Monday, August 1st, 2011
Mama, What Colour is Me? How My Child Defines Race
Disclaimer: Please note that this piece is not intended to make light of the serious issue of race/ethnicity. Its aim, however, is to explore what happens if we allow ourselves to look at skin colour afresh in the way that children do.
I am black. My skin colour may be brown but as far as talking about race or ethnicity or whatever the current politically correct term is—I am black. My daughter is not. I will come to her exact description later but her father is white so that might give you a bit of a clue. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually in favour of political correctness. I don’t think that people should have the right to call anyone anything they want without due consideration to how the other person may feel. I remember having this debate with a well meaning person I met on the train in the U.K, who referred to me as coloured. When I politely told them that I preferred to be referred to as black, they refused to do so feeling that coloured was a more respectful term. Don’t I get to decide how I am described?
So, when my daughter (then aged three) started to ask questions about why we were not the same colour, I took the same approach and instead asked her what colour she thought she was. She said orange. I was not at all expecting that answer so my immediate reply was, “Orange is my favourite colour” (which it is along with purple). “You’re my favourite colour too,” she responded.
My daughter being orange gave me a totally different view on the world. When we were on a safari, I pointed out something that I would have never otherwise noticed—lions are orange too. She is almost an identical colour to some of the maneless lions that we encountered in Samburu National park in Northern Kenya. It was not just about the lions; many other animals and plants in nature are orange and we also began to talk about orange people she knew. There were cousins, friends and some well known people too: Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and even Barack Obama.
All we have to do now is get the rest of the world to catch on. At a recent wedding, I was talking to a fellow guest who was about to remark on my daughter’s skin colour. He began to say, “Because she is…” when I completed the sentence for him with the word “orange.” The conversation took some unforeseen turns. Later in the evening the same guest returned to ask, “You do realize that your daughter is not orange?” He had clearly been thinking about it over supper. I couldn’t help but laugh at the reply. “Really? No one had told me.”
© 2011 – 2013, JC Niala. All rights reserved.
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