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Note: Featured photo above was updated on July 6, 2013 from Chelsea’s wedding on August 3, 2012.
I have three beautiful brown daughters. I love their individuality; I love each of them for them. No coincidence that I had children with varying skin tones — both my parents come from families that run the gamut from ebony to tan, black eyes, brown eyes, green eyes and blue eyes. I actually married with the intent of having “brown babies” because I am on the lighter side of the spectrum and their dad is darker. And much to my delight, my daughters happen to be three shades of brown — espresso (Chelsea), cafe mocha (Taylor) and cappucino (Lindsay).
However, I was not so delighted with the conversation that I had with my eldest daughter the morning she turned 5. She was sooo excited to reach the big 5, so I couldn’t wait to hear her observations regarding her first moments of reaching her major age milestone.
Me — “How do you feel today baby?”
Chelsea, checking out her body head-to-toe — “Ummm, well, I’m still brown.”
Me — “Yes, of course you are still brown. Did you think that would change?”
Chelsea — “Yes.”
Me — “What was going to change?”
Chelsea — “I was going to wake up pretty like Taylor.
Me — “But you are already pretty honey.”
Chelsea — “No, everyone thinks Taylor is pretty, and she is white.”
My heart fell into my stomach. Just nine days earlier I had given birth to my second daughter, Taylor. Well, as it turned out, Taylor looked like a white baby when she was born. Even my husband looked at me with a big question mark in his eyes. I didn’t think a second thought, she was mine and she was his, and I was confident that she would “brown up” in time. Today there is no doubt about Taylor being a brown girl.
I felt like I had failed my beautiful chocolate girl. I loved her so much and gave her so much affirmation, I couldn’t believe that she was not happy with her brown skin. I explained to her that brown comes in all shades. We looked at family pictures so she could see that we were the rainbow coalition. She still wasn’t having it. We had to go buy some white dolls. Her beloved Daisy, the dark brown bald cabbage patch took a second chair to her new Hawaiian Barbie. (I really had a problem getting her a full-fledged white doll) Eventually I broke down and got her a few dolls with fair skin, but I just hated it.
I grew up not embracing my brownness. Sheltered from black culture and without a single black childhood friend, I was determined that my children would not grow up with the ignorance and lack of self love that I did. Thanks to my Black Panther aunt, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was trying to sport an afro. It took quite some effort for my soft hair to stand up, but I figured it out! I had a period of being the most militant person in Santa Rosa with perfect diction and a sorry looking ‘fro. Fast forward to parenthood…
My determination as a parent was to instill pride, self-love and cultural awareness in my daughters. I think I succeeded. By the time number three came around, even lighter than the second, Chelsea was a whole new person. “I hope that baby gets some color…” Today Chelsea is a 22 year old young woman who loves her black skin and her full hips. Her poetry written in her Poetry For The People class at Cal Berkeley is proof of her complete confidence in her brown girl swagger.
I love my three shades of brown — espresso, cafe mocha and cappucino.