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Has Your Brown Skin Ever Made You Sad?: A Grandmother's Response to a Heartbreaking Question
1/4/2016 12:21:02 PM

It was a bright November morning when Julia Davis and her 4-year-old grandson, John Christian, left a going-out-of-business sale at a major discount store. She had purchased shirts for the pre-school youngster, and a book that would help him with sounds and word parts for reading. When she told him he could select one toy that costs less than $10, he chose a dinosaur with a plastic skeleton and rubber skin that could be removed to show the skeleton. With much excitement, he told her about dinosaurs—what they ate and how they became extinct. As they were leaving the store, he showed her how dinosaurs walked.

On the way home, John Christian was securely locked in his car seat, taking off the skin of the dinosaur and putting it back on. Julia looked into the rearview mirror and saw him holding the dinosaur. Their eyes met and she smiled at him. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he said, "Gram, has your brown skin ever made you sad? Why are we brown? Why do you like your brown skin so much?" His words upset her greatly, and she knew he needed fortification for the world in which we live. She also knew that John Christian was likely one of millions of other children sharing this sadness.

John Christian's words prompted a letter which eventually turned into a book. His grandma, Julia Davis, author of the soon to be published I Like My Brown Skin Because…, does not mince words when it comes to helping children—of all races—understand what it has meant and what it does mean to be an American descendant of African heritage.

Before becoming a writer/publisher, Julia was a history teacher, and her book is essentially a history book. "Without a solid understanding of the history of African Americans, nothing about the so-called 'racial tension' today makes any sense at all—especially to children," Julia says. "And the story, although sad at times, is for the most part genuinely exciting and inspiring. It's the kind of story all children love.

"I have heard and read about parents of all backgrounds having difficulty approaching the topic of 'race.' But children will never be color-blind, as many of us wish they would be." As an example, she cites a blog she discovered while Googling "children and racism." It was written several years ago, and still comes up near the top of the Google list on that topic. In it, a European American woman wrote of her mortification when she asked her small daughter why she didn't like a highly qualified nanny, and the child replied with a question, "Because I don't like her brown skin?"

"The alternative to trying to promote color-blindness, which is impossible, is to make our children color-appreciative," Davis says. "We need not be so much politically correct as politically accurate."

Toward that end, in her book, as well as in her every-day conversation, Julia practices and advocates the following:

Avoid the terms "black" and "white" and use origin to distinguish people from one another—in this case, African Americans and European Americans. "We will never see any truly black or truly white people anyway. What we are seeing are people who originated from Africa and people who originated from Europe. We are all Americans now, but we do look differently and have developed from different circumstances. Origin is equally important in describing our development as it is our color," says Davis.

Avoid use of the word race. "The dictionary practically dismisses 'race' as meaningless," says Davis, "except in producing a tendency toward race-ism."

race 1 (ras) n. 1. A group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group. Most biologists and anthropologists do not recognize race as a biologically valid classification, in part because there is more genetic variation within groups than between them.

Thus, racism is based on supposed physical/genetic differences that science does not even recognize. "That supposition, by others, that the so-called 'black race' is inferior, is what led to my grandson's sadness," Davis says.

Do not be afraid to discuss European American privilege. "Discrimination against African Americans has a flip side," says Davis. "But history shows us that when European Americans accept the fact that they have been privileged, they have tended to work with African Americans on such things as abolition of slavery and civil rights."

Julia Davis believes that European Americans who do not want to be privileged at the expense of other Americans far outnumber the racists. "We have the numbers to defeat prejudice and its terrible limitations. We have to start by saying the right things to our children."

SOURCE: Julia Davis (Author)

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