Last week, I was asked to take part in a phone interview with Taye Diggs about his new children’s book called Chocolate Me. Yes . . . that Taye Diggs. I responded (perhaps too quicky?) and let his people know that I was a fangirl and a Renthead, and that I was really, really, super-duper dorky excited, and despite me acting like an adolescent girl about it, they still let me interview him. Let me explain my feelings about Taye Diggs. First, there is this: This was not modified for comedic effect for this post. THIS IS MY REAL, OFFICIAL LIST, YOU GUYS. Taye has been on there since Stella got that groove back. (Please do not mock me about Anderson. The heart wants what the heart wants). Then there is the fact that Taye Diggs is not only easy on the eyes, but also a broadway actor. Married to another broadway actor that I adore. Have I mentioned I like musical theater a lot? Have I said that? Maybe a few times?? Let’s have a stroll down memory lane, circa 1996. As you can well imagine, I spent the last week giving myself stern lectures about what would and WOULD NOT be appropriate questions for Taye Diggs. I am very proud of myself for refraining from asking the following questions, that were threatening to exit my mouth in a Tourette’s style fashion for the duration of the interview:
- Can we sing a duet from The Wild Party right now?
- Have you and Idina ever considered a sister-wife?
- Would you like to hear my 56-point critical analysis of Rent: The Movie vs. the stage version?
- Do your pecs have anything to say?
- Would Idina like to be my friend FOR GOOD? Get it? GET IT?
I’m quite proud I was able to reign in the dorkfest and have a coherent discussion with him, because Taye has written an awesome children’s book that is right up my alley. (In fact, I included it in my list of resources for talking to kids about race yesterday). It’s called Chocolate Me, and it’s the story of a dark-skinned African American boy who is teased for being brown. It’s a really great book to get kids talking about racial teasing, and I think it is a great selection not just for children of color . . . but for all kids to develop empathy for this kind of bullying. Taye was really generous in his interview with us – there were four other bloggers involved and we dove right in to some heavy topics. When asked about his own personal journey with overcoming teasing as a kid, Taye shared that the book was largely autobiographical.
“There was that bout , my bout with my struggle at that time as a 5 year old, just understanding the nature of race as far as white people and black people are concerned or black people and black people are concerned. Right about that time when I was 5, after that conversation I had with my mother, that kind of sustained me because things remained fairly simple until, it was around 5th grade, because we moved a bunch of different places. And then later, we moved back into another suburb where the neighborhood was very diverse, but my grade was not. It was an interesting kind of contradiction, where the suburb we moved to was when I was first introduced to upper-middle class black people, but I was the only black person in my class. So there were still issues. I remember there was one black girl and me and whenever people would pair off, they would immediately just assume that we would partner. They weren’t very liberal with their thinking, the teacher included. When I got into high school I started to hear, from the black community, “oh everybody is more attracted to the light skin girls and the light skin dudes and the light eyes.” And from within the race the light skin black people and more lighter brown people would make fun of the darker people. So then it was a completely different kind of struggle. And then funnily enough it was when dark skinned men, and this was just from my perspective, there seemed to be a shift where all of a sudden we saw Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Tyson Beckford. For me personally, when I saw Tyson Beckford kind of hailed as this beautiful man by all people, that caused a shift in my being. And I remember literally waking up and walking the streets feeling a little bit more proud.”
I asked Taye about what advice he would give parents raising children of color in predominantly white communities. His response:
“I think so much of what is needed happens at home. Again, drawing from my childhood, once my mother had this conversation with me, from that point on, my mother and my father made sure that whatever we were going to see, whether it was a movie, play, TV, they always brought attention to black performers, my mother made sure I read the auto biography of Sidney Poitier, etc. At the same time, without in any way being discouraging to other races. It was just this, “we want to make sure you understand who you are and regardless of what mainstream society puts out there or may think, this is what is happening. These are positive people that look like you and are doing great things so there’s no excuse for you to not be doing things just as great.” I have to give my mother props in that respect too. My family never made it seem like I couldn’t accomplish anything I wanted. We had no money, my father was in and out of jobs, my mother went back to school, and we were on welfare. So I think tons of people in my position, as cliché as it sounds, would have maybe turned to the streets. But those options weren’t even in my hemisphere. I didn’t know how, but I just knew I was going to go to college and I knew I was going to do something successful. So I think all of that came from the home. To this day, I tell myself to only control the things that you can the rest you have to just let it be. But that which you can control, gain control and own it. So as far as that’s concerned, I feel that so much of it takes place in the home. And to be prepared. Be prepared for the adverse reactions and build up a strong sense of self so that when darts are thrown you can kind of deflect them.”
Taye was really open and vulnerable with us. Not gonna lie – his warm personality and thoughtful responses may just have knocked Mr. Stewart out of his #1 slot. But more importantly, Chocolate Me is a really solid book for children of all colors to learn about acceptance and self-esteem. You can check out the book’s facebook page for some great discussion about kids and self-esteem as well.