Race Awareness: How My Three-Year-Old Figured Out She’s Brown
I’m convinced that my soon-to-be four-year-old daughter has been here before. She often says remarks, retorts, and clever quips you can’t help but pause and wonder ‘where does she get them from?’ Seriously, what three-year-old just walking by casually and unprovoked says: “I have options because of my imagination?”
Cydney Milner does.
Like many little girls, my daughter was all about Frozen. I had to buy the movie on bootleg before its “real” release I have seen the movie in it’s entirety at least one hundred times and bits and pieces a good two hundred more. She has all of the dolls, toys, sang “Let It Go” at her school’s Christmas Pageant, and for a good eight months let it be known that her name is Elsa.
When I picked her up early from school because she was sick, I turned on The Princess and the Frog. Cydney had seen it before and she liked it; but it wasn’t Frozen. Everything changed. Ever since she has been more and more into The Princess and the Frog. Her birthday is February 14th and everything that she asked for her birthday was Princess Tianna, Disney’s first Black princess.
Yes, children go through these phases and pretend to be whoever they admire, but Cydney seems to be identifying with Tianna. My daughter is also the same child who was born in New York and only lived in Virginia for a total of five months, but she often walks around the house doing her best imitation of a New Orleans dialect. Interesting enough is that she hasn’t got to the point where she says “I’m Tianna,” like she has the Princess from the TV show “Sofia the First,” Sleeping Beauty (That’s what she would introduce herself as…and I didn’t know her name was Aurora until two years ago), or Elsa. She has a little brown doll with a green dress and her name is Tianna.
One day I was walking by and I was eavesdropping on my daughter playing. Dolls Tianna and Anna (from Frozen) were having a conversation. Anna introduced herself to Tianna and said “I’m from Arendalle,” which is the fictonal Scandinavian kingdom where she lives. Tianna responded “Well, there are no brown people in Arendalle.”
Well damn…My first thought was “Cydney has seen Frozen so many times that she noticed there were no people of color in Arendalle at all!” My second thought was “How did she put that together and how did she realize that there is a difference in color?”
I say this because as Black people we tend to be aware of our color, but we aren’t aware of it until it is pointed out. I knew what a white person was because I had seen them on television, but I didn’t think I knew any. In first grade, we did a play about Rosa Parks and white people; but it wasn’t until a year later that my mom told me my teacher was white and that was when I became aware of race. I have plenty of friends; especially ones from the south who have found this out in some other manners and some of them are pretty traumatic.
Nonetheless, what just happened – that within a week my daughter became aware of color and figured it out all on her own.
It wasn’t her school because all of the children and teachers at her school are black. It was the movie. I honestly think that’s remarkable because holy sh*t my kid is kinda brilliant but I love that my daughter lives in a world in which there is a Disney that she can identify with.
That same night while watching The Princess and the Frog, Cydney asked me “Daddy, why is Tianna brown?” I responded “Because her parents are brown.” It was the best answer I could think of on the fly. She looked at the screen, looked at me, then looked at herself. She then pointed at her arm and said “I’m light brown” with a look of pride and acknowledging that she too was somewhat like Tianna even if she was a few tints lighter.
This makes me think of the Clark studies in the 1939-1940 in which a study was done asking which dolls little black girls thought were prettier, nicer, etc. when a black and white one were placed in front of them. There was a preference to the white doll virtually across the board and this opened up the door for studies and bringing awareness to self-esteem; the Clarks even testified in the Brown vs. Board case of 1954. So with “Queens of Africa” dolls outselling Barbie in Nigeria and starting to pick up here in America it’s nice to see things have begun to change.
I am okay with my daughter being aware of race. Her first experience isn’t negative and that’s amazing. I’m a single father and my little girl doesn’t have a living mom; so I’m figuring out this raising a little girl thing the best way that I know how. I may get some things wrong, but I know that a high self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence are a great place to start.
Look at me, almost 30 years old and still learning from Disney Movies.