White Power!

Quick! What was your first reaction when you read that title? I bet you images of skinheads and men in long white robes flashed in your mind. Maybe even a burning cross on a Black family’s front lawn. “White power” means a lot of things to different people, and I wager it is most closely associated with physical pain and fiscal ruin. As a Black mom/woman, White power means something completely different to me, and I’m almost ‘shamed to admit it:

“White power” is the sound of my beautiful little Brown daughter asking me when she will be White.

Nadjah turned 5 last December. As I understand it, this is the typical age when Black girls growing up in America try to look more mainstream and model themselves after their heroines on TV and/or in books. Nadjah has had a color complex since she was 3. One day, just out of the blue she said “Mommy, am I white?”

“No, baby,” I said. “You’re Black.”

“I don’t want to be Black,” she said. “I want to be white!”

Of course I was taken aback. I looked around the house to check for any contraband that so negatively influence my daughter’s thinking.

  • Self-affirming Black baby dolls: Check
  • Self-affirming Black girl books: Check
  • Regaling stories featuring her Ghanaian heritage: CHECK for sure
  • Affirmations that her curly hair was beautiful and NOT nappy or kinky: Check and double check!

What on earth could it be? Suddenly the voice of a little red-headed character on Playhouse Disney announced she was going to “slap her cap” and go sleuthing. Na spent a good part of the morning watching Playhouse Disney. A quick run down of all the shows reminded me that there were no little brown heroines running around magic forests solving problems. Ugh. Malaka, you idiot!

I then began to wonder who had introduced the topic of race to my eldest anyway? My husband and I had never referred to anyone by skin color or ethnicity as far as she was concerned. I had also been very careful to include dolls and toys of all races in her toy box. The world is neither purely white or all black. Who was responsible for this line of questioning? Who was the culprit?? My frustration slowly turned to fascination as I decided to gauge Nadjah’s dissatisfaction with her blackness. I conducted the Kenneth Clark doll test.

  • “Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,” – She picked up the white doll.
  • “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,” – Again, the white doll
  • “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,” – She picked up the black doll
  • “Give me the doll that looks like a white baby,” – White doll
  • “Give me the doll that looks like a Black baby,” – Black doll
  • “Give me the doll that looks like you.” – Black doll

Nadjah’s face suddenly registered confusion and mine heartbreak. It was as though some dirty family secret had been revealed and we were left to deal with it. Yes, sadly, Nadjah was Black AND she was evil and no one would want to play with her.

This same subject came up again just a few months ago when she went over to a friend’s house for a playdate. She bounded back from Jennifer or Vanessa’s house (or whatever that blond lady’s name is) and asked me expectantly

“Mommy when will I be White?”

“Never Nadjah! You hear me? N-E-V-E-R.”

“But I want to be white, ” she wailed.

Lawd, why did she do that? Half the ride home was a lecture on several things including  how she was thumbing her nose at God for making her the way she was; which is Black, baby. BLACK.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is what real white power is. Convincing scores of generations of girls and women around the globe that if your hair isn’t straight and their is any hint of melanin lurking in your DNA, somehow, you are not good enough.