A mother and daughter of colour laugh together


I Must Be a Role Model for My Daughter of Colour

Mar 26, 2018

“I wish I had blond hair,” my then-eight-year-old daughter sighed.

Something in my gut clenched as I recalled feeling the same way throughout elementary and high school. Blond hair, blue eyes and light skin were all the things I believed were more beautiful than my own black hair and darker complexion. My thoughts were the product of many things, but here are a couple of thing that stand out: I was an avid reader of teen magazines which, in the '90s, portrayed a more homogenous beauty. The most popular girls in every grade in elementary school also fit that mold. In high school, there were a few girls who were part of the “in crowd” who were not white, but they belonged to the “exotic” category. The exotic look is anything not white but still fits the standards of European beauty: straight hair, striking eyes, full lips and makeup that made them look fairer than they were.

If you are thinking, "wow, she really dissected those girls to bits," you are right. I did. Unfortunately, many girls dissect themselves into body parts that they then compare with the dissected body parts of others. And yes, it’s every bit as macabre as it sounds.

Related Reading: Why Racial Colour-Blindness is Not For This Family

I didn’t imagine that my children would feel the same way about themselves that I did. But in that moment, when my daughter uttered those punch-in-the-gut words, pieces of the puzzle began falling into place. I saw that the main character in her two favourite TV shows were both white. The only non-white characters in those shows were secondary and minion-like. One of them was a caricature of an Indian person, complete with the accent. Just as when I was a tween and I had the all American blond bombshells — Sweet Valley High's Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield — to read about every night, my daughter is immersed in books about people with whom she cannot identify, from the way they look to the food they eat to the values of their homes.

Brownness isn’t just a skin tone. It’s how you perceive the world and how you believe others perceive you. And within this identity, there is a range of experiences. I have never spoken to my children about how my brownness plays a role in my life. I have never said that even as an adult, in some situations I automatically assume the inferior position, keep my head down and assume people think less of me. Or that I wonder, on occasion, if my white friends think I am imagining what are very real experiences for me.

Brownness isn’t just a skin tone. It’s how you perceive the world and how you believe others perceive you.

I have kept that from my children so that I don’t shove my own lenses onto them. But it’s amazing that, when I listen to my daughter tell me about her brownness today, a few years after the “I wish I was blond” statement, there are so many similarities. It’s even more amazing that I am afraid of talking to my kids about being brown because I think I’m doing something wrong. Because I think that others might see those conversations as perpetuating the idea of race and colour differences. Like, somehow, I should be sweeping all this under the rug instead of being a safe place to land when things get confusing.

In exploring this parenting-a-brown-child business, I’ve come to realize that I need to be an advocate for a healthy relationship with brownness. I must not simply counter the ideas of our skin colour being associated with terrorism, awkwardness and inferiority — it’s imperative I celebrate every successful, creative, intelligent, hard-working person of colour.

Related Reading: In This Family We Speak Aloud That We're Black and We're Proud

While I promise to seek out books written by and about people of colour, I will also tell the stories of people who are doing great things or who are simply showing up in this world despite the difficulties of doing so. I have many examples of friends and family members who are thriving entrepreneurs, changemakers and all-around great human beings who my children can spend time with and envision themselves being like.

Most importantly, I can be that person for them. I can show them that my brownness has never held me back from aspiring, achieving and dreaming.

Neither should theirs.

Article Author Taslim Jaffer
Taslim Jaffer

Read more from Taslim here.

Taslim Jaffer is a freelance writer, writing instructor and blogger based in Surrey, B.C. Her stories have an inspirational bend whether she writes about parenting, activism, literature, travel or lifestyle topics. An avid journaler for almost 30 years, Taslim teaches writing for healing and memoir writing in community and rehabilitative settings. Life is good in Surrey, B.C. with her husband and three children. Read more of Taslim’s thoughts on www.taslimjaffer.com and say hi on Instagram and Twitter.