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Talking to Kids about Skin Color and Colorism

The author’s book ‘How Our Skin Sparkles’

In a world where fair is beautiful and dark is exotic. Where fairness creams sell like hot cakes all over the world, it is important that we teach our kids how to perceive themselves confidently. 

When my book How Our Skin Sparkles first came out I had a mom say, “You are putting ideas into kids’ heads! They don’t need to think about skin color or race. Kids do not see color!”

To which I responded, “Of Course they do! As surely as they see the rainbow or the colors of flowers. They do not let it affect them but with the influence of time, peers and content consumed, that can change quite quickly.” 

When we do not talk about something, we create a void that can be filled by anything!

How can I say so with confidence? Because of the times, my children came home talking about how they were the only “brown” kids in class.

The first time it happened, my son was four. He came home and told me, ”My friends and I put our hands together and they said I was different. Is that true?” I responded with the obvious, “Of course not! You are all the same. It is our actions and choices that define us.” 

And the next day, I researched the science behind skin color and sat him down to discuss it. He was well equipped to answer any questions after that. 

The most interesting aspect though comes later, when I told this incident to many of my desi mom friends. All of them surprisingly had heard their children and their friends comparing themselves to friends/family in different ways. I asked them what they had told their kids and many just laughed it off or said, ”It’s just something kids do.”

The second time it happened was when my daughter put her hand next to mine and said, “You are darker than me.” 

And it led to a similar conversation about skin color.

Yes, it is something kids do yet it is important that such moments be used as a learning opportunity. 

Around the world, we have adults who hold within them many insecurities. These get embedded into them at a very young age, though small or big acts by those around them.

Indian culture especially is notorious for people casually commenting about others’ height, weight, skin, or worse. It could be an off-hand remark or a joke. It is almost as if having your appearance commented upon is a rite of passage because it is bound to happen.

“She’s so fair. She will get any boy.”
“Don’t stay out in the sun. You will get darker.”
“Gosh! She has such great features. Wish she was a little fairer.”
“Yaar! I have become too dark.”
“Use this pack to get fairer skin.”

We often ignore or brush under the carpet these comments because we fail to see the far-reaching consequences of their momentary impact.

Now, my children are on the fairer side of the Indian color spectrum. Yet, my son was quite curious to learn about what makes his skin tone different from his own sister. After not finding many books that are based in science, I finally wrote the book as an important introduction to the world where many feel all Indians are of a similar skin tone. In fact, after the release of my book, some desi moms commented that the kids on the cover are not dark enough to their liking.

There are biases everywhere. People assume a certain section of people has to be of certain skin color. People from North India should be fairer and those from the south would be of a darker tone. Skin color is an amalgamation of many aspects of science, culture, and heritage.

It is not just where we come from that defines us but also our own character. There is no set formula for how someone is going to be or is. Skin color is not a sign of the kind of person someone is.

It is more important now than ever that we talk to our children early about body positivity, confidence in self, and inclusion.

How do we achieve that though?

  • Discuss the science
  • Have age appropriate conversations
  • Keep the conversation positive 
  • Diversify your content 
  • Point out incidents and examples of racism/colorism
  • Be consistent with the above conversations 

Remember, identity is not defined by your skin color but it is certainly a part of us and the first impression we make on people. The first instant someone sees us, is the moment we are boxed into a category. 

Help your child discover themselves beyond their skin color. How they look is where they came from but eventually it is their actions which shape who they become. 

Aditi Singh
Aditi Singhhttps://raisingworldchildren.com/
Aditi W. Singh is an authoritative voice on cultural sensitivity and self-empowerment. After founding the RaisingWorldChildren.com global platform, she became the multi-award winning author of multicultural books for parents and the Sparkling Me children's books series. Aditi also contributes to various global publications and helps diverse voices write their own best sellers to empower families everywhere.
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