Friday, June 15, 2012

Can I turn white?

Today Belay asked when he was going to turn white. He showed Andy the palms of his hands and said
 "look, my hands are already white."  I'll never forget seeing him show Andy those sweet pink palms on those tiny hands.

Immediately we both jumped in telling Belay how beautiful his skin was and how he was always going to be this beautiful brown. He told us he wished he was white, and that he didn't want to be the only brown one in the family anymore. I showed him a picture of all of us, including his "opia mom" (birth mom) and asked him who he thought was beautiful in the picture. He pointed to his opia mom. This went on for a while.

Then at bed time Andy talked with him about how on thomas the train there were lots of blue trains and only one red train (James) and reminded him that James was his favorite. Belay then told Andy that he didn't want to be all alone.  When I went in to kiss him goodnight he told me he was sad because he missed is opia mom and wished he could just see her one time!

Can this really be happening already to my 3 year old? Is he really able to verbalize this kind of grief at 3? We talk ALL the time about Ethiopia, his birth mom, and his beautiful brown skin so it isn't totally out of the blue that he brings this up. It just caught me off guard how articulate he was about his feelings. That he point blank said he wanted to turn white! My heart feels a little heavy tonight. How do I help my sweet little boy?


  1. Belonging is complicated and full of opportunity and treasure. Growing up a mixed kid with blonde sisters I always felt like the odd one out. I remember a picture of when we were teenagers-- all my blonde sisters in a group and me standing off to the side-- too tall, too dark. You are raising a black son in the South in a White family. These are facts that cannot be denied. He will feel the pain and the distance and he will question his own sense of belonging. Some days will be more painful than others. But he will feel other things too. He will remember every single time you tell him that you love him for exactly who he is. He will remember your fierce loyalty and your own pain as you protect him from prying eyes and prying questions (do you remember the conversation with my drunk friend Dan in the bar? When he kept asking to see our Driver's Licenses to verify we are sisters? I do. I remember how angry you were and how loved I felt and how accepted I felt. All the moments of loss were worth that one moment of intense acceptance). You can't protect him from the loss of his home culture and ethnic heritage. That loss, while painful, will help him grow into a compassionate and empathetic man who will in turn help others. Over time, your son will understand that belonging is about the connections we make in our hearts. He will become a cross-cultural kid who is able to move between places and spaces comfortably. He will travel the world and meet other kids just like him. He will return to Ethiopia and know two homes. You are a beautiful soul and have a beautiful family and you all belong to each other. Your son knows that he is loved and he will treasure that gift forever. I know I do.

  2. C- thank you! Your words are perfect. Exactly what I need to read this morning. We have a life time of this ahead of us. We were not naive to think otherwise but wow, those words coming from his sweet little mouth so soon... I remember that time in the bar very well. I B's sisters will always be so protective. (although last night Adi caught wind of what we were talking about and started complaning that she was the "only white kid in the family":)

  3. It sounds lik you and Andy are handling it well. Your friends' comments are true as well. That it is developmentally appropriate ( wanting to be a girl examples). It is great that he can verbalized it at a young age! Shows all your open dialogue pays off, no?

    Beautifully articulated, Christine!

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