At the supermarket the other morning, Marcel and I had the following exchange.
Marcel: Mommy when people look at me do they see my brown skin or my white skin?
Me: What would you like them to see?
Marcel: My brown skin of course!
Me: I love you so much, and I love your brown skin.
Marcel: Because I love my brown skin so much too, that is what people will see first!
To me the magnificence of this exchange is manifold. Obviously Marcel is not only thinking about his own racial identity, but he is articulating it beautifully, and clearly confident in his own assessment of himself and his world. Over the last few months he has been more and more interested in talking about who in the family is more brown or less brown and why. My big drive has been to let him know how rich and gorgeous his brother’s color is, and how Marcel’s creamier brown skin is also enviable and lovely. Marcel is also trying to understand on some level how Sammy came from Tea’s tummy (Sam’s first mom) and how Marcel came from mine, and they are brothers and we are a forever family. Throw the donor in there, and you have a lot for a four year old to grab on to.
At first Marcel was not “seeing” himself as brown too, and was much more sure he looked just like me. So the exchange above tells me that my work to balance out his perception has been landing. This is also a result of the increased time outdoors, and Marcel’s corresponding darkening color, which I keep calling attention to in an enviable way. The kid loves a little competition. I was pleased that I answered his first question, with a question, because it allowed for me to uncover a little more deeply his thinking, today.
Of course the real celebration in the exchange is how he equates self acceptance, and love for who you are as the reason others would be drawn towards that thing about you too.
I have a feeling a certain remarkable set of teachers he works with have more to do with that strength in himself than me. As always I have a lot to learn from my kids for sure.
Alvin Ailey’s REVELATIONS from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.
Robert Battle’s TAKADEME from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.
On a similar note, last week Shrek sent Sammy and I to see the performance of a lifetime: The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Although I had looked into getting tickets weeks before, the price was out of my reach for the whole family (not having kids prices at these events still puts me in a twist) so I grieved it, and let it go. Then Shrek suggested I take Sammy by himself, and found great seats at a reduced rate (he just finds a way, always). So Sam and I got decked out and went on our date, while Shrek and Marcel went to the movies.
The moment the first brown skinned male dancer came on stage Sam’s eyes were the size of apples. He looked up at me and whispered; “Mom there are men?!?” When I smiled and shook my head, he followed with; “BROWN ones?!?” He sat in his seat CAPTIVATED for the entire show. The slower pieces, and the hip hop ones, the spiritual ones, and the New Orleans ones. He was RIGHT THERE (OK the mints purchased at intermission helped). Then, all the way home he danced. DANCED. (We live close enough to walk to see the performance–city living has it’s advantages!) And my favorite part? How after he came home he pranced about the house, in just his pajama bottoms with no shirt-just like the dancers. It was as if suddenly his beautiful brown skin, fit, muscley and growing body was transformed into those remarkably striking, powerful, elegant, athletic and BROWN dancers too. This morning, he walked into the room, took of his shirt and began to eat breakfast. OK Alvin, shirts on at the table buddy, I said. Oh come on! He retorted, smiling.
Minor qualm: where were all the boys in the audience? Brown boys and white boys? What a powerful example of masculine grace and beauty. I realize that I had my specific reasons to get to that show and yes the tickets were prohibitive in cost. But for all the brown and white skinned girls in that audience, I am sure as many boys would have been transfixed as Sammy was. What keeps other parents of boys from getting their sons to an event like that? Is dance theater still that gender regulated in our mainstream culture? If ever there was an opportunity to change that, it would be a show of this caliber on so many levels.
Do you have some loving on your BROWN stories you;d like to share here? Your brown could be another color, or ethnicity of course. Your story could be about gender, sexuality, or just some way that you witnessed growth in yourself or your family that you’d like to put out there for the world to see! We need more and more chances to do that! Have a great week, and thanks to my new followers on facebook, twitter and here.