Black and white and pink and sparkly

5 Mar

Until a couple of years ago I lived on London’s Brick Lane – an area that the term ‘melting pot’ could have been invented for. After living there for ten years we moved to St Albans to be closer to work and family. I remember walking around in the first week thinking that something was odd. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then it dawned on me – everyone was so WHITE. I found it unnerving. A bit like I’d moved somewhere that had yet to catch up with the rest of the country. What worried me most of all was that I’d be bringing up my children somewhere where they might only learn about different cultures and religions from books.

Three years into Snorbens life and thankfully those early impressions have proved exaggerated. It’s not Brick Lane but it’s hardly Midsomer (no John Nettles certainly) or Norfolk (ahem, no offence intended – I did live in Norwich for three years so feel somewhat qualified …). I was relieved to find that my daughter’s nursery wasn’t solely full of little white, middle-class faces (again, no offence intended for I fit that social bill). Great, I thought, she’ll grow up knowing and, most importantly, accepting that everyone is different.

Now here’s the rub. Yesterday, whilst looking at a picture of the whole cast of Disney princesses, my 3-year-old daughter announced that she likes all the princesses except Tiana (The Princess and the Frog for all you Disney luddites). And why doesn’t she like Tiana? Because “she is dark”. Because “she is different to the other princesses”. Gulp. Trying to explain that everyone is different is tough when a child knows no better than to base their likes and dislikes on such things as colour or quantity of sparkles. In her eyes a pink princess is better than a brown one. Fact. She doesn’t mean anything by it. It doesn’t make her racist. But her comments still made me quake in my parenting boots.

I’ll be doing my best to bring up my children so that they know better than to treat people differently because of creed or colour. As for the immediate future, if my daughter repeats her comment I hope that it will be taken for the little girl’s simplistic analysis of the world that it is and not for anything more sinister.

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6 Responses to “Black and white and pink and sparkly”

  1. anna tims (@ageingmatron) March 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    It’s natural for young children to prefer the familiar – or the things and people that most reflect themselves. I’ve had similar issues with my children and suspect that a child in India, shown a picture of three Indian princesses and one white one would prefer the former. It’s our job as parents to steer our children away from natural prejudices against Otherness. Tolerance, like selflessness, is something that has to be taught painstakingly. None of us are born with it.

    • Crumbs & Pegs March 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

      Well put. An awful lot of responsibility for parents but that’s our job!

  2. Muddling Along March 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    I think it’s very normal for them to want the familiar – Bigger went though a phase of pointing out ‘blue’ people, not helped by the fact her keyworker at nursery is light ‘blue’

    We explained that people come in all colours but are the same on the inside and seem to have moved on – has she seen the Tiana film? Mine love that she is a frog and the whole story

    • Crumbs & Pegs March 9, 2012 at 12:30 am #

      Thanks for comment. No, she’s not seen the film – will try and get it for her. Pocahontas and Princess Jasmine didn’t come in for the same comments as Tiana so all completely arbitrary!

  3. James Wilson March 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    I wish I could make a funny remark or appropriate witticism. Sadly the subject precludes it. Nowadays schools are required to report any such remark – even by children under the age of ten – in somewhat Orwellian fashion to the authorities. One result has apparently been that the children tend now to separate in play groups along racial lines, to avoid any chance of getting into trouble for the wrong sort of remark – not exactly the result intended, one suspects.

    Have a google search for ‘The Myth of Racist Kids – anti-racist policy and the regulation of school life’ by Adrian Hart for some sobering accounts …

    As the parent of two mixed-race children I have to say that I have occasionally pondered the new world order of British race relations. One thing I have to say is that my experience is the opposite of that of Anna Timms above. Neither of my children and none of their friends has ever made a racial remark, and even when I’ve asked them if there’s any difference between person X and person Y racial characteristics have never been the first response, and usually not a response at all (they usually just make some sort of inference that I’m asking stupid questions, which may be true on several levels …).

    Maybe it reflects the fact that they attend an inner London school, which is pretty mixed (probably 60% white, and a majority – not the same majority though – of whom are middle class). Maybe in the case of my children it derives from their parents being of different races. Two of my cousins are ethnically half Chinese, and said that it never occurred to them that their parents were different (“of course not, because they’re your Mum and Dad”).

    Either way it makes me wonder if going overboard trying to prevent attitudes about race inadvertently creates them instead …

  4. tatia March 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Oh my, I wonder what my parents (one white & one Greek white) did that I always felt black was much more beautiful. I even insisted as a child on having black dolls, I had a whole family with children. I don’t think I was considered to be a politically correct child just as I would have not been consider the opposite if I had preferred white dolls … and I don’t think my parents did anything, just one of the choices children make … I do remember watching the Cosby show a heck of lot! I am sure Eliza will grow up loving people of all backgrounds, you wait till Bruno Mars comes knocking on your door for her 🙂

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