Children are funny little creatures. Most of the time they ignore you and appear completely disinterested in anything you have to say, however, sometimes they will astound you with their curious observations. In my experience, kids are particularly observant when it comes to noticing the differences in the way people look. Cue: “Mummy, why is my skin this colour?”
It appears Flump is in denial about her own ethnicity. We are brown and from the Indian Subcontinent, yet she considers herself to have “peach” skin. When one of her school friends drew a picture of her and coloured in her face with a dark brown crayon, she was unamused. She felt as if her face had been vandalised. When I explained to her that we do actually have a different skin colour to many of her friends she accepted this but quickly clarified she was not “dark.”
On another occasion, Flump very seriously and matter-of-factly told me that the new girl in her class was “a Buddhist.” When I asked her how she knew this she said it was “because her eyes are like this,” and then proceeded to stretch out the outer corners of her eyes. Oh crap, I thought. I’d better address this now before she makes a public announcement at school.
So off I went on my rather clumsy attempt to explain cultural diversity to my then 6 year old daughter. It went along the lines of we are different but we are the same and should treat everybody kindly and equally. We may look, dress or even eat differently but we are all human beings with feelings and should never judge a book by its cover. She took it in thoughtfully and then proceeded to tell me that one of her friends at school was most definitely “a Hindu” because she was going to India for a holiday. Right. Okay then.
From a very early age, children notice gender and racial differences and will often try to identify with one particular group. I find it interesting that my own kid, whilst quick to notice and categorise the differences in others, does not seem to recognise her own ethnic or racial difference. Of course she is young and still navigating her way through the minefield of cultural identity. She will get there in due course. There is a certain beauty and charm in her innocent curiosity and observations, but I am mindful that this gets steered in the right way.
When Flump finally realises that she does, in fact, have “dark” skin I want to make sure she understands there is no negative connotation. It’s never too early to start exploring race and culture with your child through books, art and discussion. When the penny finally drops for Flump, she will know that being dark is just as beautiful as being peachy.