Today, during babysitting, my friend’s daughter (who’s 4) asked me if I could help her “become white and beautiful” while holding up a loofah which she thought would scrub her brownness away. Upon bringing her into my arms, I realize that she actually – physically – has been scrubbing herself; there are little patches of deep irritation, redness and some nicks on her chest and arms. It reminds me of myself around the age of 7.
Every single child of color I know has done the same at least once in their lives. Bleach, scrub, boiling hot water, skin-lightening creams, avoid the sun and avoid bright colors that accentuate the melanin in our composition – anything to gain proximity with whiteness and, naturally, the social lightness of being.
It isn’t an easy conversation to have with a child - after all, many of us still fail to explain the sadness of it as non-white adults. You cannot articulate the origin of something like that to a four-year-old. You cannot turn around and say, well, “At various political junctures, our ancestors were taught to violently despise their own skin color in hopes of being lighter, which would endow them with better social status, mobility, power and the sort. It has been exacerbated ever since and your nimble frame cannot carry the burden of this knowledge for now.” Neither can you repeat Rilke’s words on loving darkness and shadows instead of the conventional light and white because Rilke is a nobody to a brown child holding a loofah. And Rilke wouldn’t mind knowing that.
But you can spend the next 5-6 hours playing in the sun on the grass somewhere in Brooklyn, counting the little beauty marks on each other, sharing stories and jokes and how one cloud looks like a turtle to you but to her it’s an upside down bowl, telling her that she’s perfect the way she is and that no amount of scrubbing can undo the utter, blinding brilliance of her being.
(via takingbackourculture )