Lucretia Berry • 2
“Mommy, today at school, I learned that we are all shades of brown!” our preschooler announced at the dinner table. I perked up and leaned in to listen. She matter-of-factly explained, ‘Daddy is a little brown, you are really brown, and I am medium brown!” I was ecstatic! I could hardly believe it.
You see, years before we had children, my husband and I considered and contemplated how we would equip our children to navigate our hyper-racialized society. As children, Nathan and I were given very different tools for navigating race in America. Nathan, is White, was raised in small-town, Iowa, and growing up had little exposure to People of Color. I am Black, and was raised in the South by parents who grew up in Jim Crow America. So, most of my inter-racial experiences with White people occurred in classrooms only. Nathan and I met at Iowa State University when he and his White friends integrated my historically Black church. The church’s vision was called BIO, an acronym for Becoming Interracially One. Bio also means “life.” Our pastor loved powerful acronyms!
Breaking racial, cultural, and religious barriers to support the church’s vision bound Nathan and me to an even greater vision for our future. Because of our education and shared, lived experiences, we were not naive about the harmful narratives, conjecture, and racial prejudice that would bombard our children’s lives. Before our children were conceived, we were the objects of all kinds of racial speculation. “Who will your children play with?” inquired a concerned adult. I understood that in her context, Black children play with Black children only, and White children play with White children only. I respectfully responded, “Our children will play with whomever they want to play with.”
We understood that our multi-ethnic children would need to navigate their interracial social context in ways that Nathan and I, as children, did not have to. We wanted them to understand how though they had a dad and mom, like every human being, society would consider them a mixed exception to a racial-purity fallacy. We knew people would ask, ‘What are you?’ We knew that some White people may see them as Black and some Black people may consider them ‘not Black enough.’ We contemplated how we would instill a sense of belonging to humanity whether or not they were rejected or embraced by a racial group. We wanted them to know the essence of their personal identity – who they were, and Whose they were. When polite society inevitably inquired about their origins, we wanted them to understand that they were fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image.
Anecdotes like ‘Mommy is chocolate ice-cream, Daddy is vanilla ice-cream, and you are chocolate-and-vanilla swirl,’ leave no room for recognizing our racial reality, so we excluded them. Our children deserved more than oversimplified metaphors that reinforce a Black/White binary. Through many conversations, Nate and I drafted how we would teach our children that skin tone is biological, but race is not. We even considered how we would carefully teach them the history of how race was constructed in America without giving them the impression that Black people are without hope and White people are evil.
We knew that we didn’t have all the answers and we couldn’t anticipate every awkward racial encounter. But we wanted our family and our home to welcome learning, conversation, and growth. We wanted to normalize the diversity in our family and in humanity, while also acknowledging that race was designed to place value on our differences. And guessing that our children would be like their parents, having friends from various backgrounds, we wanted to normalize a sense of belonging amid differences.
So when our preschooler used ‘brown’ to encompass our various hues, we embraced it. ‘Yes, hues of brown!’ I agreed. Without hesitation, I explained how melanin is brown; and how the amount of melanin we have depends on where our distant ancestors lived in proximity to the equator. “Daddy’s ancestors lived further away from the equator. My ancestors lived closer to the equator.” We also nurtured understanding about ethnicity and culture. From that point forward, we described people as ‘brown like.’ For example, our preschooler described one of her friends as, “brown like me, with straight black hair — perhaps her ancestors are Chinese.” Admittedly, her explicit descriptions were a lot more helpful than describing someone using a racial category only.
Our explicit, healthy, life-giving lessons and conversations became a beacon of hope for friends and neighbors. Moms, especially, reached out to me to help them move beyond the colorblind approach, which had deprived them and their children of basic understanding and connection. Moms wanted to know how to nurture their children’s natural curiosity without perpetuating racial division. I was more than happy to pour from our family’s cup.
I continue to marvel at the courage of every mom who decides to grab her children and step beyond the empty chasm of colorblindness. Learning leads to connection and confidence, which is refreshing. I am encouraged that what I thought was for the love of our children, has multiplied for the love of all children.
May our collective perspective and body continue to heal and recover as we embrace that we are many hues of one humanity.
Hues of You: An Activity Book for Learning About the Skin You Are In offers a smart and honest starting point to help you have natural, effective, and meaningful conversations about skin tone and race. Divided into four main sections — Hues of You, Hues of Your Family, Hues of Your Ancestors, and Hues of Your Friends — each page offers space to explore identity in a variety of social contexts, so that you are empowered to openly recognize, embrace, and honor God’s multi-hued world.
Incourage is excited about this new book and is giving away FIVE copies! To enter to win a copy of Hues of You, leave a comment on the story I shared, We are Many Hues, but One Humanity by March 3, 2022.
Find more learning support for cultivating competence and confidence through Brownicity’s Kids & Family lessons.