By Ambata Kazi-Nance, Guest Blogger
My son and I were having dinner a few nights ago when he started talking about his school day.
“Eloise gave me her skin, Mama,” he said with a laugh.
“I’m sorry, she did what?”
“Her skin, her pink skin.”
Now, being the mother of a brown boy, alarm bells started ringing loudly in my head. Part of me has been preparing since the day he was born—for the day when he came home emotionally bruised from his first confrontation with racism. Thoughts and images of a white child making my son feel inferior because of his brown skin immediately flooded my brain.
“We were sharing skin,” he said with glee. “She gave me her pink skin for my cheeks, and I gave her my brown skin for her cheeks.”
I looked at his little smiling face. Two four-year-old children: one black American, one white and Asian American; played a game—a skin game. They pretended to share each other’s skin. In a different time or in a different place, such a game couldn’t be played. It’s small I know, but such experiences can and do shape the future for children. Stereotypes are born out of ignorance. They perpetuate fear of an unknown and contribute to racial and cultural isolation, creating invisible borders. But when we have these interactions at an early age we are better equipped to identify those stereotypes and fight against them.
My hope is that as my son and his friend grow into adults they will remember that game they played and remember the joy they felt in sharing their differences.
My son and his friend’s skin game is Martin Luther King’s dream come true. His dream isn’t just about erasing differences or creating a color-blind individuals. It’s also about creating a society where differences are appreciated for their strengths and contributions.
I am both optimistic and afraid for my child and all our children growing up in our current society. As hard as we work to build a promising future for our children there are forces working equally hard to destroy them. My husband and I are raising our son to treat people as individuals and to be confident. We want him to have a clear understanding of himself. We want to prepare him to confront racism and ignorance without losing his sense of self or becoming angry and bitter. People often say we have to live in the “real world,” which is true, but we must also live with the vision of Dr. King and all freedom fighters for a world where all our children can thrive.