Ask Sahaj: My husband said he’s ‘so happy’ our kids are White-passing


Q: My husband is a Brown Zoroastrian who immigrated to the United States from Iran when non-Muslims were persecuted there. I am White and we have two children together. The younger one has my blond hair and blue eyes. I knew my husband felt a lot of internal pressure to assimilate when he immigrated to a suburban, largely White town. He’s mentioned that while he can’t think of overt racism he experienced as a child, he was always hyper-aware of his otherness and hated it (for example, embarrassment about the smell of their foods, his parents’ accents, the music they played at barbecues).

The other night after a few drinks, he went on about how he’s so happy our kids are both fair-skinned and that he especially loves that the youngest is blond and blue-eyed. I was a bit horrified by what he was saying and asked what he meant. He said something along the lines of, “It’s clearly the best to be that in the U.S., so of course I want them to look that way. That’s part of the reason I wanted to marry you.” There are so many layers here I don’t even know where to start. I can both understand why he feels that way given his experiences, but I am also very disturbed by it. I would never want my kids to think that their dad is particularly happy that they’re fair.

I also feel a bit gross that was a factor in him wanting to marry me, but that ship has sailed. I don’t think I’ll be able to convince him this is a particularly problematic thing he needs to work through, especially when he’s not wrong that our kids will probably benefit from the way their genetics played out. I’d appreciate any advice on how to manage this and raise kids who may benefit from their skin color, but this also doesn’t mean everyone should want to be White-passing or that passing as White is innately better. I also don’t want to invalidate my husband’s experience but do want to push back on his “Thank God they’re White-passing” thinking.

– Confused Parent

A: I can understand why you don’t feel great about your husband’s comments. They are concerning and are harmful to you and your kids.

Your husband has internalized beliefs about skin color and race that are rooted in a larger issue of white supremacy and suggest that being fair-skinned or White is the “ideal.” This colorism is insidious and has led to the popularity of skin-whitening creams and the biased assumption that lighter-skinned people are smarter.

His embarrassment about the foods his family ate, their music and their accents indicates his acceptance of negative stereotypes about himself, also known as internalized oppression. When moving to a new country, immigrants and their kids adopt the new cultural values in different ways. In extreme cases, some choose to retain their heritage culture and reject the new culture; others – like your husband – choose to accept the new culture with minimal interest in their heritage culture. This may be rooted in fear, desire for acceptance, experiencing discrimination, or internalized oppression.

Your husband may not be aware of the ways he is perpetuating this oppression onto himself and your kids. Therefore, it’s imperative you have honest conversations with him about your concerns when you’re both sober. Focus these conversations on your kids to get on the same page about what is important for them to know or see modeled about culture, skin color and identity. Approach him as a teammate to make sure you understand how you will navigate these issues together. This will help you learn more about what your husband may be struggling with, and it can give you space to share your own thoughts.

I’m particularly concerned about how his focus on your younger child is going to affect your older child’s self-worth. You may want to specifically address this: “I’ve wondered if you’ve considered the impact of your words on [older child].” Emphasizing skin, hair or eye color as a measure of belonging invalidates other important factors you want to nurture in your kids – like empathy, curiosity, kindness, resilience and so on. Your husband may benefit from reflecting on his beliefs, because for better or worse, he will play a role in passing on his narratives around skin color to your kids. Consider suggesting counseling solo or as a couple to navigate this.

You don’t have to have all the answers to initiate a conversation; being honest about your concerns is enough. You can start with a general statement like: “It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where being fair-skinned comes with certain privileges, but it’s important to me that we don’t uphold this narrative in our home.”

Finally, you’re right that having conversations about race with your kids is important, and especially for kids who are White-passing and have certain privileges because of it. Merely alluding to colorism or racism is not enough; you have to be explicit. There are tons of age-appropriate resources and educators to learn from, like Britt Hawthorne. There are also identity development models that focus on the developmental stages of experiencing race that you can use to understand where your kids are on their own racial journeys and how you can nurture them.

These conversations are a part of a long game to address something that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Racial and cultural identity are complicated and are experienced by children through the influence of parents, family, community and socialization. As a mixed-race family with different skin tones, it’s especially important you lean into your discomfort to address these issues.

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy and Culturally Enough, communities focused on people with bicultural identities and immigrant parents. You can submit questions here:



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