An Adoptive Parent Writes:
My wife and I are adoptive parents of two children, ages 7 and 4. Our 7 year old is a biracial male that we adopted when he was 4months old. Our 4 year old is Caucasian, and she also was adopted as an infant. We reside outside Washington, DC in a community that is predominantly white. We have our 7 year old in a predominately white Catholic school, and he is doing very well. He is active in the local sports team, (again they are predominately white).
His skin tone is best described as brown. He recently asked me if the inside of his hands are the color that the rest of his body should be. I answered the same that I always answer when he asks about his skin color by saying that the color of one’s skin does not matter, what matters is what is in inside.
How should I answer these types of very difficult questions, and how can I prepare him to handle the confusion and questions that he will encounter in the future? Than you so much for your insights.
John Raible Answers:
Here’s what I would say in response to his question:
“It sounds like you think some kind of mistake has been made, like your skin should be a different color. God/Mother Nature/The Great Gene Pool in the Sky made you just the way you are supposed to be. And you are beautiful just as you are! You are a little darker than me, and I am also beautiful. You are a little lighter than (I’d mention a family friend or relative), and he or she is also beautiful just the way they are. In fact, we are all beautifully different colors because that’s what makes the world so interesting and beautiful and exciting.”
At another time, for instance, when brushing his hair or helping put lotion on his skin, I would start another conversation: “Your skin needs this lotion to keep it looking beautiful. You are growing up to be such a handsome, smart, and strong black man. You always want to look your best. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t handsome, intelligent, or strong, because you are. African people, our ancestors, had to be smart and strong to survive slavery and the Middle Passage and racism. A lot of us didn’t make it, but you did, and I did, and we are strong and beautiful. And intelligent!”
Another time, let’s say when you are reading one of the many black books that you own or borrowed from the library, you can comment on the images on the pages. “This handsome man kind of looks like you, doesn’t he?” Turn the page: “Look at that strong man. I’ll bet you will be as strong as him one day.” “How about this one? Do you think he liked to play (mention your son’s favorite game or sport or musical instrument) when he was your age?” The point is to keep positive messages flowing about skin color and connect it to strength, beauty, and intelligence.
If it sounds like you are making a big deal out of it, you are, and you should be: Skin color IS a big deal. Children of color are bombarded daily with negative messages about their worth, and it is up to you to counter those negative messages with positive ones. Watch how positve, culturally aware black parents interact with their kids, too. Allow your son to spend time with these families, both in your presence and without you. Take him to a black barber shop where he can get lots of attention from older black men. He is noticing his skin color and attaching feelings to what he notices. NOW is the time to be proactive in your parenting of this young black male.