This is not an easy read, nor was it easy to write. I debated about posting it because it’s really not my story to tell. The only way I can share it with peace of mind is to purely tell it from a mother’s point of view, what I observe and experience. It seems like the right time to share it.
My daughter has disliked her brown skin and her black hair since about the time she could start talking. The light-skinned blond haired girls in her class got more attention. When she came home from daycare and told me she wanted “lello hair” and “white skin.” I would observe her following her white girls around in class and wanting to be friends with them, dismissing little girls with brown skin. My beautiful tiny little daughter.
My daughter is half Vietnamese, but no one places her as that. She doesn’t want to know anything about Vietnamese culture, I’ve tried. The closest she gets to Vietnamese culture is loving pho.
She asked me one time why I had to pick a dad for her that has brown skin.
Before my daughter was born, an Indian woman I worked shared a card with me that her young daughter had given her a card on Mother’s Day. Inside, her little daughter had written “Why do you have to be brown? I don’t want to be brown” in her childlike awkward handwriting. Imagine getting that message in your Mother’s Day card. I couldn’t at the time.
It was hard going places with my daughter when she was younger. She would pull close to me when we were around brown and black people and she would whisper “I don’t like their color.” Anger would bubble up inside of me. How could someone I was raising not like brown people? How could she not like her brown skin? Where did she learn that? They say racism is learned. Who taught her to not like her own brown skin?
She doesn’t seem to be so focused these days on her skin color but she still says she is ugly and she hates it when I tell her she’s beautiful. I realize lots of girls might say this no matter how much you tell them different but I can’t shake the fact that this all started with her skin color. I show her pictures of friends with brown skin and say “isn’t she beautiful? Look at how beautiful her black hair is!” and she agrees now when I ask her and it seems genuine.
My daughter never talked about how she wishes her eyes were different, or her smile, or her body. She always wished for different skin. Some children with brown skin wish their skin was white and think they are not beautiful or handsome because of their color.
Reflecting on this story and sharing it is hard because it is deeply personal. I know I’m not the only mother who has a child with brown skin who can tell this story. It’s important to make our stories more widely known, and to repeat them until we find it in ourselves to create and live by a new narrative.