When I adopted my daughter almost 32 years ago, no one knew George Floyd. Rodney King was the first video taping of brutal police beating that I could remember, and it never occurred to me when I looked at her beautiful brown little face peeking out of that pink fleece blanket that she would be subject to any kind of racism. I didn’t truly understand the ramifications of “racism” as we know it today; not just the overt confederate flag waving type, but the stares in the stores, the limits on her that are bred in the institutions white folks take for granted.
I didn’t see her color. I just loved her. I now know that not seeing her color severely shortchanged my understanding of how the world saw her.
When she was three, she asked me why her skin was brown and mine was “pale.” The best age-appropriate explanation I could give her was that she was born from the tummy of a woman with brown skin. Soon, her friends began to ask her the same question. She gave that response and they seemed satisfied. At the time there was no variety of skin tone crayons at her preschool.
When one particularly curious and bold boy at Burger King came over to our table and asked me if she was my daughter, she and I knowingly smiled at each other. “Is her father black?” No. “Puerto Rican?” No. He shrugged his shoulders and skipped back to the ball house.
These were benign exchanges, but nevertheless my daughter realized that she was different at a very early age. Other exchanges weren’t so benign.
In a particularly upsetting event, she was in a stroller as I pushed her around a mall. A gentleman in a wheelchair who seemed disheveled came closer to us; “Your kid is ugly!” My daughter didn’t hear him, but I left the mall as quickly as I could.
We got the question in the grocery store: “Are you together?” even though we were standing right next to each other. When she was older and we shopped together, I could see the clerk’s eyes follow her around a store. This would never happen to me.
I have always been open to discussing the “woman with the brown skin.” When I was working in NYC, I would take her on the commute from Connecticut.
I frequently caught her looking at young black women on the subway. One day, she sat next to a 30s something woman and began talking to her. The woman listened to my daughter and gently responded. I could see their lips moving. The woman exited at her stop, a slight wave to my daughter.
She was quiet. I asked her a bit about her conversation with the young lady.
“She was pretty. Do you think she might look like the woman with the brown skin you were born from?”
“Yes,” she said.
Then added. “I wonder if that was her.”
Cynthia Keenan Kosinski is the mother of 32-year-old Audrey, who works as a PA (Physician’s Assistant) in Boston. Cynthia is a member of the Quechee Club’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Counsel and splits her time between Quechee and Long Island. She is a retired attorney with a background in journalism and nursing. She is working on a novel while managing her two older, bonded rescue labs, Jake, and Cooper.