Is My Dark Skin Beautiful?

What would you do if a child says to you that they don’t like their dark skin and wish it was lighter? What happens when tell you that they can’t go outside because they don’t want to get too dark? What if you notice that the children don’t play with the dolls with the dark skin because “those babies are ugly”.

These are all examples of colorism.

Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic and/or racial group. Because talking about racism and skin color is still a taboo in our culture. Educators have the most questions about what they should say if a child is ashamed of their dark skin or children are excluding other children because of their dark skin.

A good place to begin is acknowledging and understanding that colorism exist within a racist society. Next is to think of and create responses that would support children’s healthy racial self-image.

In the case of a child not liking their skin color, reassure the child that their skin color is beautiful and a wonderful and unique part of who they are. Listen to the child’s response, acknowledge that they may have seen, heard, or experienced something where they received the message that their skin color is ugly and not preferred. Let them know while some people may believe that it’s not true. Be sure that you keep the discussion conversational rather than give a lecture about how the child should “love the skin their in”. Read the child’s cues and take seriously their concerns and thoughts.

As with most ideas, these conversations should happen frequently in addition to using the environment and adult child interactions to give the direct and indirect message of the beauty and value of dark skin tones.

In our work to support children’s healthy racial and cultural identity, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Environment (Physical & Social Emotional)
    • Do you provide opportunities to black and dark brown materials, such as black play dough, black and brown building materials, dark skin dolls, action figures, block people?
    • Are people with dark skin tones the main characters of books and stories told? Are they the heroes or only the villains?
    • When looking at the pictures in your classroom do they include people with dark skin tones? Do they hold positions of authority such as doctors, teachers, or government officials? Many times dark skin people are shown in subordinate positions.
  • Interactions (What do I say? How do I respond?)
    • Who is portrayed as beautiful, pretty, or handsome?
    • Are children warned to stay out of the sun, so that their skin doesn’t become darker?
    • How do you talk about skin color to support positive racial self-image?
  • Activities (Integrated throughout the day and year)
    • Read books that directly discuss colorism and information books about skin color
    • Have ongoing conversations with children about the value and beauty of their’s and others skin color.
    • Choose and offer black and dark brown play materials to reinforce the value of dark skin tones.

These are beginning suggestions and a place to start making changes to support healthy racial development for all children. What examples of colorism have you noticed or experienced? What do the children in you life understand about how society values light skin over dark skin? What’s your plan in discussing colorism with children?

Resources:

Book: Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Holman Lynne

Book: All The Colors We Are – 20th Anniversary Edition: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger

Article: Children, Race, and Racism by Louise Derman Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, Bill Sparks

LOS NIÑOS, LA RAZA Y EL RACISMO Por Louise Derman-Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, Bill Sparks

 

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