Nothing could have prepared Kabrina, a Scarborough, Ontario mother, for the questions her 4 year old daughter asked after reading the award winning Children's book titled 'Loving Me.'
Kabrina had given her daughter the
book for Christmas and after reading it with her a few times, she suddenly
asked: “Mommy, am I black?” and “Are you black too?”
Dumbfounded, Kabrina mechanically
replied “yes” both times.
Then she followed up with, “Mommy, is
my doll white?” while Kabrina thought to herself… “Awkward!” then softly
replied, “Oh, ummmmm yes,” realizing for the first time that her daughter was
completely unaware of her own identity.
Kabrina quickly made a conscious decision to phase out the dolls that didn't
resemble her daughter, just so she could first work on helping her daughter
gain an understanding and love for who she was. She filled her daughter's library
with urban children's books that would edutain (educate and entertain) her and
that had characters that looked like her. As the days went on, her daughter
began comparing her own arm's complexion against Kabrina's or would make
references to the book saying things like 'Mommy that's my hair!' with the
There are countless mothers in urban communities who, just like Kabrina, have
experienced the shock that comes with seeing their children struggle with their
identities. Many are confused about when the breakdown happened, what caused
it, or how to fix it.
Identity gives communities purpose and direction. It lets children know how
they fit into the world and inspires thoughts of what they could be doing to
contribute to their communities, or how they should behave, etc. By the time a
child can recognize themselves in the mirror (18-20 months of age), their self
awareness has already begun to develop. Once that child begins elementary
school, he/she will begin comparing what they perceive to be their own laws
against others' characteristics or behaviors, etc.: “She can run better than I
can!” or “He can draw better than I can!”
The formative years (0-5yrs) are
crucial for healthy development and building a strong identity. If parents are
not vigilant during this delicate time, then the likelihood of the child
rejecting themselves or feeling excluded from the human experience, can
increase exponentially. They may even get the sense they are not important
enough to be celebrated and/or wish they were more like someone who is.
It was not too long ago that a
collective gasp could be heard throughout urban communities when they watched
in despair as child after child showed preferences for the white dolls and
wanted to be more like them. Although one test was performed back in 1947 and
another one as recent as 2010, both tests yielded the same results. Many
parents feel helpless when it comes to preventing their loved ones from
becoming that child.
Rest assured, there are straightforward solutions to this dilemma, but that
doesn't mean it will be easy. Most importantly, urban Canadian parents must
take charge of the teaching tools they provide for their children in their home
the way other communities do. Teaching tools can be dolls, movies or even
programming. As well as being ready to answer those tough questions in a
positive way, such as “why am I black?” Chances are your child will always be
exposed to other types of materials once they reach school. This is definitely
a good thing because it will provide balance. However, if parents continue to
rely only on those materials used by the school system, they may continue to
end up with a child who shows disdain towards their own identity.
One of the most influential teaching
tools in nurturing your child's identity is children's literature. Books
capture the imagination and help young readers find their voice.
Children become motivated or inspired
to learn more. A story has the power to shape young hearts and minds. A book
like Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive by
Itah Sadu, or Marcus Teaches Us by
Eleanor Wint, or Boy! I Am Loving Me!
by Angelot Ndongmo, are all great examples of fusing entertainment and
education together successfully for urban Canadian children.
As you reach for your child's next
bedtime story, think about the effect it may have on them, as well as other
books you have in their collection. Do the stories contain main characters who
resemble your child and who are doing amazing things, or going on adventures or
problem solving? Are the characters saving the day, having a great time, or
being considered handsome/beautiful? If not, your literary selections could be
doing more harm than good.
Tips for Success:
A) Foster a positive attitude towards
embracing people's differences as well as their own through literature.
B) Engage. Always take on the responsibility of helping your child
understand who they are before someone else does.
C) Regularly expose them to various
books, activities, black businesses, etc., that help them dream big and
reinforce their self-esteem.
D) Check in with your child now and
again to get a sense of their awareness around their identity.
award-winning children’s author’s first professional writing
accomplishment was an article published
in 'Black Woman & Child' magazine. She has always enjoyed working with
youth and writing as a pastime. Those two worlds collided during her position
as a youth worker. Remembering her own personal struggles as a young
African-Canadian girl, she recognized the need for reading materials geared
towards black children that would help them embrace their own beauty and
enchanting features. A burning desire set in to do something about it and the
end result was her first children's book titled 'Loving Me' which was met with
great success! Many parents expressed their desire to engage their young sons
as well, thus giving way to her follow up children's book titled 'Boy! I Am
Loving Me!' Angelot Ndongmo continues to reside in Brampton and is
currently working on her third story! Contact
Angelot at: firstname.lastname@example.org