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How black mothers talk to their daughters about skin tone

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Rajni and Lucienne

Rajni and daughter Lucienne

Rajni: I’m dark chocolate. She’s like a café au lait.

People say, ‘Oh your kids are going to be so beautiful’, because they know her father is white. I have to stop and say, ‘I’ve seen some busted biracial kids too!’ Having that whiteness doesn’t make her automatically beautiful.

When I see me and her together I’m like, this is a black girl. She’s lighter than me but she’s a black girl too. And I bask in that. I get to teach her how blackness is beautiful, in a society where blackness is not seen as beautiful, we’re just seen as entertainment.

Estelle+Sailor Sjarvis
The Guardian Estelle+Sailor Sjarvis 45

Estelle and daughter Sailor

Estelle: I’m light-skinned black, and Sailor basically looks white.

She has this skin tone that’s accepted universally, everywhere. She has an automatic pass with that. What she might run into are questions like, ‘How come you have light skin and your mommy has brown skin?’

To that, I’m like, can’t we all just have different skin colors? There are so many different colors in the rainbow, colors of skin. That doesn’t define who we are. What does is our heart and soul.

Nette, Tricia and Audrey Sjarvis

Audrey and daughters Annette and Tricia

Annette and Tricia: We are light-skinned but with a yellow undertone.

Audrey: I’m brown-skinned.

Audrey: I was so dark compared to my mom and my sisters. In my own family they would tease me because I looked so different.

Annette: Growing up we were infatuated with her. We thought she was so pretty. We would sit on the floor outside the bathroom and watch her put on makeup.

Tricia: We thought she was the ultimate. We never thought of her as brown-skinned, we just thought of her as gorgeous.

Stacie and Frances Sjarvis
Stacie and Frances Sjarvis

Stacie and daughter Frances

Stacie: I am café au lait, she is chocolate.

When I talk to Frances, I’m like, you’re the most beautiful person I ever could have asked the universe for and you’re exactly what I wanted. If I imagined a human being that I’d get to receive, it would have been her – her energy, her refusal to listen to me, and skin tone. I want her to be strong about exactly who she is.

Margaret and Noa Sjarvis

Margaret and daughter Noa

Margaret: I am brown, with a tint of sunshine.

Noa: I’m milk chocolate.

Margaret: I try to downplay colorism in our family because we’re all different shades. But If I see a dark-skinned woman, I will say, ‘Oh, look at how beautiful she is.’ I will point out the beauty in darker skin.

Noa: I think my mom’s skin is beautiful. It’s obviously different than mine, but that’s OK because everyone’s different, everyone’s unique. I’m closer to my dad’s skin tone, he’s darker. But I still like [my skin]. I love it.


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