just sort of internalize that as normal. That’s why I think racial diversity at school is so important. You don’t want to encounter someone who looks different from you for the first time at college, or on the job, or wherever your adult life takes you. I’m not even completely white — I’m half Filipino — yet I didn’t really understand that until I was much older, sadly. Like most kids, I was just pleased to fit in as best I could, and whether I was aware of race or not, skin color was certainly one of those ways to fit in, however mindlessly I was doing it.
My daughter goes to a magnet school that is a lot more diverse than what she would encounter in our local school district. She is learning that it is normal to be around a lot of people that look different from you, in different ways, all day long. I am very glad for this. But if we hadn’t attained a spot at this magnet school through the lottery system, where would she have learned this diversity? Would I have gone out of my way to make sure she has different cultural experiences, hears mothers talking to their children in languages other than English, sees people who defy racial stereotypes as well as those who seem to fit them … all while learning how to think critically about race? No, probably not.
For whatever reason, I have never taken up the flag for race issues. It’s not that I have never cared to do so, it’s just that I feel ill equipped to do so. I’m not so well versed in the language and terms used to define and contrast the concepts that come to mind when we consider race. Gender, LGBT issues? Sure, no problem. Children with disabilities? Yeah, I really need my girls to meet a student with autism, with dyslexia, in a wheelchair. That’s on my mind quite a bit. But race? Race is like, I am waiting for my kids to happen upon it. I don’t need to explain it; it’s just there. The magnet school is my passive parenting approach when it comes to this. So instead of patting myself on the back, maybe I need to spend more time actively thinking about how my own words, actions, and views are shaping my children’s ideas about race, and a number of other traits.
Oh, in case you didn’t figure it out from the fan art at the top of this post, the cartoon in question was actually an anime, Sailor Moon, from the 90s. The side note on this above was that, in anime, although we Westerners perceive the Japanese-drawn characters in the Japanese-produced show to be white (like many of us), the Japanese viewers of the shows actually perceive the characters as Japanese, like themselves. So blonde-haired, blue-eyed Usagi Tsukino up there is just your typical Japanese school girl. (And yes, I know, I take back my Parenting Win now that I’ve revealed that I let my preschoolers watch anime, short-skirted sailor suits and all.) It’s so interesting that of all the cartoons we could have been watching, this is the one my daughter picks to engage me in a discussion of race.
With that said … she only said they were “all the same color” … she never said they were all white.
In fact, despite the title of this post … it occurs to me now that she may not have even said “color.” Did she, in fact, say something like “why does everyone look the same?” She may have. I don’t remember. But maybe the one who introduced the concept of color into the situation was me.
This picture happened a while ago, before the day she made the comment to me:
You know what, I am not even going to interpret which race Mackenzie intended Sailor Moon to be in this picture, if she even intended one at all. She has also colored a picture of Doc McStuffins as a white girl, and while at first I was horrified, I really think that my kid is just very creative and thinks any person can be any color. She also draws blue and green people, after all. I don’t think my daughter thinks too hard about race. She’s not color-blind, a concept that used to be seen as something to strive for, but has more recently been discarded in favor of being color-aware. I think my daughter is aware, but doesn’t care. That sounds something like what I’m supposed to be teaching her — but then, I’m still not really sure.
My daughter’s favorite show right now is My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. In that universe, everyone is a pony or some other form of animal. The ponies are pink and yellow and green and so on. My husband commented to me privately that it’s obvious that the majority of them are “supposed to be white,” however. I sighed. I know what he means, and you would too if you watched the show. Now that is going to be a tough conversation.