Ask ARP: Does my child wish our family were different?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

I’m writing to ask for any insight or similar experience or simply your perspectives.

This last weekend, we were reading bell hooks’ Homemade Love, and my nearly four-year-old daughter remarked that she wanted to look like Girlpie, and she wanted me to look like Girlpie’s mama and her papa to look like Girlpie’s papa.  As you may know, the family members in Homemade Love are all of a clear, obvious African-diasporic phenotype.  In our family, I’m a mixed blood who could pass for white; my daughter is a mixed blood who could pass for not-Black and possibly for white, depending on the context, and her father, my partner, is a Black Indian who most folks see as Black.

I’m not sure if my daughter was expressing a desire to look more typically Black, to have a “matching” family, to have a mama who “matched”, or all of the above.  My uncertainty is increased by her
specification that she wanted her papa to look like Girlpie’s papa given that they both appear Black, though Girlpie’s papa is of a lighter skin tone.  Nonetheless, I’m trying to understand what she was
expressing and to address that in the most helpful way going forward, and I could use some feedback, please.

At the time, I asked her why she wanted to look like Girlpie and have parents who looked like Girlpie’s parents, and she said she just did. I didn’t press the issue, and we finished reading the book.  She has
several books with obviously mixed families, and she has in the past expressed a desire to have more obviously mixed families in our lives.  We responded to that by taking her to the mixed/transracially
adoptive local playgroup and asking that the queer parents group we attend {which has a lot of mixed families} have more scheduled time when the families were interacting all together instead of the kids
and parents separate most of the time.  She hasn’t remarked again on “wanting more families like that”, so I’m hopeful that what she was looking for with that request is being provided.

This is rambling and unfocused, but I’m just asking for any insight/perspective/experience ya’ll might share that might help us navigate this particular aspect of the anti-racist parenting journey . . . thank you.

 Janine D.
 Oakland, CA

From the Editor:

Ah, four year olds. Sometimes what they say means everything, sometimes nothing at all. Makes it tough on those of us who love them. We’ve got to decipher which comments can be safely ignored and which require action. 

With the context you’ve given, I tend to think your daughter’s comment was a moment of passing whimsy. Girlpie’s family does look fun. Perhaps they simply charmed your little one. I would file this one away in your memory bank. If, in your daughter’s behavior, you see consistent evidence of her wanting to be different or wanting her family to be different, then you can find more ways to help her celebrate the skin she’s in and her family’s diversity. Until then, I recommend taking it easy. 

Four year olds are smart little folks, but they are early in their development. I think parents have to guard against too quickly reacting or overreacting to the things little ones say, thus creating problems and hang-ups where there were none.

Readers, what do you say?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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