The Night My Daughter Told Me She Would Look Better With ‘Blonde’ Skin
BY DEBBIE KING, SUPAFITMAMA
May 25, 2017
That night, my heart ached like never before.
I arrived home, feet weary, with the work day still fresh on my mind. Moments later I was curled up beside my daughter, head nestled atop her pink pillowcase and feet nuzzled beneath a warm bear. We spoke softly to each other, as she enlightened me with the colourful details of her school day. Then without warning, questions about a classmate's suntan took a sharp turn arriving at, "Sometimes I think it would look better if my skin were blonde."
Wounded by her string of words, my heart plummeted to the pit of my stomach.
I was angry that the world — our world — would lead my innocent daughter to feel this way.
"Why do you think it would look better, sweetie?" I asked gently.
She shrugged, "I just think it looks better for doing things I want to do like being a chemist, or a baker or a singer."
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My tired mind launched into overdrive needing to craft a pivotal response. So many thoughts swirled through my head. I spewed out affirmations in a fit of countermeasure. Then this — with a firm voice and her chin fixed between my thumb and forefinger, I said:
"You can be and do anything you want. Your skin colour has nothing to do with what you choose to be or do. Nobody gets to tell you what you can or cannot do because you are a girl, because you are black, because you wear glasses or anything else!"
Where her impression of the favour of "blonde" skin originated wasn't even a question. I'm no stranger to and am long past debating the prevalence of stereotyping and racial omissions in our western culture. My attention now, is on navigating this reality as a parent.
As the night grew darker, a kaleidoscopic design of anger, resentment, doubt and responsibility swirled within me.
I resented having a conversation that most white parents wouldn't have to tread at all.
I was angry that the world — our world — would lead my innocent daughter to feel this way. For me the joy of life is in being loved, giving love and exploring, if not challenging, what is possible. How dare anybody corrupt the belief and vision of any child.
On top of my anger, I resented having a conversation that most white parents wouldn't have to tread at all, let alone in those final trying hours of the day. I resented that this was my problem to manage while others took a second turn through Goodnight Moon.
Then came a layer of doubt. Because we parents aren't hard enough on ourselves already, right? Have I not done enough to expose her to black role models? Have we been remiss by not decidingly filling her world with more diversity? Or in not sharing early lessons about the scientific likes of Marie Daly and Mae Jemison?
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More than my heart was in need of repair. Out of that moment, came an intense sense of duty. I must serve as a role model, not only for my daughter, but for my community at large. Now more than ever, I saw the need to pursue my dreams, to move into uncharted territory and to be a name others could include among their bookmarks and bookshelves.
The next morning, I relayed the conversation to my husband and saw my heartache reflected in his eyes. We spoke about our feelings and the innocence lost. We talked about preserving and fostering our daughter's magic. Our hope is that she grows to be a loving person who pursues her purpose and dreams wholeheartedly, without any sense of racial limits.
Time has eased the pain of her words, but that night, I have never forgotten.
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