Last night I was in bed watching Men in Black II (because I just love that Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith!) when my daughter came in and climbed into bed next to me. After explaining that this was a scary alien movie and she was watching at her own peril, we settled in for "inappropriate movie time."
About ten minutes passed and then Sam asked, "Why is that man's face brown?"
Say what? It took me a second, but with a sinking heart I realized she was talking about my man, Will Smith. I pretended her question made no sense with a, "Whaaa....Huh....hmmmm?"
But my girl is a tenacious little thing. "That man's face is brown. Why is it brown?"
I tried to deflect with, "You've seen brown people before. Don't you have people with brown skin at your school?"
She said, "Yes. My friend is brown."
A sigh of relief. "Well, there you go." Back to Men in Black.
"Why is his face brown?"
Can't a jurl just watch her movie in peace? But once I accepted that I was going to have to address this I got kind of excited. Here's where I can teach my daughter that all people are created equal and demonstrate to her that her mother doesn't have a racist bone in her body! So, feeling like I was about to impart some major wisdom and shape my little girl into the angel I want her to be I began to lay it down. True that.
"Well, Sam, people come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes because God likes variety. You know, like you love pink and purple..."
She rudely interrupted my wisdom with, "I don't like brown."
"I know. There are some colors you don't like and some you do, but God made every color and He loves them all. Some people have brown skin, some people are kind of pinkish like us...." For some bizarre reason I could not say "white like us". It felt like saying we were white was akin to saying "white is right." Let's just add this to my list of crazy.
Sam wasn't buying what I was selling anyway. "We're not pink!"
"Well, then what are we?" Like she knows, please.
"We're white girls!"
"Uh, o.k. I guess you could say we're whitish. Did someone call you a white girl?"
"Yes. I did."
"O.k. But you need to understand that even though people can look different on the outside we're all the same on the inside, right?"
"I'm tired of this alien movie. I'm going back to my room."
She slipped off the bed and headed back to her room. Perhaps I overshot it a bit. Maybe a "that's the way God made Will Smith" would have been sufficient. As she scooted back to her own digs I realized that this subject, the subject of race, was trickier for me then if she'd asked me where babies come from. I would not hesitate to explain how a man and a woman create another human being, but ask me why Will Smith is brown and I start with deflection, morphing into evasion, and ending with overkill.
Why is this so uncomfortable for me? Maybe it's because I don't believe I'm truly prejudice free. I think few people in the world can honestly say they have no prejudices- myself included. We grow up with them and somewhere along the way they become our own, but I want better for my children. I want my kids to see the circumstance of an individual, not their appearance. I don't want to be the one to limit their ability to love others, to empathise, and form opinions based on things that actually matter.
I think letting go of my own prejudices and giving my children the gift of seeing others with their heart will be challenging. But, seeing how I loves me some Will Smith (and Denzel), I think I'm up for it.