So, my daughter is two years old, and she is black. She’s cheerful and pleasant. She’s funny and as good as gold and really, strikingly pretty.Â But lately, we’ve been having some issues. Or maybe I’m just imagining we’re having some issues. I don’t know.
We live in a fairly multicultural region in southern Ontario. It’s not unusual to see people of all shapes, sizes, colours, cultural dress, every day in every situation. It’s no biggie. And in my lifetime, it never really has been. It’s just normal. And we’re smack in the middle of a region containing 4 universities, so we’re also in a fairly well-educated and solidly middle class region full of students and instructors and graduates of all walks of life.
So, for many months now, we’ve been going out on playdates with a dear friend who has a two year old son. We take the kids out to get some fresh air or walk together or play, and they get along famously. They are great pals, as are my friend and I. But one thing I have started to notice is, whether we’re at the park or out walking on a trail or in a playground or play facility, sometimes when people come upon our kids together, they will start talking to and fussing on and cooing over this little boy while completely ignoring my daughter. Like, not saying a word to her, barely acknowledging her presence. The two of them are standing there, side by side, and they are acting as though my little girl doesn’t exist.
What is really ironic is that, sometimes, it’s people of other ethnic backgrounds who are doing it. Yesterday, it was several women in head scarves, likely middle eastern. And a woman who was of Chinese background. I thought, naively it seems, that if anyone would be accepting of a little black girl, it would be someone else from a minority. But no, in this situation, they completely ignored her.
But it’s not always people of other ethnicities. We were out a few weeks ago on a trail frequented by dog walkers. Our two little ones ran up to a pair of white middle-aged women who were walking their dogs. Both kids were happy and eager to meet the dogs and pet them, and were well behaved and respectful. And yet these two women did not say one word to Stinkerbelle, and didn’t offer her the option to pet their dogs. I actually had to intervene and help her pet the dogs, and the women didn’t do much to acknowledge me, either. They just turned their attentions to my friend and her son.
I don’t know what the reason for these reactions could be, which makes it harder to know how to appropriately react when they occur. I don’t know if it’s because people don’t know what to say, because they’ve never met a real live actual black person before, or if it’s something uglier and more hateful rearing its head. I know sometimes people will OVERcompensate and fuss on her — it’s almost a situation of “LOOK! I’M NOT A RACIST! SEE HOW MUCH I COMPLIMENT HER?” — but I’ve not anticipated this sort of bias.
It’s not all the time, but it’s happening enough that I am beginning to notice it. My daughter doesn’t notice it, but she’s two. Soon, she will. And it’s starting to break my heart, a little bit.
I’m grateful that we have never encountered any hateful overt comments, and I don’t anticipate we will, very often, just by virtue of where we live. But this ignoring and lack of acknowledgment is just as hurtful. They are sending the signal to her that she doesn’t exist or have any value while the white child she is standing beside is loved and accepted.
All parents want their kids to be surrounded by love and acceptance. And I just don’t know how I am going to prepare my beautiful, bright, funny child for a world that pretends she doesn’t exist merely because of the colour of her skin.