By Davina Hamilton
As an adult, being black can have its challenges. From day-to-day prejudices like having shop assistants follow you around in stores, right through to the countless incidences that have spearheaded the international Black Lives Matter movements, it can be hard out there for us.
But these are grown-ups' issues. Largely speaking, race is not something that tends to bother very young children. So when I discovered that my four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son were the only black children in their new preschool, I wasn't sure how to feel.
To give a fuller picture, my family and I are from England and we're currently residing in Canada. We visited Toronto on holiday last year and enjoyed our stay so much that we returned earlier this year.
This time, it would be for a longer stay in order to get a sense of whether we could move to the city for good. Part of that was getting the kids enrolled in nursery -- or preschool, as we've gotten used to calling it.
Dropping them off on their first day came complete with tears, as they were apprehensive about being left in this new environment. With my kids bawling to my left and preschool teachers reassuring me it was "OK for the children to feel sad" to my right, I didn't pay too much attention to the other children who were milling around.
It was only as the days went by that my husband and I were able to observe the other children in attendance. "I don't see any other black kids," my husband whispered to me when we dropped the children off one morning. I did a subtle scan of the little faces I could see and I too couldn't spot any black children.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and the preschool hosted a party for the children and their parents. We arrived optimistically, and as our kids ran around playing, my husband and I, once again, did the subtle scan of the hall. There were no black children or parents.
At one point, I turned around swiftly when I spotted a brown face in the corner of my eye. It was my son running towards me, yelling, "I need to wee!"
It was conclusive. We were the only black family in attendance. And despite the friendly and welcoming nature of the other parents and the preschool staff, something irked me about my children being the only black children there.
As an adult, I know my reflections about race and identity are valid. I'm well-versed with racial prejudice, so I know it exists.
But my reflections are based on my experiences. My kids didn't care about race -- or so I thought until one day when my daughter remarked of her and her brother:
"We're the only ones at nursery with brown faces."
I'd assumed she hadn't noticed. She hadn't mentioned it before. But clearly, while enjoying her daily escapades with paint and Play-Doh, my daughter had quietly observed that she and her brother were the only black children at preschool.
I remembered a conversation I'd had with a fellow black mom, whose seven-year-old daughter is the only black child in her year group. "It's not a problem for my daughter, so I don't make it a problem," she told me.
It seemed like an entirely practical approach to take. Why create problems where there are none, especially for a child?
But I also remembered the many articles I'd written and discussions I'd had about the importance of black children being able to see reflections of themselves, whether in books, on television or in day-to-day society.
The notion that kids don't, or shouldn't, see colour is a farce. Rather, I agree with U.S. writer and university professor Jennifer Harvey, who, in a 2014 blog for HuffPost, argued that it was an entirely good thing for children to notice that popular Disney character Doc McStuffins is black.
In the blog, titled "Why We Need to Talk About Doc McStuffins and Race," Harvey argued that encouraging colour-blindness in children is a "dead end" ideology, which is "based on the degrading assumption that there must be something 'wrong' with 'colour.' If there wasn't, why wouldn't we want to notice it?"
Ultimately, kids do notice skin colour and there's nothing wrong with that. It's the perceptions they form about skin colour -- sometimes through what they're taught by adults and sometimes through what they soak up subconsciously -- that can become problematic. And what I don't want is for my children to subconsciously develop hang-ups or see themselves as an oddity because they are the only ones at preschool with brown skin and afro hair.
Of course it is, first and foremost, the job of my husband and I to ensure that our children don't consider their blackness a burden. As such, we speak positively about our "brown faces," while also letting our kids know that people come in all different colours and we can all be friends.
Additionally, we make an effort to incorporate books with black characters into our children's reading collection. I even wrote a children's book myself. Titled Riley Can Be Anything, the book delivers an inspiring message via its main character -- a black boy -- and a diverse range of supporting characters; the intention being to create a book that would allow my children to see faces of different races, including their own.
As my kids get older and prepare to start school, I will endeavour to place them in an environment where they're not the only black children in attendance. Ultimately, I want them to mix with children of a variety of races, so that they grow up to view diversity not as an oddity but rather their normality.
Originally posted by Huffington Post in April 2017