Skin deep

I am driving the minivan. My four year old daughter is behind me, strapped into her booster seat. A purple balloon rises up from her wrist, a bottle filled with candy in her lap, her eyes still wet from goodbye tears, her voice twittering with excitement, exhaustion, and complete satisfaction.  We are on our way home from her “best friend”s 5th birthday at Pump it up.

A: “Kensington is my best friend mommy!”

Me:  “I know. You told me!”

I love talking to her when she is like this.  This time in the car becomes more special every day, now that I am working full time – now that she spends long days at her suburban pre-school.

A: “Kensington is 5 mommy! I am 4. But she’s my best friend! She’s in my heart.”

I melt when she says these things. What words will her 4 year old brain spin out next?  I ask a question, waiting to be dazzled or amused, to be impressed with her smarts, or chuckle at her silliness.

Me: “Why is she your best friend sweetness?”

A: “Because she has the same skin color as me. Can I have this candy tomorrow?”

My voice catches in my throat.  My brain goes blank.

Me: “Uh huh.”

Should I say something more?  Is it ok that she is choosing best friends based on skin color?  She has moved on to talking about The Wiggles, and something about flying to Mars with her baby doll.  But I am stuck. Skipping like a record.

Of course, I had noticed at the party. Asha and Kensington were the only non White-skinned kids there who were not members of Kensington’s family.  Both of them a golden brown tone, children of mixed parentage. Kensington’s mother African American, her father Latino.  They both played with the other kids of course. They did not band together, or isolate themselves. They did not self-segregate.

This moment is pregnant.  It has meaning for me.  We are moving to Philadelphia, exploring neighborhoods, trying them on for size, one a weekend,  our little family of four, one White, one Brown, two Golden.

Who do we belong with?  Where  do we fit? On a busy street in one neighborhood, I am the only brown skinned person I see the whole afternoon, except for the Parking attendant.  We are strangers to this town but does that mean we should feel strange?

I feel strange when I am the only brown person in the room. It’s no one’s fault. No one has to be doing something wrong. I just feel strange.  I search the room for another brown skinned person. I have done this for as long as I can remember. Then I know I am safe. I am not so strange.

Now, I know my golden-skinned girl child feels something like this too. I thank goodness for my question and her answer. I thank goodness for these moments in the car – these windows, these mirrors. I am certain now, I must find a someplace where we fit. I must find a place we all can be. Perhaps strangers together, but together, never strange.



  1. Jackie said,

    October 22, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    My own golden girls have had moments like this. We always found it useful to talk openly about these things with the girls and help give them language to express their feelings. We had a wonderful children’s book called “The Colors of Us” that talked about all different skin tones in a neighborhood–Sophie calls herself “caramel-colored” today due to that book! Good luck in your hunt for somewhere to belong.

  2. Gail T. Smith said,

    October 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Aarati, thank you for this reflection. I think of Alice Walker saying “Never be the only one, except possibly in your own living room.” I appreciate your honesty and your wisdom.

    • October 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks Gail. And it makes me feel better to know that Alice Walker has shared this feeling. Even in that, it’s nice to not be alone.

  3. October 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Lovely. Thanks for writing this!

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