Help children accept their skin color when yours is different

Recently my daughter asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks.

Her father is Asian and I am white. She asked me if I would have preferred a white child.

In response, I quickly ran through a range of emotions.

Shock first.

Then sorrow. A sense of parental failure – absolutely love it so much. Had I somehow failed to get this through?

Then a few seconds later, a burning desire to try to solve this problem with her, but not knowing where to start. How do you help your children accept their skin color when yours is different?

Dr. Michelle Aung Thin says that “the skin is the skin is the skin” and it’s what we project onto it that gives it meaning.(

pexels: Keira Burton

)

“I think the damage is done”

A friend of mine, Priya *, 42, had a similar experience but turned around. She came back from a facial and asked her daughter what her skin looked like. “Not good,” replied the 5-year-old. “Because it’s brown.”

Priya was born in Australia. His parents emigrated from India. She is married to a Caucasian male and describes her young daughter as someone who “looks like a fair-skinned Mediterranean”.

Once she got over the shock, Priya tried to figure out what was deep in her child’s views. After some more research, her daughter told Priya that she found the skin and brown hair unattractive, and the fair skin and blonde hair was beautiful.

“Back then, she watched a lot of Barbie cartoons on TV… Her TV viewing is now very regulated by me,” Priya explains.

“[But] I think the damage is done. “

Despite Priya’s daughter pride in Indian culture – she adores wearing Indian clothes, eating Indian food, and celebrating the Diwali festival – she has repeated her feelings about her mother’s dark skin several times since.

“She also sometimes says that she hates her curly dark hair and wishes it was straight and light,” Priya says.

“I told her that beauty comes from within and to love yourself as she is.

“She knows all this, but despite it all, the insidiousness of Western beauty ideals manages to prevail. It is impossible to avoid the tide.”

How we use the skin as a “support” for running

Dr. Michelle Aung Thin is a Métis Identity Expert at RMIT University. She is Anglo-Burmese and has a son whose skin color is also different from hers.

“What you have identified,” she said, responding to my stories and those of Priya, “is that this is a complicated and confronting experience and involving a parent as well as a child.”

“As a society, we use ‘skin’ to replace race. So the ‘color’ of our skin announces our racial, national or ethnic identity. But the color of the skin is deceptive. And mixed race skin. , even more .

“Half-breeds undermine the idea that race is defined and unchanging. As Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has related, there is this fear that a half-breed parent could produce a dark or light child.

“Race, something you might think fixed, is blurred. It’s that uncertainty that some people face.

“I think one of the reasons people may be faced with this confrontation is that they think a mixed race child might not fully belong. Where and what should they call their home? It’s a question painful. “

When I asked my daughter what motivated her initial question, she couldn’t answer precisely. But she said no one had intimidated her.

Priya tells me it’s more complex than a simple incident: “Society is constantly giving us the message that brown skin is ‘unattractive’ or ‘unattractive’ and this is conveyed without a word but without subtlety to our daughters. . “

One thing that can help, Michelle says, is, if possible, fostering strong and rich bonds with both sides of the family to help children learn about both cultures and take ownership of their history.

A woman in a bright red t-shirt and glasses leans on a pillar.
Dr Michelle Aung Thin says that perceptions and conversations about skin color with children can be “a complicated and confronting experience, and concerning a parent as well as a child.”(

Provided: Julian Shnider

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Dealing with these issues is normal

Trish Prentice is a senior researcher at the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute. Her recent research focuses on the experiences of children who grew up in families of “mixed marriages”.

On a personal level, her son is of Australian-Egyptian descent and has an Arabic name.

Trish says there are obstacles to be expected when raising a Métis child.

“We need to try to put aside our emotional responses as best we can at the moment and try to see this as a normal part of development, even though it is painful to see our children struggling with really personal and emotional issues. “, she says.

“It is even more complex for children who are visibly different from what is perceived to be ‘the norm’, whether in terms of skin color or facial features or hair texture / color.

“[You can] tell your child, “There are many children who have similar problems. You are not the only one going through this “.

A man sits on the sofa with a young boy on his lap for a story on how to help children come to terms with their skin color.
Addressing identity is normal for Métis children and while it can be difficult to watch, it is important for parents not to let their own emotional responses get in the way. (

Pexels: Keira Burton

)

Positive points of the struggle with identity

Trish shows how Australia’s demographics are changing and society is becoming even more diverse.

She notes that about 1 in 3 marriages are between people born in different countries – and this can lead to significant benefits.

“The kids I interviewed… all said there was a lot of good to having a cross-cultural background,” says Trish.

“Even if their career has not always been easy, they appreciated the assets from a mixed background that were given to them.

“They found it easier to relate to people of different cultural backgrounds and many of them had more cultural knowledge than their peers and better knowledge of international and global issues. These strengths really are. important to Australia in the future. “

What it looks like with me

For my part, I have found Trish and Michelle’s expertise on this issue to be deeply useful in my own parenting.

I have tried to put my own emotions aside and come to terms with the idea that my identity and my background are not the same as my daughter’s.

I’m trying to normalize their exploration of race and identity. I let them both know, as Michelle and Trish suggest, that many Métis children have similar issues and that they can come and discuss them with me whenever they want. If they choose.

And finally, although their Asian grandmother is far away and unable to travel here, I try to keep them as connected to this aspect of their heritage as much as possible with postcards and homemade video calls.

* Not his real name.

Ginger Gorman is an award-winning social justice journalist and author of the book Troll Hunting.

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