The Colors of Us (an experience and a review)

The Experience

Last week at an indoor playground, kids pushed, hit and spit at my son, B.  Each time something happened, B came over to me and said “Someone _____ me.” D and I believe in self-advocacy, so I responded each time by saying, “You can tell him, ‘Don’t ____ me,’ and then walk away.”  And he plunged back into the fray until the next incident.

But when we got in the car and D joined us, B told him about what had happened.  “They didn’t do that to me!” J chimed in.

I realized what would have been patently obvious to any black parent, but had been obscured from me by my privilege: those incidents likely had a racial component. The transracial parenting training kicked in. Researchers say that minority kids with white parents often internalize racism more than their peers with minority parents–if their white parents don’t help them name their experiences.

So I gulped.  And I  knew it was up to me and D.

I glanced in the rearview mirror at my beautiful boy and asked the question. “B, do you think they did that because you’re black?”

B nodded, said “Yeah,” and hid his face.

Shit.

The Review

We talked.  Or rather D and B talked; I was driving.  Since then, we’ve been having a lot more conversations about race: some scary and heartbreaking, some uncomfortable, some pretty normal (for us).

But we’ve been helped by this book.  One of the tensions our kids see is the difference between the colors (the actual colors) of skin–and the symbolic names attached to those colors, not to mention the meaning of those symbols in the public square.

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz addresses that tension by framing skin color in terms of an artist trying to mix paints. It’s a little corny, I’ll admit. But it works because we meet all of Lena’s friends–each one a different shade of brown, including the “white kids,” who are “peachy tan.” The four of us try matching our skin to the different browns in the book and when we find one that matches we say, “Like me!”

Our conversations about what it means to be “black” or “brown” are not all so lovely, especially after our most recent experience. We work hard to be honest with our kids about what their racial identity will mean outside of our family. But our boys are asking for this book twice a day since we checked it out from the library, and we are more than happy to oblige.

PS) Adoptive Families magazine has a wonderful column on transracial adoption issues for those interested.  A sample here and here.

PS) Also here is a list of other children’s books for multi-ethnic families

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3 thoughts on “The Colors of Us (an experience and a review)

  1. Ali, I loved this book! The kids and I read it tons. I’m thankful you’ve found something that feels helpful. Can I just say again…great job parenting through a tough situation.

  2. Ali, I’m so thankful you found a resource that feels helpful. We loved this book. The kids and I read it often. And once again, I stand in awe of you and David and your ability to intuitively parent through a tough situation.

  3. It’s funny – I was just telling my dad the other day how grateful I was to have parents who will walk with me through the hard stuff, even when it is shameful and heartbreaking. Thanks for being that kind of parent. You’re boys are truly blessed.

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