BBC News posted this story this week:
Shortly after starting school, four-year-old Leon asked for his face to be painted white.
He told his mum, Alison, that he “didn’t want to be brown” and later covered his face in nappy cream.
She’s been telling us what she did next. Click on the video or link above to see the whole report.
For me, the important, unanswered question here, is why a BAME child would think they want to be white in the first place, despite being surrounded by positive role models in their own background and home.
Societal messages are deeply rooted.
Understanding this, and the concept of privilege, and the pervading culture that we surround ourselves with and penetrates at an unconscious level, creating biases, is key to everyone feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Our thought processes as children exist because of language we use, images we see, moods we pick up; it’s in the 11 million pieces of information we have to process each moment.
That’s why the small things matter; the way we behave or don’t behave with each other, the representation of people in books, on screens, in images everywhere. Suddenly the small things, aren’t so small.
We don’t really know why Leon wants to be white, but I do know where my own biases are, and they may surprise you.
You see, I took the Harvard Project Implicit test for race. I’d encourage you to take one or two of them, too.
I have a moderate preference for white people over black. Why? I don’t know. How our Unconscious Biases develop are down to a huge combination of factors, but I grew up in an environment with positive role models from my own background and I have instilled in me very clear and worthwhile values as a result. So, that still doesn’t make sense… I have my theories about the impact of European colonialism on the world and the repeated history/stories that have pervaded all areas of life, consequently, for generations.
I didn’t ever ask my mummy to spray my face white, but I’m pretty sure I knew, at Leon’s age, my life would be easier if she could.
We cannot overturn hundreds of years of history in a just a few; but the change can only begin if we are motivated to make a difference and willing to learn how to try.