I was in elementary school the first time I remember being picked on for my brown skin. A little girl with blonde pigtails and blue eyes who I thought was my friend told me I couldn’t play with her because she thought I was Black. It was then I realized my skin color was a barrier many of my friends and family didn’t have.
From then on I decided to avoid all clothes that made my skin color appear darker. When my friends gathered around at sleepovers and painted their nails purple, yellow, and blue I cringed as I looked at the bright colors they chose for me and how it clashed with my summer tan. The second I got home, I raced for the acetone and wiped it off before anyone else could see.
I was in elementary school the first time I remember being picked on for my brown skin.
It wasn’t that I thought my skin looked bad per se, I just thought it didn’t look right. My black hair, dark brown eyes, and skin the color of fresh coffee with a few spoons of cream made me stand out. And not for a good reason.
“Where are you from?” strangers asked me as I shopped with my mom in the mall.
“What do you mean? I’m from here,” I answered.
“No, I mean where are all you really from? What country are you from?”
Until I mentioned my parents—who are white—I was othered for how I looked. The flip in people’s behavior was impossible to ignore as suddenly, as soon as I mentioned my white parents, I became somehow more worthy of their respect and kindness. It seemed my presence immediately made sense to them and I was welcomed.
By the time I was in high school, I was aware that I fit in with the kids of color who always seemed to be grouped together. Their sense of camaraderie and care was something I yearned to have. Girls who looked like me giggled as they welcomed me into their circle.
“Hey, chica. Your hair is gorgeous. Did you know it could curl it easily?” One said to me after school in choir practice.
“No, it just always gets tangled,” I laughed.
As I looked cautiously up into a face that mirrored my own, I finally saw how brown skin could be beautiful.
When I went to college and was exposed to a more diverse group of peers, it opened my eyes to finally acknowledge my skin color was never ugly to begin with; I just never had enough positive experiences with people who looked like me. I started to love sitting in the sun in the summer and testing how dark my skin could get.
But to be honest, I did not feel comfortable in my own skin until I had my children. As my sweet little boys came out of the womb sharing my complexion rather than my red-headed husband’s, I knew it was important I learn to truly love and appreciate my brown skin.
When I went to college, and was exposed to a more diverse group of peers it opened my eyes to finally acknowledge that my skin color was never ugly to begin with; I just never had enough positive experiences with people who looked like me.
I started by expanding my wardrobe to use colors I was afraid to wear in the past and then expanding to bold colors of nail polish to push my comfort level. Meanwhile, I surrounded myself with friends and a diverse moms group who opened my eyes to the beauty of being a Woman of Color.
It may have been a struggle to get to a good place with my brown skin, but it was an experience that prepared me to raise two little mixed race boys. For parents with Children of Color, here are three ways to help them love the skin they’re in.
1. Start from a young age
Studies show that Children of Color prefer white dolls over brown, because they view white as more beautiful. This is one of the reasons why it is essential to teach children that brown is beautiful from a young age.
Give them specific compliments, read books and watch movies or shows with characters who look like your child. Make sure to make positive comments about the characters, because its easier for kids to see themselves and base their confidence off of how other people who look like them are treated.
2. Make sure they have racial mirrors
Racial mirrors are people in your children’s life who are the same ethnicity. They are important because they allow your child to be around people who look like them. Seeing friends, teachers, and others with the same or similar skin tones enables children to become more comfortable with the way they look and more likely to think they are beautiful too.
3. Acknowledge colorism
Colorism is a discriminatory practice where lighter skinned individuals are treated better, which often stems from the white standards of beauty that are dominant in the United States. To combat this, be honest with your children about the history of how people have been (and still are) treated due to their skin tones, but reinforce that it does not make them less beautiful or worthy.
Remember to reinforce all shades of skin are beautiful and that more melanin does not make them less than anyone else. Sesame Street recently introduced two characters who openly discuss skin color in a way easy for preschoolers to understand. Don’t forget to allow your children to ask questions and open up a dialogue so they are comfortable enough to talk to you about their feelings.
Additional articles and resources for parents:
- Teaching My Black Sons: The Affirmations I Use to Create Positive Identity
- Not Sure How to Talk to Your Kids About Race? Here’s How to Start
- Raising Anti-Racists: How We Began Talking to Our Toddlers About Racism
- Sesame Workshop’s Coming Together Racial Literacy Resources