Ask Lisa Advice: I Want to Be Brown Like Daddy!
Today I counsel a mom whose White son wishes to be “brown like Daddy,” longing to “match” his Black step-dad and Multiracial half-siblings.
My hubby and I are expecting in November. I have a three-year-old (Caucasian) son and he has a seven-year-old mixed daughter. I have talked very casually to my three-year-old about how the new baby is going to be his little brother (we learned the gender) and I have mentioned that he will have brown skin. I don’t want my son to be surprised when the baby doesn’t look just like him. My son has never really noticed color before, he notices how people act. Tonight, in the shower he told me he wished he had black skin…he wants to look like a man…he wants to look like Daddy…he wants to match his baby brother.
What do I say to him? His bio dad has never been in the picture and never wants to be, so, as far as he cares his Daddy is Black.
Before I answer your question, I must comment on the photograph you sent and explain the hope and joy it brings to me as a member of the multiracial community. I confess that I normally use stock photographs for this column, because people don’t usually send them, and also because there are now so many available to illustrate the topic of a given week.
But your photograph—of your tiny, tow-headed tot with his loving, brown-skinned father—shows the beautiful connection between them. I can see how engaged and focused your husband is on his son (I don’t see the need for the prefix “step” here.) And, how safe and nurtured your boy looks in his father’s company. This is the man who loves him and teaches him about the world.
From your letter, I get the sense that this is his hero. Your husband is how your son wants and expects to turn out. This is heartwarming, not because of the novelty of a White child looking up to a Black man, but because of how natural they look together. Your son has no template for fearing, mistrusting or reviling Black people—as many White children are taught to do by example—because he identifies with your husband.
Now, I understand your concern about your son feeling left out because he doesn’t match his brother who will be brown like Daddy. I’m sorry to say that this prediction will probably come true. But you will both be there to help him through it. He is so little, it is heartbreaking for you to imagine that your boy will feel his own heart ache someday, but feelings are part of life. You cannot shield him from this fact: his sister and brother will always be brown because their biological father is.
On the other hand, your three-year-old is White because of his biological father. I don’t know what you have told him thus far about his birth father, but he does need to know something. That this man does exist. That this man has a name and that he has peach-colored skin like you. You will explain to your little guy that this is why he is not brown like Daddy. The questions your boy asks about his biological father will evolve as he gets older and his understanding grows more complex. You’ll need answers for him—simple ones at first, more detailed and frank ones later.
It will be confusing. There will be tears. But there will also be hugs and love and a real family that helps all three youngsters weather the natural hard knocks of childhood. You and your husband will teach all of them that blood relatives often share physical traits like skin color and hair texture, but that “family” means the people who love you most.
Point out to your son all the special things he has in common with your husband, even if he is not brown like Daddy.
Tell him that one day he will be just as big and just as handsome, but in his very own, special way. Most importantly, have your husband participate in these discussions as well. If the love I see in your photograph is any indicator, I am sure he will be happy to do it.
As your son grows up, he will learn new lessons about race and racism. He will understand that in many situations, you and he will be viewed differently from his brother and sister and father. The two of you may have privileges the others lack. You may be treated better, given the benefit of the doubt. This iniquity will probably make your son angry and stir in him the wish to fight for and defend his brown family members. Yet, just as he must grapple with the meaning of not being brown in your family, your littlest one will need to cope with not being White in a country that prefers Whiteness. I hope that the five of you will discuss all these things openly, learn from and empower one another for years to come. Your boy will grow up knowing that even if he is not brown like Daddy, what they share is much, much deeper.