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“Mummy, can you spray my face white?" asks 4-year-old boy

MOTHER AND SON: Alison Bajaican and her son Leon

A MOTHER has shared her sadness over her young son's comments about wanting to be white.

In an interview with The Voice, Alison Bajaican spoke of two incidences where her son Leon, 4, expressed his desire to be white and stated that he no longer wanted to be brown. One of those incidences was captured in a picture taken by Ms Bajaican’s friend, and shows the young boy putting nappy cream on his face in an attempt to change his appearance.

Recounting the day she saw the image, Ms Bajaican said to The Voice: "I went to go and collect my son from a friend. She said 'I've got to show you something, this is so funny’ and it was a picture of my son, having smeared Sudocream - or nappy cream - all over his face’."

“My son was at my friend’s house – who is Hungarian – with her three-year-old who is of dual heritage. The nappy cream was left out and they both accessed it. The younger child showed my son and said ‘oh let’s do this and smear nappy cream on our faces.”

When Ms Bajaican shared her concerns with friends, she was shocked by their nonchalant responses. “My friend thought it was funny and I said to her ‘no it’s not. And when I spoke with other friends, they would say ‘well he’s exploring’ – in fact, one of the doctors who I work with is Greek and he said [of Leon’s picture] that he looks like Michael Jackson and laughed,” she revealed. “Some European people may not see the harm and find it funny when a black child tries to do whiteface, but for me, I’m thinking of all the implications.”

Ms Bajaican expressed her confusion and concern even more so, after Leon had previously asked to be spray-painted white.

In an interview with the BBC, she said: "I was tucking him in one night and he asked 'Mum, can you spray paint my face white?' and I asked him: ‘Well why do you want me to spray paint your face white?' and he said 'Well I don't want to be brown."

“As a politically conscious black woman, I was confused as to why he would say this, but I understand that he doesn’t know the implications and what it means to be black and I prefer to keep it that way.”

Ms Bajaican acknowledges the necessity to open her son to differences in the world but doesn’t want to burden him as she felt she was during her childhood. “I was burdened and overwhelmed with race relations when I was younger and being told ‘these people do this, the police do that’,” she said to The Voice. “Specifically with my mum - everything was about racism. So it was like racism was everywhere but I didn’t want to raise Leon with that burden at such a young age.

“He doesn’t need to hear about racism and Rodney King at four years old and that’ll just upset him. I wanted him to grow up innocent and sweet until it got to a point where I’d have to tell him, and that was a point where I had to tell him and have that conversation because he said he doesn’t want to be brown.”

Since speaking with Leon, Ms Bajaican said she has seen a change. “He doesn’t talk about wanting to be white anymore. He understands the concept of white and brown - he doesn’t understand the concept of being black but I don’t think I need to explain that to him at his age.”

While experts suggest that this type of behaviour is not abnormal for children of Leon's age, Ms Bajaican believes representation plays an important role and that children should see themselves reflected in society in order to avoid this type of behaviour.

She has given books featuring black children to the school in attempt to further increase diversity, but still finds there is a lack of responsibility among schools to incorporate more inclusion and representation.

“Schools aren’t going to be more inclusive so you have to force it down their neck,” she stated. “I’ve taken a stash of black history magazines to Leon’s school and I made sure to give books to black parents.”

Ms Bajaican’s thoughts on how representation affects young children is echoed in a recent report by Bristol University and York University in Canada, which suggests that minority children as young as six years old show an implicit pro-white racial bias when exposed to images of both white and black children.

The research – conducted by Dr Amanda Williams from the University of Bristol’s School of Education, with York University colleagues Professor Jennifer Steele and Meghan George - looked at implicit racial bias in traditionally understudied populations. The goal of the research was to gain a better understanding of children’s automatic racial attitudes and one of the studies took place in the small Southeast Asian country of Brunei Darussalam.

In this study, they discovered younger children, older children, and adults were quicker to pair positive pictures with white faces and negative pictures with black faces.

Speaking on the findings, Dr Williams said: "Together the results from these studies show us the power of diverse contexts. Specifically, that exposure to individuals from marginalised racial/ethnic groups can reduce racial biases. It is important for classrooms and whole-schools to acknowledge this – even in settings where the student population is not diverse.

“Across all contexts, teachers and stakeholders should strive to use diverse materials that represent all community members. This can help to reduce racial prejudice and stereotyping, and contribute to a more equitable society for everyone."

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