We come upon this conversation often – once or twice for each of the many half-finished coloring books hiding in all corners of the house. Once or twice for each broken or lost crayon. Lily colors her pictures with shades of purple, green, and orange. She colors little girls and princesses and fairies with hair that is sometimes red or brown or yellow.
But then she comes to the skin, and she asks me to help her find the peach crayon. My heart catches in my chest as I help her look through the box. I see the peach crayon in the corner, but I pull out a brown one instead. “How about this one?” I ask.
“Well, sometimes I like to color princesses with peach skin,” she says. She tilts her head and considers the tan or light brown or chocolate crayon I’m offering. Sometimes she takes it. And sometimes we find the peach.
I know that there is nothing wrong with coloring her characters with peach skin. But it worries me that that is her go-to color; her default. I worry about whether she sees her own skin color as a backup choice or second best. I want to shield her from those thoughts. I want to make sure she sees how incredibly beautiful she is. I want to make her see herself through my eyes. But I don’t know how.
When I see white supremacist demonstrations in the news, I sometimes wonder whether I should talk to the kids about it. How can I explain that there are people who will look down on them, and harass them, and maybe even hurt them because of the color of their skin? Will they be better prepared if I warn them in advance? How can I willingly expose them to a truth that could be so damaging to their young, impressionable minds?
But today, as I watched the events unfold in Charlottesville, I realized how incredibly naïve I am to think that I get to choose whether they will be exposed to racism and hatred. I am not in control of this story. This country is not as safe for them as it is for me. These are facts that I still don’t know what to do with.