The time my biracial daughter asked about my brown skin

Just a couple days ago my daughter said her daddy was “blue” because the shirt he was wearing was blue. Apparently I was red because that was the color of my shirt. I was beginning to think perhaps it is true what some people claim to believe… Kids are colorblind to skin.

I’ve never honestly felt that way; that children, or people in general are colorblind to race. It’s natural to recognize someone looking different than you, or out of the ordinary. Whether it’s someone with red hair, blond hair, brown skin—whatever. We aren’t blind, and it’s ok to notice these things. But do children?


Tonight, my daughter dropped a bomb on me: “Mom, why are you brown and I’m not?”

“What?” I looked down at my shirt, to see if that’s what she meant. But she clarified just as I was checking.

“Your skin. Why is your skin brown, and mine’s not?” She asked.

“Yours isn’t?” I thought it might be best to answer her question with questions to see where she was coming from.

“No. See?” She held up her arm for me to inspect.

“Well, who told you that?” I immediately became suspicious of kids at school. Kids at school are always bringing new things to her attention. She just started a new preschool, and maybe someone said something about us after drop off.

“Well, Daniel Tiger says…” (She broke out in a tune) “In some ways we are different, and in some ways, we are the same.”

Damn that tiger.

No really, it’s not his fault, or any fault at all. In the episode on the PBS show the differences they highlight are a kid walking using braces, and not everyone having a tail. From what I can tell, my daughter taking it to the skin color discussion was all on her own.


“That’s right,” I said. “But what color are you?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer this either, she looked around the room, maybe for a comparison.

“Well, my kitchen is white…”

“Yes…” I said. Waiting to hear more. “Like you?” I questioned.

“No.” She said.

“Oh ok, well what’s daddy? Is he brown too?” I asked, trying to see where she was going with this.

“No, he’s yellow. Like me.” She decided.

“Oh ok,” I answered. “What about your brother?”

“He’s yellow too,” she professed. “Me, and daddy and [my brother] are yellow. And only you—“ she stopped to change her mind. “You and Snoop are brown.”

The dog and I are brown. I smiled, as I learned the workings of my preschooler’s thoughts of the world.

“Ok. And is brown pretty?” I braced herself for her answer. But I was really curious what she’d say.

“No,” she responded point blank.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“Because brown’s not my favorite color.”

“Is mommy pretty?” I asked.

“YES!” And she dove into my lap for a hug.


Oh great what now. “Yes?”

“Can we play with blocks now?”

And as quickly as that, the conversation was over.


Later, after she was tucked into bed, then came back out of her room sneaking some extra mommy time, she brought it up again while pointing to a photograph of herself against her daddy’s skin and said: “I don’t want my skin to be this color.”

This comment shocked me the most out of everything, but again, I tried to stay cool and keep with the questions, versus answers.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“Because I’m brown, and that’s not my favorite color.”

“Oh, well what color do you want to be?” Again, I braced myself for her answer.

“Purple.” She said.

I took a small sigh of relief. Apparently I’m ok with my daughter wanting to be purple. I just said “ok” (whatever kid!). It was late and she was trying to delay bedtime at this point.

“You’re beautiful the way you are.”

As I suspected all along, kids aren’t colorblind, they notice things. Though it’s not always on her mind that “mommy is brown.” For some reason it came to her mind in this moment, and was gone the next. The same thing happens with conversations with my husband. I don’t constantly think about being married to a white dude… Or even dwell on the fact that I’m black. It rarely comes up at home because we’re just mommy, daddy, wife, and husband; adorable kids… A family.

Biracial-questionsShe’s exploring and learning about the world around her, in all sorts of aspects of her little life right now. I think. I hope. No, I PRAY it’s a long time before we have a deeper skin color conversation that deals with wanting to be colors other than purple. But who knows, maybe it will never happen. And if it does (because honestly, I suspect every child, every color at some point wishes they could look like someone else) I hope… No, I pray it will be as cool, collected, and humorous as it was tonight.

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  1. Dealing with this for a while since living in the south and most of the SAHM and the kids at my daughter’s school are NOT Aftican American. We were at a pool play date last summer and her friend said, “why is her skin black?” He was innocent and honest about his question. I froze bc the mom was sitting right there. She immediately jumped in, “Oh baby, it all has to do with melanin. In fact she has more melanin than you or I which is why her skin is a little different. But we are all the same, of course.” Your daughter will/might have things a little different than mine. She already has been treated differently and this includes when a new student would come to the class…that person would feel empowered to be a little mean only to my oldest. Once they realize she is just a silly girl but really smart – they lighten up. It isn’t everyone but enough is enough. I dislike when people say children don’t see color. That’s dumb. They learn to classify since birth. It’s how the parents raise them. What value system are they placing on differences. My other issue is my daughter wanting “windy” and “yellow” hair like her friends. I just make sure to affirm her hair every time I comb it. I explain to her that her hair is so beautiful and special that she can wear it in so many more styles than windy. Lol!

    1. I got this a lot too growing up since I was a minority in suburban Atlanta. And again in Utah when kids had never seen a black person before.

      Like I mentioned I think it’s normal for kids at some point or another to want to look like their friends… I tried not to overreact and assume this with my daughter, but I also know how it can get if you are growing up believing you’re not pretty because you’re different (brown) and not what society considers beautiful.

  2. Sometimes we think more deeply about these issues than a 3 yr old who is just simply learning about people and the world around us…’s so funny you should post this because just recently I had the same question from my 3 yr old….I have 2 bi racial older children from a previous relationship and I have 2 girls 7 & 3 from my marriage now….my husband is Italian and I am 100% Puerto Rican but I have light skin light eyes and light hair… 3 yr old Ava asked me why my older daughter Amari’s skin was brown? I simply responded because we all have things that are different about us….and that ok no 2 people will be exactly the same some have different color eyes hair ……immediately in my parent thoughts I was like ok did I do or say something that may have triggered the question? And all these thoughts ran through my head I was horrified to learn that my 3 yr old noticed skin color……I thought to myself maybe I wasn’t doing enough to teach her about the world and the different people in it…..after reading your post I learned that children notice things they are naturally curious….I forgot for a moment that it’s just a question like any other question a 3 yr old would ask and that she is still learning about the world around her and that I’m doing ok to guide her and it’s just really all innocent 🙂

  3. That’s funny that she thinks she’s yellow. I love it! I see my daughter playing with kids of all different colors at the gym or play groups and she has never even asked yet out different skin colors. We just started talking about hair color, I wonder when she’ll start to notice different skin colors. Isn’t it awesome how kids don’t even care or think about it really.

    And by the way you’re daughter’s hair is awesome!!!

    1. She may have noticed but not decided to blurt it out yet. Just don’t be alarmed if/ when that happens. Like the comment above.

      Miss J once announced (very loudly) a man was walking with a cane. I said “yes he is.” And then she kept yelling “WHY?” Kids are aware… Or at least mine is. Haha.

      I have a theory that kids blurt out stark differences they haven’t noticed before. Like if they’ve never seen a black person, or maybe someone in a wheelchair. But when they’re around it all the time a more specific question may come later kinda like my daughter asking why she and I are different.

  4. Fantastic share!!!!! Love the open lines of communication and understanding at her age, she is wonderful. Be blessed and look forward to more eye open shares from your little ones (oh and you too lol) 🙂

  5. What a funny conversation! I don’t think this necessarily has to do with race. I think it just has to do with her looking different from someone else and she noticed. I am pretty sure every person thinks about this and every mom experiences this with their child at some point regardless of the color of their skin. I’ve had Ethan ask why Hudson’s hair color is different than his. To me, it’s simple, I just told him not everyone is exactly like him. Understanding that people are different is a good thing whether it be their skin color, hair color, language, the way they dress, etc.

    1. It definitely a literal color thing at this point. Cause that’s what she understands. Remember how E thought J was Doc McStuffins? Haha! He wasn’t like “hey, they’re both African American!” But he recognized similarities.

      But sooner or later we’ll be explaining the concept of race and that’s ok. Understanding race doesn’t make you racist. Putting stigmas on people of different races/colors is where things start to go bad. But I know you know that 🙂

  6. I think she’s got a good grasp on it – what matters is that mommy is beautiful 😉 Honestly, though, she’s handling the concepts very maturely. And my son shares her intense love of Daniel Tiger.

  7. There’s a fascinating chapter in the book called Nurtureshock about when/how kids notice race (and they certainly do. They are def not color blind.) It’s really opened my eyes about how I deal with race in regards to my children.

    I remember once when one of my kids was about four and asked who that “really tan lady is on TV”. I finally figured out he was talking about Oprah. I had a quandry: do I let him think that all people are more or less tan versions of other people? But that would be denying the value of an entire race. But I didn’t want to make myself sound like a bigot or something. I actually don’t remember what I said but I still remember being completely perplexed.

  8. This is an interesting post. It does seem as if your daughter is thinking more of colour in general rather than race. I wonder how much kids do understand the concept of race. I’m mixed race (black and white) and when I was at first school (equivalent to elementary I think), I drew a picture of myself but didn’t colour it in (can’t remember if I didn’t want to or just didn’t bother colouring in anyone’s faces) and another little girl coloured it in brown. Also my friend once asked, “Do you have to be brown to be in the Brownies?”, lol.

    I’ve heard mixed race people described as “yellow” and I found it a bit weird but I suppose my skin does have a yellowish tinge to it, lol. Some colours can make my skin tone look a bit yellow.

    I think it’s good that you don’t constantly think about being different races/colours in your family. I think you need to be aware of it because you may come across certain situations but it doesn’t need to be your main focus. We’re all so much more than race/ethnicity/skin colour etc. 🙂

  9. My fabulous grand-niece (of a certain preschool age) is a lovely mix of Native American, Mexican, Italian, and Irish. She has an enviable “tan” year-round and lives at the beach in San Diego. On a recent visit, she poked emphatically at her arm and said, “This is supposed to be white. I am going to the doctor and get it fixed.” I told her I loved her skin and would be sad if she “fixed it.” Different than one generation earlier,yet the same deficit thinking and attitude, from my daughter that is half Mexican American and half Italian, who announced that a child in her preschool pointed to her skin and dark birthmark and said, “you take a bath in dirty water.” Daughter wanted to scrub off the “dirt.” Ugh. Still a struggle when bi-ethnic or bi-racial or whatever that is not of the majority color is considered undesirable. What’s a mommy to do when society’s portrayal of beauty is different than that of our own definition? When law enforcers target teenagers of color, when school’s over identify students of color with disabilities and for discipline, when entertainers are disproportionately represented… it doesn’t stop in preschool. Soon the majority (in Texas already) will be a darker shade of “white.” Will “white” be the new “brown” and become undesirable or will we get off this crazy merry-go-round? There is hope that our children will make it stop.

  10. I think it’s great that she’s noticing the differences be it hair, skin or eye color. At least she’s opened up the door a bit for when you guys are ready to talk more in depth about race. And I agree too that nobody is colorblind in terms of not seeing race. It gets under my skin when people say that.

    It comes as sounding like they have to mentally disable themselves from noticing the skin of others different them in order to interact with them. Sometimes, I just want to scream “It’s ok to notice race people!” It’s when you start treating people differently because they look different that’s not ok.

    I had similar conversation with Moo because she wanted to know why her best friend wasn’t brown like us and why I’m a darker brown that her, her brown and my husband. We went ahead and had the race talk and she hasn’t asked since. Now, I’m just waiting to see when the conversation will come up with JJ. Kudos on handling this situation well!

  11. I’ve been dealing with the same thing with Peyton. She tells people her daddy is brown and her mommy is yellow. She see general color. She just thinks people come in all colors. I hope it stays that way!

  12. When my daughter was little, she classified people as either pinkish or brownish. Pinkish people could’ve had brown skin. I really don’t know what she used as her criteria for their classification. (I was in the pinkish group, as well as my mom, and her other grandmother—I’m brown-skinned, they are both light-skin). My brother (light-skin), my husband, and my dad were brownish. Now that I write this, I think all girls were pinkish and all boys were brownish.

  13. I was laughing and crying as I read your post. Both of my children are bi-racial. My teen daughter has had a myriad of issues, but overall nothing too horrible. My pre-school son hasn’t run into anything.

    One distinct memory I have with my daughter when she was around four. We were eating dinner with my then husband. She announced that she was black. I am black, and my then (and present husband for that matter) is white. I remember we didn’t ask her why she said what she did. We just smiled and went on with the conversation. Later after we put her to bed, my husband asked why she self-identified as black. I had no idea because she honestly looks hispanic (I live in South-Central Texas), and a few times she was labeled as hispanic. We asked her the next day, and she said because mommy is black.

    I am wondering when the conversation/realization will come with my pre-school son. Hoping I will be more prepared than the last time.

  14. Jennifer, love your site!! So, my 6th grade son came home from school excitedly talking about a new friend. Since I was helping at recess, I asked what he looked like. “Oh Mom, it’s easy,” he said. “He’s the kid with really black hair!” So the next day I looked for the little boy with the really black hair. I finally asked my son to point him out. “Mom,” he said almost annoyed, “He’s right over there!” The little boy with the really black hair…. had really black skin. But all my son saw was his black hair. I do believe our children are colorblind. We have eight children & what I’ve learned from them, is children see the world in the colors of rainbows & friendships & exciting places to explore. They ask questions without agendas & motives, & move on to new questions. I grew up in a home where I was not allowed to date anyone of another culture, race, or color. My son’s description that day, gave me hope I had given him a gift of friendships without boundaries.

    1. So I’m curious… Are you saying you’d feel bad if he had pointed him out as you have… “Having really black skin” that it would have been a bad thing?

      What I’m trying to say is there’s nothing wrong with being different and noticing our differences… It becomes a problem when we teach that those differences are inferior or when we treat people differently because of their skin color/weight/disability/ whatever.

      I’m glad you haven’t passed on the ideals your parents raised you with. Your kids sound super cute 🙂

  15. Your a great mom! Growing up interracial, I know how it feels to be different and I would honestly hate for my kids to not love who they are…if you don’t know my kids are mixed and they all look so different but that is what makes them special…hate to say it but I have actually had family members be biased towards my kids (my girls) based off of their skin color and I had to call them out on it several times…I am the only one from my side of the family mixed with black and my husband is the only one in his family married to someone who has black in them….I hear it all from family…and that hurts the most. I will raise my children to be proud of their differences…it is what makes them beautiful and unique…..

  16. I wonder what’ll happen with my kids. John’s all prepared to teach about melanin… I’m all prepared to make sure they know that whatever color their skin is, they’re awesome and beautiful.

  17. My son is one of two blonde kids in a preschool of about 60. He talks about being the same as his friend who is Asian, but not the same (skin) as his friend who is Indian or African American. Really, not the same. Just light and dark.

    My daughter (also blonde) goes to a school where there’s more of a mix, but still, she keeps telling me she wish she had long dark hair instead of blonde hair. I think they just sometimes want to be the same (and have the same) as their friends.

    I just tell her how pretty she is and we talk about how lots of people change the way they look to look like her and when she’s a teenager, she can try out dark hair, but most of all, I love her just the way she is.

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  19. I love this blog post!! As the white mother of a beautiful adopted black baby, I know this conversation will come my way sooner or later. One time, my nephews mentioned it… but it was just like this – sorta casual and in passing. I haven’t heard anything since, though I’d bet their mother has.

    I like the approach of asking questions to see where her head was at. I think that’s smart. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Your children are absolutely beautiful!!

  20. My mom is white my dad is black. Growing up during the seventies in an all white community was tough. I like to think it made me stronger. I stood out to the others on so many levels. My tan skin, curly hair, stick frame made me wish for straight bangs and too be petite and to blend into the class. Not look like the teachers aid? Beauty comes from inside (both accepting your looks to yourself who cares what the rest think and trying to be kind, generous, patient a beautiful person despite how the rest act) I am glad I am tall (hides the bodies war wounds better as you age) I am glad I have curly hair (wished I had better hair products as a kid) When my black family asked who I was dating who I liked (white or black guys) there were no black guys in my vision(all white community). It was just some one who accepted me and loved me unconditionally. Eyes don’t see love the heart does.Travel is was the best teacher about race. Many hurdles a head for your young family. The best thing you can do is broaden their horizons…beauty is in everyone and everywhere. Not just the thin veneer that is media or your community or school but global.

  21. My mom is white my dad is black. Growing up during the seventies in an all white community was tough. I like to think it made me stronger. I stood out to the others on so many levels. My tan skin, curly hair, stick frame made me wish for straight bangs and too be petite and to blend into the class. Not look like the teachers aid? Beauty comes from inside (both accepting your looks to yourself who cares what the rest think and trying to be kind, generous, patient a beautiful person despite how the rest act) I am glad I am tall (hides the bodies war wounds better as you age) I am glad I have curly hair (wished I had better hair products as a kid) When my black family asked who I was dating who I liked (white or black guys) there were no black guys in my vision(all white community). It was just some one who accepted me and loved me unconditionally. Eyes don’t see love the heart does.Travel is was the best teacher about race. Many hurdles a head for your young family. The best thing you can do is broaden their horizons…beauty is in everyone and everywhere. Not just the thin veneer that is media or your community or school but global. K, sorry for the length I read the comments and want to add….U love them and provide a good example roll model of the kind of human regardless of color they will be better than all right! cheers

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  24. I’ve actually seen that episode (nanny to a little boy) and remember the tune and everything, lol. I believe in the 2nd part of the episode (at Daniel Tiger’s preschool) the kids sing the song again (“…but in so many ways, we are the same”) and they do compare skin complexion, hair texture, tail or no tail, and the use of leg braces. So I think Lil J probably saw that portion, too. Just thought I’d share 😉

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