So, tell me something. At what age do you think children become aware of differences associated with race? I would argue that children perceive these differences earlier than we might think. We saw a few months back from a story published by businesswoman Ana Paula Xongani when she noticed that girls were avoiding playing her daughter. Both Ana and her daughter are dark skinned Brazilians. Ana’s daughter revealed that her colleagues always treat her like that and that she was already used to playing by herself. Isolated incident you say? Obviously not. The classroom and the playground are full racist jokes and songs that Brazilian children spew as if second nature and often times the teachers turn a blind eye to it.
Recently, actor André Luiz Miranda also learned that children are miniature reflections of a racist society and imitate the behavior and beliefs that they obviously pick up from adults. Not only do children pick up on what they should avoid being, but they also pick up what the society values, as we saw with the little black girl adopted by white parents who asked if would be a good idea for her to completely remove her naturally kinky/curly hair and put in straight, blond hair. Where did she get that idea from? I wonder…
In the case of Miranda, he recently shared an incident in the life of his four-year daughter. The novela (soap opera) actor revealed the incident that went down in the play area of the building where he lives with his wife and daughter through his Instagram.
Last Wednesday, coming home a little earlier than usually, Miranda decided he wanted to spend some time playing his daughter. After having a little fun with daddy, his daughter decided she wanted to play with another child.
After a few minutes, the actor perceived that the other child consistently avoided playing his daughter while his daughter kept trying to play with her. The other girl’s brother was playing futebol nearby and there were only three children in the children’s play area.
But then something strange happened. Another child appeared and suddenly the face of the little girl who avoided playing with Miranda’s daughter lit up. She ran up to the other child and hugged her while leaving Miranda’s daughter alone on her own.
Miranda perceiving the disappointment in his daughter’s face, was bewildered as to why the other girl rejected her. But he probably couldn’t have imagined the response he received from the girl when he asked.
“People with hair like that and that color I don’t like. Eu só brinco com pessoas brancas (I only play with white people).”
Shocked at hearing such a comment from such a young child, Miranda asked the little girl if someone had taught her this or it was her own thought, to which the child affirmed that it was indeed her own thought. In the midst of children, it was the 30-year Miranda who revealed that he felt like crying. But the reality of the moment was too strong to dismiss or ignore.
“Racism is structural and reproduced by children in a frightening way,” the actor opined.
Undoubtedly, Miranda, being a black male, is aware of the evils of racism, but on that day, he may have perceived something a little deeper. No one can speak of the specific environment that the child frequents, but it doesn’t matter. Racism in Brazil spreads like air. It’s in the minds of millions. It’s on the television in blatant and subtle ways. It’s in the country’s history and its very structure. So, in some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised that even children reproduce such thought. If a child can note that there are no black princesses in the cartoons, they can surely perceive which race is deemed to be the “winning team” and adapt their thoughts and behaviors accordingly.
What’s funny about this case is how the child had a very clear perception of “us” vs. “them”. Although Miranda is a very brown-skinned, obviously black man, his daughter has very fair skin (the result of Miranda’s relationship with a white woman), but her hair is a curly afro. I find this intriguing, because, at that age, I didn’t have a clear understanding of how black people can also have light skin. I remember being a child and thinking my own mother was white due her light skin. It’s only natural. Skin color is one of the most important factors in how we perceive the concept of race. But even with Miranda’s daughter’s skin being much closer to that of her mother’s than her father’s in terms of color, that girl on the playground clearly knew that Miranda’s daughter was not on “her team”.
And what did André Luiz Miranda take from this incident? The truth. In his own words:
“Although not aware of the concept of race, this child has learned some aspects that are in our society. Hair, the color of the skin, are determining characteristics of racial difference and this motivates these actions.”