The Sistah Vegan Project

“Your blue-eyed baby is beautiful”: Colorism and ableism on a ‘mixed’ child’s consciousness

In this video I talk about what it means to tell a child they are beautiful because they have ‘light skin’ and ‘blue eyes’ and are able-bodied. I reflect on colorism, ableism, and how a parent with mixed children (who have ‘black’ and ‘white’ parents) can explain to their kids that ‘beauty’ and ‘lucky’ should not be conflated with being ‘lighter than a brown paper bag’ and able bodied.

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4 thoughts on ““Your blue-eyed baby is beautiful”: Colorism and ableism on a ‘mixed’ child’s consciousness

  1. myhorangi126 on said:

    I really enjoy “Your blue-eyed baby is beautiful” post. This is something that I identify with. We struggle with the hypersexualization, exoticisation, fetishization of institutional racism daily. Interesting how systemic whiteness manifests itself in non-white identified folks. The most disturbing comments we have received are from non-white identified people. The only civil way I know how to respond is to swallow my dignity and say “Thanks.” Fucking people calling my baby sexy. WTF. I would love to live elsewhere, because I literally get anxiety from this, but this USAmerican cultural phenomenon has infected almost every country in which I’d care to reside.

  2. yes…i am a mother of mixed-race (nigerian father, european and native american mother) and have two children both of whom are slightly darker in skin tone than me but have hair that is often commented on as ‘good’ this is just one of the reasons that i locked my daughter’s hair and i have been asked many times why i would do that to such good hair as if locs are negative and just reserved for those who have kinkier hair and have nothing ‘better’ to do with their hair. my son is 10 weeks old and his hair is wavy and soft like my daughter’s was before it changed to a tighter curl by age 1 and again by age 2, and someone recently told me how beautiful he was and then said he had hair like mine and how nice it was, and then added, hopefully it won’t change. as if his hair texture determines his beauty. i dont always comment on these ‘compliments’ but they always disturb me. i will be addressing them with my children as they grow and will assert myself with more strangers in public. if they have the audacity to make such bold statements i definitely should exercise my right to address these issues of colorism (hairism, lol) because it is so often black people hurting each other by privileging european phenotypes. these type of compliments are exactly the reason i cut my hair in my early 20s because i kept receiving comments on my beauty based on my hair type. comments on your physical appearance do become empty at some point and they are so loaded given the colorism that exists within the black community. another major point here is that these comments only address our bodies which have very little to do with our true self – which is shapeless and boundless and far more beautiful and everlasting than a head of wavy hair, blue eyes, or light skin. if only we complimented each other more on our kind eyes or meaningful responses in conversation, etc….perhaps when you know who you truly are you can accept these ‘compliments’ and address them (or not) with a sort of wit, criticism and grace. just depends on how much you really feel like talking at the target checkout counter… :)

  3. edamamí on said:

    nice post! it’s good to hear from other mothers who are thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same way. i’m a first time mother and afro-latina with a white husband. our 13 month old son came out looking more like daddy than mommy and ohhhh the comments i get. -insert dramatic head shake and eye roll here –

    i haven’t had to deal with the “lucky” comments because my son was born extremely premature, spent the first few months of his short life in the n.i.c.u. and is still experiencing preemie-related health problems and development delays. most of these issues will probably self-correct within the next 12 months so my husband and i consider ourselves fortunate (because we know the stress of insane medical bills and a life of hospitals and doctor’s offices). but now that our son has put on weight and looks closer in size to his full-term peers, his complications are no longer visibly apparent. still no “lucky” comments – which is great, since i don’t think i could tolerate someone slinging that nonsense my way.

    however, his looks are a whole other matter. even my in-laws couldn’t fathom how i, with my dark skin and kinky/curly hair, could produce this fair skinned, straight haired, light eyed baby – gasp – he has gotten some color and the ends of his hair have begun to curl but i suppose not enough for total strangers to stop giving me the look. you all know that look. it screams: are you the nanny? honestly, i get it worse from p.o.c.!

    it’s all incredibly frustrating and i tend to have a short temper and a smart mouth. yet the only comeback i’ve managed has been a meek and mild “thanks.” (maybe part of me is afraid to go “h.a.m.” on folks and give them a crash course in colorism/hairism/eyeism/racism 101 because i think it might be wasted. like my anger will eclipse the truth of my words and they’ll be able to dismiss my educational rant all because “i can’t take a compliment” and “i’m just another angry black woman”). either way, my son is so often met with a parade of “you’re so cute” that my husband and i have begun to worry. how do we celebrate him as a person (including his looks – we don’t want him to go around hating himself because other people are placing misguided value in specific physical features) while also getting him to understand that what makes a person special (himself included) has little to do with his accomplishments, looks, and ability and everything to do with the kind of person he is on the inside…

  4. I’m not normally one to comment on blogs but your post stirred up a number of emotions for me. I’m a biracial, vegan, gay man who was raised in predominantly white communities in the 70s and 80s. My entire life has been spent parsing “compliments” and various other comments about the way I look. I’m light skinned with freckles and red hair. My hair is characterized by tight curls and is always one step away from becoming an afro because I don’t go to the barber as much as perhaps I should.

    My hair is a blend of both my Irish and African ancestries. The general theme in comments about my hair is not that it is attractive because red hair is a sign of whiteness, but that it is different. I stand out because of my hair—it is attractive to others because it is uncommon. And in general, people find me either attractive or unattractive because I look different from other people. The challenges I face as a result of being biracial have less to do with racism (it still affects me) but more from being an other. People don’t know what box to put me in or how to define me. I’m asked all sorts of ignorant questions like, “where are your parents from?” When I answer that they’re from California, they reply with, “no, where are they REALLY from?” This exchange, which happens fairly frequently, is really an attempt by people to categorize me so that they can understand me better.

    I find it annoying and ignorant, but at its core it represents someone trying to find a way to connect with me. It is problematic that the boxes we use to categorize people are built on fears, stereotypes, biases, and centuries of oppression, but the boxes are an attempt to understand who I am. We need to see attempts at understanding—no matter how inept—as gifts. It can also be an opportunity to reframe and challenge assumptions. After the “where are you from” question I tell people that what they are really asking is, “what’s your ethnicity?” I try to do this in the least condescending or embarrassing way possible, unless I’m feeling grumpy or the person was rude. I then tell the person that I have a black parent and a white parent. At this point the conversation usually shifts, but sometimes people tell me that I don’t “act black”. This is an opportunity (which I don’t always take because I’m not here solely to educate white people about racism) to help people see how boxes and labels are limiting and dangerous.

    My point is that for me comments about my looks are usually a way for people to form a connection with me. That’s what humans do. We form connections with each other. I dare you to compliment a stranger and see what happens. A simple “I love your shirt/necklace/earrings/pants/purse/shoes/hairdo/etc.” should suffice. Usually an instant connection is created. No matter how brief the exchange, a connection is formed that leaves both parties feeling a little better.

    Given that we live in a racist society, racism permeates and can poison all of our interactions therefore connections can be harder to form. Comments that are meant as compliments can actually be quite insulting or downright oppressive. But I like to think that the person making the comment most likely has a sincere interest in forming a connection. Sometimes I don’t want to teach people about blackness so I don’t, but other times situations like these are good teaching moments.

    In your video you were concerned about how these comments will affect your daughter. Speaking from my experience, comments about my hair or my looks hurt me very much. Not because of any subtle racism or by giving me certain advantages over my darker-skinned peers, but because they singled me out as an other. I wanted to fit in and be normal and look normal like all the other kids. Getting complimented on my looks made me feel alienated from the other kids. And the sad truth of where and when I grew up, being biracial meant I was very much an alien. As I aged being an individual and standing out from the crowd became more and more important to my peers. My differences became the source of much envy for many of my white friends. I, in turn, felt sorry for them. They were searching for a unique identity and I was born into mine.

    Fitting in and looking different are a universal issues for children. Your children will face these challenges regardless of how they look, however because of how they look this might be a much bigger issue for them than other children. In addition their veganess may become another source of otherness for them. I believe the essential skills for your children to learn will be how to how to form human connections with people so that the otherness disappears and how to know when to wield their otherness as a strength. So basically it’s the same thing that black parents have been teaching their kids for generations. However I’m aware that because of my looks I have an easier time breaking down stereotypes and forming connections with white people than darker-skinned people do. It’s because my otherness makes it harder for me to fit in a box.

    This would be a great spot for a tidy conclusion paragraph but I’ve run out of time. I hope you find my thoughts and comments useful. Thanks for giving me this form to discuss my perspective.

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