By Anila Akram, MM Book Reviewer @mailatale
By Selina Alko
Published in 2009, by Knopf Books
Author and illustrator Selina Alko was interracially married and pregnant with her first child when she wrote this book. It’s written from the perspective of a young boy about to become a brother – wondering what his family’s new baby will look like. “I blend from semisweet dark Daddy chocolate bar and strawberry cream Mama milk,” the boy says, describing his own honey-coloured complexion. He wonders if his little sibling will look more like Daddy, more like Mommy – or just like him!
This is one of those books with an obvious message if you’re an interracial family with a new one on the way. But it’s a particular special book this month, as March 21st is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. And skin colour plays a significant role in the modern South Asian identity.
In South Asian homes, it is often the case that Mommy and Daddy are the same race – but two completely different shades of brown. And unfortunately, it is not uncommon for young children to moan their fate if they “turn out” darker than their siblings. It’s a unique and complicated form of prejudice and discrimination, when someone feels ugly relative to a more “fair” or “gora” sibling. Dark skin has often been correlated with poverty and slavery, and fair skin with purity and superiority. Many dark-toned South Asians, especially young girls, are on a quest for any miracle to lighten their skin colour. (Most of you Masala Mommas have probably heard of – or even tried – Fair and Lovely). It can be a difficult thing to address with young children in a culture where lighter skin is often prized. This is why a book such as this, though meant primarily for multi-racial homes can be an ideal conversation-starter when one sibling has a different skin tone than another.
I have three six-year old nephews and cousins in my family, each a different shade of brown. One in particular is fair-skinned like his mother, and another dark-skinned like his father. Though we make a conscious effort to remind them that they are beautiful in their own way, they still hear the term gora (“fair-skinned”) from elders in the South Asian community. While older folks may be too old to change their ways, young children absorb nearly every cue they hear. As we think about international racism this March, it’s important to remember what this means for kids: learning to be themselves and accept others for who they are.
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