I know you mean well. I’m not trying to put you on guard. I know you’re tired of hearing what can’t be said and I understand it’s frustrating when you’re only trying to pay a compliment. Speak freely, speak often, speak up. But because I do believe you mean well, I have a few pointers to help ensure that your sweet intentions aren’t muddled by the subtext of certain sentiments. When you meet a mixed-race kid:
- Do not make evaluative comments regarding the child’s skin tone: Upon meeting my newborn son, a woman said, “Oh, he’s light! Good job!” Listen, white people: a comment like this one trades on a history of colorism that should be long gone. Lighter is better? Uhhh, no. Lighter is an achievement? Thanks, I worked really hard to keep the UVA/UVB rays out of my uterus this time. Of course I didn’t do anything special to make one kid darker or lighter. I just gestated and boom: you get what you get. And honestly, I don’t give a rip how light or dark my children are. Their sweet little bods are about 80 different shades right this second and I love every single one. They will too if you’d kindly refrain from reinforcing the lighter = better nonsense. But feel free to congratulate me on minimizing the risk of sun damage and wrinkles in the gene pool (kidding!).
- Do not make comparative comments regarding a child’s skin tone: lighter than/darker than (or “redder” “yellower” and “brighter” for the skin-tone advanced reader) a sibling is not useful to either child. Our family doesn’t practice color hierarchy. It’s just melanin, it changes with the seasons, it varies from person to person, and life goes on. My kids don’t need to hear comparative statements from adults about where they fall in a color hierarchy and especially not how they rank compared to their own sibling. Think about your own siblings. The smarter one, the funnier one, the prettier one… it’s never good. Same principle applies here.
- The same applies to hair: hair is not good or bad. Hair is just hair, and whether it’s light or dark, soft or frizzy, straight or curly, it will look fabulous because I’m going to spend the hours (HOURS!) and dollars (many!) it takes to keep it healthy and fabulous.
- The same applies to eyes: Yes, we know it would be gorgeous if my baby had midtone skin and green/gray/blue eyes. People seem obsessed with this possibility. But please, let’s not forget the Punnett Square. And honestly? I don’t want my kids to be unduly tantalizing to child predators or creepy model scouts. Brown eyes are fine. And here’s an amazing truth: in our household, all 4 of us have brown eyes. Four different colors of brown eyes. Let’s just celebrate that.
So if all of that is too difficult to remember, here’s a simple way to boil it down: focus on the kid, not the color. My kids are hilarious and they’ve both rehearsed “talents” they like to show people. Ask them about that and I promise: you’ll forget to care which kid is lighter.