I'm the father of a 5-year-old girl whose skin color is several shades lighter than my own.
Her eyes aren't black like mine; they're an icy blue. She has blond streaks in her hair. And most people say she doesn't look like me — though my mother thinks she does. Like most Indians who value light skin, my mother worries my daughter might turn dark if she plays in the sun too long.
When my daughter and I go out on the street in India, her waist-length hair attracts mobs of street kids and beggars. They run after us to touch her, to ask for food or money. Even when we rush into a shopping mall, there's little relief. Inside, rich Indian teenagers take her picture without asking, and fat ladies in expensive saris squeeze her pink cheeks. Policemen in khaki uniform follow us with their suspicious gazes until we are gone.
When we're in America, we have a different problem.
Any time I'm out in public with my daughter and she strays more than two feet from me, people automatically assume she is lost. Women with their palms on their faces try to figure out who she belongs to. When she tells them that she is with her dad, people look past me. They cannot see the resemblance.
I am used to this and I know why people act like this. When I read a book with her, or when I try to teach her Hindi language, I often think of how to teach her about race, and different skin color.
Sometimes I try to find out what she thinks about all this. A couple of days ago, she and I decided to make self-portraits at home. When I gave her a brown crayon to color her self-portrait, she looked at me and said, 'No papa, you are brown, and I am white."
It's a simple statement of fact. But I wonder when she will learn how much more complicated it can be.