Skin Deep

She was three years old at the time. We were watching Frozen…again. Out of the blue, during one of the Elsa scenes, she turned to me and said, “I look like her.”

It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a challenge. It was a statement of fact.

Except she didn’t. At all. So naturally, I said, “No, you don’t.”

She disagreed. I disagreed back. And so we went. Back and forth. I forget how it ended. Who won, who gave up, etc. But one thing I am sure of is that she was just as brown-skinned and black haired as me by the time we moved on to other topics, and remains still. She probably forgot about it all within seconds. I, of course, continued to be bothered by it. Why is this little habesha girl so convinced she looks like Elsa? How much damage is growing up in a country where she sees few reflections of herself doing to her?

a784cc9cf1c411e33d7dd849d5e2df87--light-shades-elsa-frozenAlarm bells everywhere, I tell you.

Years go by. Well, 2 years and change, to be exact, and I tell this anecdote among a group of adults during a discussion on the effects of racism on children. I told it as an example of early-onset-effect-of-racism-on-one-particular-child.

That’s when one of the women in the discussion (white, in case inquiring minds want to know; Jewish, in case those inquiring minds like specifics) said to me, “Maybe she meant I’m beautiful like her.

Oh shit.

That hadn’t even occurred to me. If that was the case, the little girl was much more sophisticated in her thinking, more profound, more wise, than I gave her credit for. And that’s not a farfetched idea. After all, during her Doc McStuffins phase, this little girl never said to me, “I look like her”. Why? Because, intelligent person that she is, she didn’t see need to state the obvious. But when it came to Elsa, she must have felt it was a point worth making. She needed to say: even though mine and Elsa’s colouring is different, our beauty is the same. It just came out as: I look like her.

That’s some deep stuff yo! (Do people still say ‘yo’?)

And there I was, old fart, with my perceptions made overly literal by too many years on this sunless side of the planet, drilling into her head that she doesn’t look like her. Which probably translated into her head as: No you’re not beautiful.

Holy crap! She was saying, in three-year-old-speak, I’m beautiful like her. And I, in thirty-something-year-old-hear, heard I’m white like her. So I said, No you’re not white like her. And she heard…No you’re not beautiful like her.


This where the authorities confiscate my backstage pass to the lifelong show called Raising Children.

Like I said, the little girl and I dropped the subject, with me thinking: oh poor child, she’s so mentally colonized already. And the child probably thinking: oh poor old person, she’s so beyond colonized.

But thankfully, based on what I know of this little girl so far, it doesn’t look like I did any inadvertent damage to her self-esteem or altered her understanding of beauty.

With most anecdotes, you kind of know what reaction you will get each time you retell them, because your perception of the situation was pretty accurate to begin with. No matter how many times you retell it, there’ll be only subtle variations in your listeners’ responses. But once in a while a listener gives you a strikingly different interpretation of the situation that takes you for a brain-spin and reveals a lot to you about yourself & about the characters in your anecdote. More than you’d like to know sometimes. So, what’d I learn once I stopped spinning? Just because a kid’s vocabulary or ability to express herself is at a three year old level, that doesn’t mean her thoughts are skin deep.

So the next time she makes a statement that sounds like an adult-trap, I’ll think twice before responding, and maybe even first, carefully ask, What’s your point, EXACTLY? What do you MEAN mean?

…Speaking of Doc McStuffins, listen to comedian W. Kamau Bell’s bit on Doc McStuffins on his Netflix special Private School Negro, around the 7 minute mark! lol’s for days!

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