OMG! Their baby is going to be so cuuute!” My friend gushed, we were talking about an interracial celebrity couple and I had to agree. They were both freakishly good looking people so it was a given that their offspring – save for any genetic suprises- would be good looking.
However, it later crossed my mind that I have heard this quite often, usually when describing the would be offspring of either an interracial couple or a couple where one of the partners comes from an inter-racial back ground. It slips in so easily in our day to day conversation we barely pay attention to it.
The implication is clear, the lighter skinned child is more desirable because it is believed that they will fit into a narrow societal beauty definition that somehow translates to better marriage prospects, job opportunities and social status.
Parents magazine (a popular Kenyan magazine focussed on family) used to have a baby picture competition, sponsored by Vaseline. I was a child then and I remember my aunty poring over the pictures and gushing at how cute all the babies were. I don’t know who the judges were but the winners were not always the ones smiling or most decked out, in fact they looked like all other babies. I didn’t get the point of the competition but now I do. Maybe they just shuffled the pictures and picked one and that was the winner of the hamper, the end. Maybe the whole point was to just promote healthy babies who used Vaseline, who knows? What I didn’t see was any favouritism based on the babies skin tones.
The doll test
African American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a series of experiments to determine the effects of segregation on black children in the 1940s. In the experiments, they showed the children two dolls, one white and one black and asked them to identify the race of the doll and pick the doll they preferred. “The Dolls Test was an attempt on the part of my wife and me to study the development of the sense of self-esteem in children. We worked with Negro children—I’ll call black children—to see the extent to which their colour, their sense of their own race and status, influenced their judgment about themselves, self-esteem…” said Kenneth Clark.
A majority of the children picked the white doll.
‘How about ‘Wow! That baby will be so smart, clever, arty, intelligent!’
If we are already vocalising the idea that lighter babies are cuter than darker babies aren’t we perpetuating the same issues of colourism that have dogged Africans in the post-colonial and post slavery world?
We will then turn around and point an accusing finger at a socialite and her bleached skin blaming her for being a bad influence on young women when the finger should actually be pointed at us. Lighter skinned individuals also have to deal with people making assumptions based on their appearance that have nothing to do with who they are.
Maybe it’s time to look past skin colour when it comes to enjoying the wonder that is little babies. May be it’s time to just enjoy them for who they are, little beings who may drive their mothers crazy then melt their hearts with mischievous toothless grins. Also, light, dark, white or black, their poop will still be smelly 🙂