Literally, I will write this book one day. I’ve had so many experiences babysitting White children that have been so interesting and also disturbing. I’ve only really babysat for White children, since I live in a mostly White space, and many of the institutional and systemic inequalities and beliefs are produced and reproduced in these spaces.
Last year, while I was babysitting for an old teacher, one of the little girls told me plainly that I was not pretty. When I asked her why, she responded “You’re not pretty because you have dark skin.” She proceeded to tell me that it was scary that I had dark skin and that people with dark skin were monsters. She said this all while looking straight at me, a 3-year-old making these racist statements as a matter of fact. Even as I tried to interrupt her ”business as usual” thoughts, telling her that “I’m beautiful because I have dark skin and you’re beautiful because you have light skin, we’re all beautiful.” She brushed it off and said that it was impossible. A 3-year-old.
I brought her statements up to her parents, along with the fact that she asked me if I could understand the opening song to Sagwa the Siamese Chinese Cat (a song in Chinese) “since I was brown.” Her parents said that she had been a racist child since she was born. Apparently, she had a Black male nurse as a baby and would cry every time he held her. I tried to make it clear that the situation with the Black nurse did not make her racist. The structure and society that we live in did teach her to value certain bodies and experiences over others — in other words that people of Color were monsters and “not pretty.” This point did not resonate with her parents, for the most part they brushed me off as well.
Tonight, I babysat for another family where gender and race were discussed. The 2-year-old boy asked me, “Why is your hair all messed up?” I explained to him that my hair is naturally curly and that it is beautiful. He responded, with a confused look on his face, saying that he had straight hair. It was as if to say, “I have straight hair and so you should have straight hair too.” He would also later go on to repeat the idea that my hair was “messed up” to his mother and father once they arrived home from dinner. They both attempted to engage their son, saying that my hair was beautiful and that his aunt also has curly hair, his (the son’s) hair just happened to be straight.
In another interaction, the little boy also asked me if I was a boy or a girl. I responded by asking him, which one he thought I was, but also if it was possible to identify as something else. He and his sister determined that I was a girl but also reinforced the gender binary, stating that it was only possible to be a boy or a girl. I asked, “Well, is it possible to be in between? To identify as neither or both?” His older sister thought about it for a few seconds after I continued to push her to really think, and then determined that it was possible.
These interactions are always really interesting to me. The racist and sexist (as well as all the other power structures) dynamics are so much more visible when interacting with children. The youngest members of our society have not yet efficiently learned to mask the racism/sexism that we are socialized to reproduce. In other words, the racist and sexist structures are invisiblized within our society. There are systemic and institutional regulations maintaining White, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able bodied (etc…) privilege. These regulations tend to be covert and can be identified within legislature, the school system, the judicial system, and within interpersonal interactions. Children tend to be much more candid and inquisitive, ready to shout out whatever thought comes to mind. The television, their parents, their schools, and the society has taught them to absorb powerful and violent controlling images. This is what enabled the children to tell me that my hair was all messed up or that I wasn’t pretty. My hair does not have to be long and straight to be beautiful. My skin does not have to be milk-white to be beautiful. I do not have to conform to gender norms to be beautiful. I know this and I will fight this every day, starting with my babysitting encounters.