I think it’s natural to notice when no one else in the room looks like you. When you’re the only woman, the only person underdressed or person of color. I wonder if the same rings true for my daughter starting kindergarten in a class with few students who look like her.
Growing up, there were several years in elementary school where I was the only little black girl in my class. At that age, I was living blissfully in ignorance, only noticing when someone brought that fact to my attention. Oh, and they did. It wasn’t until my teenage years and into adulthood that I realized some of the implications of this.
Now having two children of my own and a daughter who just started kindergarten, I couldn’t help but scan the class for diversity during meet-the-teacher night. While our area has a heavy Hispanic and white community, the black population is quite small. It was a similar situation when I was growing up. In kindergarten, a little girl called me a brownie and said I was ugly because of my brown skin. A few years later, the topic of slavery made for some awkward looks in history class.
I can’t help but worry my daughter may encounter some of the same, and I want her to be better prepared for those experiences than I was. My parents seemed to avoid talking to us about race growing up, but I want to embrace it with our children. I plan to teach her about our history and diversity in books.
But this doesn’t change the make-up of her school.
After the second day of school, my little girl surprised me with a story about playing teacher for her class.
“I got to teach the car riders while our teacher helped the bus riders,” she told me.
“What did you teach them?” I asked.
“I said that my skin doesn’t burn as easily in the sun because I have brown skin.” I stifled a laugh.
“Were you the only one with brown skin?” I asked her, since she had brought it up.
“Yes… Well, actually no,” she said. “One of my other friends has skin like me.”
Her self-identification has varied over the last couple of years. When she was 3, she asked why my skin was brown. Then earlier this year, she described herself as being “a little bit like everyone.”
I’m so proud of my little girl and how far she’s come. I pray as she begins this new chapter that she’ll be brave and stand up for herself. That she’ll stand up for others who aren’t able to stand up for themselves.
I pray that she’ll continue to see the good in everyone and that any negativity around her won’t darken her spirit.
That she’ll be confident and love herself.
That she’ll learn to love learning and continue to devour new information.
I pray that she’ll stand out not because of the way she looks, but because of her brilliance.
And I have a prayer for me too: I pray that I’ll continue to find ways to teach her about the world, to appreciate the differences in others and learn to love people from all walks of life.