When my nephew was barely 5, he called me into the bathroom and screamed gleefully, “Look at me, I’m white!”
He had lathered his entire body with soap: from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.
This was at a time when he was becoming more conscious of constructed racial differences. He had become aware (or rather, was made aware) that his black skin marks him as different. I’d been trying my best to have that dreaded conversation with him on blackness, to explain to him that his skin is not flawed. But everything you know about the history of racial oppression, the construction of the category of the other, the devaluation of black lives flies out the door when you face a child who’s hurting.
I wanted to shelter him from the world.
My heart was breaking, but I smiled back at him. I told him that I love his chocolatey skin – despite my discomfort about metaphors that cast black skin as devourable – and helped him rinse off the soap. I chose a book with a black protagonist for his bedtime story, despite my misgivings about the politics of representation.
That night, I cried myself to sleep.