Recently my six-year-old daughter lamented to me that she was having a hard time choosing her favorite Disney princess from the variety that she has on her bedroom wall. The conversation that ensued was pretty eye opening to me.
Me: You don’t have to choose just one you can like them all for different reasons.
Her: Well who is your favorite?
Me: *thinking* Hmmm. If I have to pick a favorite I choose Princess Tiana.
Her: Because she is brown like you?
Me: Yes, but that’s not the only reason I also like her because she works hard and follows her dreams. When people told her that she couldn’t open her own restaurant she worked harder to make it without waiting for the prince to fix it for her.
Her: So, you like her because she is just like you.
Me: Is that how you see me?
Her: Yes mommy. You work hard and don’t let people tell you no.
Me: Thanks sweetie. Who is your favorite?
Her: I think Princess Jasmine is my favorite.
Her: Because when they tried to keep her in the castle and told her she couldn’t go she found a way to go out and do what she wanted anyway. That is how I am too. I will figure out how to do what I want. Plus, her skin is like mine.
It would be disingenuous for me to say that I didn’t get a little misty eyed at her assessment of me as a hard-working person who doesn’t quit even when the odds seem stacked against me. I had a serious proud mommy moment that helped me think that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t totally screwing this parenting thing up. However, in that moment, it was reinforced to me that our children are always watching us. Sure, they hear what we say but they are watching closely to see if the things we say to them are the same things we are walking out daily. It is incredibly important that we are clear with ourselves and our children about who we are because they will do what we do not what we say.
I also had a clarifying moment as well that helped me to understand that she is trying to determine her place in this world as a bi-racial child. The importance of all children having characters who look like them matters. These images matter because they are images that children see over and over and they will internalize the characters and may even try to emulate them. The beauty of recent cartoons is that there are more children of color and more girls who have starring roles, in both cartoons and children’s books, than existed when I was a child. There are princesses who are not waiting for princes to save them, little girls who are doctors, cartoons who are bi-lingual and everything in between.
This summer she has begun to talk more about who she looks like, how she wears her hair and having autonomy in the clothes she wears. She has taken to wearing mismatched shoes and socks, picks out her own clothes and she wants to wear her curly hair down as often as possible to, in her words, look more like me. I have done my best to keep her shielded from the harsh realities of race relations in the world by studiously avoiding the news when she is present and thankfully her family on both sides embrace diversity in all its forms so she has a great village. The daycare and school that she attends are diverse and celebrate all cultures equally. She has biracial cousins and friends and has a pretty good understanding of right and wrong. It is conversations like these though that remind me that she will not be a little girl forever and I am encouraged to know that she is finding her voice. However, I am not looking forward to the day that she experiences her first race related slight but I am hopeful that the foundation of positivity that has been laid will be strong enough to hold her when that time comes.