Tween Romance & Race
He’s at that age: the in-between age referred to as the “Tween Years.” The first big sign that we had arrived in those Tween years didn’t come from him, though; it came from his best friend.
“Mommy, D__ has a girlfriend!” he said.
“In 6th grade?” I replied incredulously as the wheels in my brain turned. Yeah, I guess that’s about right. The first “couple” in my school became a thing during the middle school years. Girls, especially, seem to develop quickly and get deep crushes during those years. Boys can be late bloomers (some 10th-11th graders in my class are just starting to be what I call “hormones on legs!”) All that flashes through my brain and I have to ask the inevitable question, “So….do you have a girlfriend yet?”
A look of horror, like I’ve asked him to eat some sort of nasty rotten concoction, comes over his face, “NOOOOOO WAYYYYY!!!!”
That’s my baby. He may be blooming early in a lot of things (the need for deodorant, for example; when did my little boy get so funky?) but he is not feeling the pressure to fall in LUV yet, thank goodness. So far he’s all sports and video games. I ask him for details about D_____’s girlfriend, because I suppose that’s why he brought it up. I was interested in knowing how the class was dealing with this romance, and how the parents were dealing with a 6th grade romance. First, I wanted to find out if I know the girl. “So who is D__ going out with?”
“You remember, L___ from my toddler soccer team?” he says.
“Yeah! Wow! They’re a couple?!?” I am not sure that I approve of middle school romance due to the age of the kids, but this news really caught my attention: D and L are involved in a 6th grade interracial romance! I tried to gently prod for details about how parents feel, and all I got was facts like D got her presents for Valentine’s Day. They went to a fancy restaurant for dinner together with D’s family. Things are pretty serious! While at some of our kids events, I ran into both sets of parents and asked how they felt about the whole romance and they are all very supportive of their kids. They’ve met the “in-laws”, so to speak, and everyone gets a long just great. This 6th grade interracial romance seems to be one where race just isn’t a factor at all! It made me so excited to think about how much easier things may be for young interracial couples now and in the future.
After gathering all the details of this new romance, I thought about those early blooming tween girls and asked my son a different question. “So, do any girls like you?” As a mom, as soon as I ask that question I brace myself. This is my baby boy! I’m not sure I’m ready to hear the answer to anything involving him being grown up enough to be the object of a crush. Why did I ask this question? Then, before you know it, it’s too late. This story comes out of his mouth in response:
“Well, there is this one girl who D says likes me. She came up to me and got this look on her face.”
And then he gets this dreamy, spacey look. He looks up at me and starts batting his eyelashes. His voice goes all falsetto and he says, “Oh….you so handsome! You got those pretty eyes, and you so light-skinned-ed…” He held that look for a few seconds and then started nervously laughing, assuring me that he doesn’t like her. He’d rather play basketball. He’s a player not a lover.
I was relieved to hear that he is not yet ready for romance. But my heart dropped when he quoted the girl as using that phrase: light-skinned-ed. These thoughts all jumble in my head: of course he’s light-skinned–his mama is white! But why is light better? Dark-skinned boys are beautiful too! She is so young to be saying things like that. Who did she hear it from? If this girl is darker-skinned than my son, does she think she is less attractive than light-skinned girls? Doesn’t she know she is beautiful?
I’ve read posts here on Multicultural Familia about colorism. I’ve heard stories from my husband about his aunties ridiculing his momma for marrying a “dark one.” I’ve visited mixed race author Heidi Durrow’s blog “Light Skinned-ed Girl.” I know it’s out there; but this is the first time I’ve had to think about how to talk with my kids about it.
So now I’m looking for advice–how do you talk to your kids about colorism?