- July 21, 2021
There are a lot of things that come to mind when we think of the colour black. Straight off the bat are death, evil, and bad omen. With such symbolism, is it any wonder that black people have also been associated with equally negative connotations.
From social media to advertisements to mainstream media, the message is the same: The lighter your skin, the more beautiful you are. And of course, children as young as three years have picked this skewed perception of beauty. It’s hardly surprising that kids in kindergarten ridicule their pitch-black classmates here in Kenya, yet we are in Africa!
The doll test
The 1940s doll test by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark was recreated in 2016 with Italian kids. Shockingly, the results that the Clark’s got then in America are the same results that new tests revealed almost eight decades later. In the test, children are given two dolls, one is black and one is white. They are then asked which doll is pretty, nice, good, smart, and which is bad and ugly.
The first time the Clark’s introduced the experiment, the majority of the children (both black and white) consistently pointed to the black doll when asked which doll is ugly or bad. They picked the white doll when asked which one was pretty, good, nice, or smart. Interestingly, when asked why the black doll was bad, the kids answered: because it was black.
The interview became even more heartbreaking when the kids were asked, “Will you show me the doll that looks like you?” Having labelled the black doll as bad and ugly, you could see the sadness in the black children’s eyes when they pointed to the black doll.
The doll test has been reenacted over and over again in different parts of the world, and the results are almost always the same.
Strategies to help children embrace diversity
The colour of our skin says a lot about where we come from, our heritage, and our culture. Our diversity is beautiful. Thus, it helps to teach children from a young age to embrace this diversity without judgement. Parents and guardians can play a central role in this process through these strategies:
Human beings come in different shades from blue-black to pale-white and everything in between. Normalize the fact that there’s nothing wrong with being “too black”.
Something interesting happened to me a few years ago when I relocated to Nairobi from Mombasa. When I went back visiting, a concerned friend observed, “You’ve become too black”. Not sure what to say, I asked, “What’s wrong with being too black?”
She mumbled something under her breath and quickly changed the topic. Clearly, that statement came out unconsciously. Like many of us, she, an adult, perpetuated the notion that particular shades are not desirable.
To minimize this bias-ness, you must educate yourself. Expose yourself to people of different races. It’s only then that you can teach your children about our differences and similarities without shaming anybody.
Remember, your beliefs often come out in very subtle ways. Be conscious when talking about people around your children. Preach water and drink water.
Expose them to colour diverse media
Media creates a significant impression on children. Their reality is shaped by what they read, watch, and play with. When they see themselves represented, it opens up their world to the possibilities out there.
Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon, Moana, and The Croods; are just a few of the animations in recent times that embrace diverse racial representation. Though it may pass as something insignificant to someone unaware of the impact media plays in shaping our reality, this is a huge milestone. When media is diverse, children can see themselves represented. They slowly pick the message that there’s nothing wrong with their skin colour. They grow up seeing the different traits that the characters play despite their race and can disassociate good or bad from anyone based on their colour. Instead, they’ll rely more on character.
Sulwe depicts the struggle that many children silently deal with. Getting your child this book can help them see themselves beyond their skin colour. Besides, they’ll know that they are not alone. It reaffirms to them that despite their shade, they are still worthy.
Initiatives like Umba Creations hand make a wide range of dolls to help children embrace diversity. Their goal is to teach children that physical appearance is just that, physical. Our biology is the same. What makes a person good or bad is their character.
Deliberately exposing children to the diversity of humanity helps them embrace who they are and be tolerant towards others who are different. In the end, you’ll be uplifting their self-esteem and moulding better humans.
Affirm your child
A parent is the first person that gives a child their identity. Let the child get it from you that they are worthy no matter how they look. Educate them about melanin. When they have a simple understanding of pigmentation, it will minimize the shame associated with being too black or otherwise. Be the first people to help your child be grounded in their identity that the noise from the outside won’t shake the foundation you’ve built.
Also read: Melanin Too Dark? Where Is the Lie?
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