“Is she Chinese?” I asked my older daughter. She had been talking about a new classmate and I was wondering where the classmate was from. “I don't know” my daughter replied, “but she has black hair”.
This has been an interesting trait my daughter has had since she was three years old. She has identified, and seemingly continues to identify people by their hair color. Her great-grandmother had white hair, I have black hair, Daddy has blonde-but-balding hair and her sister has jet-black hair. Her kindergarten friends in New Zealand had red, blonde, brown or whatever-colored hair. There was never any mention of skin color there, or in Singapore where she also attended an international preschool, and never here in Shanghai.
Which is why when she asked me if I was black I was surprised. I knew where the question might be coming from as she had been reading about Civil Rights “Why do you ask?” I said. She answered “Because of Civil Rights”. “No” I replied. “I’m not black like the way you’re reading about it but I am a darker skin-color than you, and much darker than Daddy”. “Oh” she said “I thought you were black”.
It stumps me as to why she seems oblivious to race or skin-color when other kids seem to be very aware of it. Is it the fact that her parents are different races and don’t identify each other by this so she’s never really been exposed to ‘racial talk’? Or is it the fact that she’s been in an international environment for her formative years and everybody is everything and from everywhere so skin color is irrelevant (as it should be) and it's a marvelous magical utopia?
Over Christmas we caught up with New Zealand-Singaporean friends and their daughter who is best friends with ours. Her little friend informed her that she was “also half-Kiwi”, but the other half was Chinese. “What??” my daughter said incredulously. “You’re half Chinese??!” She immediately came running to me with this revelation “Mum, G is half-Chinese!!!” I stared at her. “Of course she is, her mum is Chinese, but from Singapore. We are also from Singapore, but not Chinese!” My daughter was even more flabbergasted and it suddenly struck me that I’d never explained this stuff explicitly to her. She knew she was half-Kiwi, half-Singaporean but it was all just a matter of passports or nationalities. I’d never told her there were different races in Singapore or New Zealand and what it could mean. Her friend’s mum looked at me. ‘What is going on?’ she mouthed but all I could do was shrug, a little embarrassed.
So am I somehow remiss in not teaching my daughter explicitly about race?? It’s not a natural conversation in our home so is it better she stays “color-blind” or do we intervene? I’m aware that her magical utopia whilst charming at this point will soon have an expiry date, especially in this day and age where everything seems to be increasingly racially linked. Truth be told, I’m tempted to leave her to her ‘la-la-land’ for now, as obviously it’s not bothering her and it was not bothering us either. Until the other day she said about her sister (who is adopted)“What?! She’s half-Chinese too??” Hmmm….perhaps I do need to say stuff more explicitly!
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