Looking at all of the mixed kids today, one would never guess that back in the day, we kids were an oddity. I was born in Cambridge, Maryland in 1969 to a married black woman and a married white man. Needless to say, they kept their relationship under wraps. Neither of them were happy in their marriages but were too afraid to leave. When I was born, my mother ended the relationship with my biological father. As far as she was concerned, she and her black husband were the proud parents of a 7 lbs., 9 oz. baby girl, that happened to look not so black and my biological father could stay unhappily married to his white wife. Mom was afraid to let the world, or at least the Eastern Shore of Maryland know that she and a white man produced a bi-racial child. People just didn’t do that in Cambridge. No mixing of races. Yet, whenever we were out as a family, it was quite obvious that some race-mixing took place.
As a kid, God forbid that I questioned my color whenever I was around my parents and other family members who didn’t look like me. Relatives would tell me, “You look just like your father’s grandmother”. “You have hair like your grandfather on your mother’s side. He was from New Guinea, you know”. I always looked like someone in the family…who just happened to be dead…and there were no pictures (evidence) to prove otherwise. See where I’m going with this? It’s not like I hadn’t figured it out, but I respected that it wasn’t a topic to bring up, so I kept it to myself. When my mom finally told me about her relationship with my biological father, I was not shocked, to say the least.
All throughout K-12, me and another girl were the only two bi-racial kids in our school. I identified as black, she as white. Every so often, we were questioned about my blackness and her whiteness.
Now, whenever I visit my hometown, it’s like it caught up with the rest of the world…multi-culti people everywhere. My how time and a little bit of progression change things.
Fast forward 30-35 years. I’ve gotten over the stigma of growing up a mixed kid. I know who I am. I know that recognizing all of me doesn’t take away from any part of me. I live by that train of thought and I’ve become quite comfortable with myself over these 40 years. I’m also divorced and the mother of a beautiful 6 year-old girl.
“Mommy, why are you white and I’m brown”? I would get this question all the time, starting when my daughter was around 3 years-old. “I’m not white”, I would counter. “Well, you aren’t brown”. Damn quick child of mine. “Mommy, why don’t I look like you”? I knew that I would have to have the “race talk” with her. Oh, how I wanted to avoid it for as long as possible, but I knew that was an unrealistic expectation in the world we live in. I always wanted my child to value people for their actions and deeds; not make judgments based on the color of their skin. I wanted my child to love herself because she is worthy and not get caught up in the color game. We get so consumed with light-skinned, dark-skinned, good hair (whatever that is), long hair, and all this other stuff that is a part of our history but completely takes away from who we are as human beings. How do you say all of this to a child who is aware of her surroundings but also naïve?
So the explanation begins. “Black is black, is black, is black” (big shout to Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip). While talking to my child about color differences and its beauty, I am aware that I am molding my child to be a black woman in America. She is going to be reminded of her race and gender all the time. At times, those reminders are going to be fueled by hatred and bigotry. Can I help her become strong enough to deal with that? Yes, I can. “Look in the mirror”, I said to her. “Touch your brown face, feel your thick hair, look at the sparkle in your dark brown eyes. You are perfect. And so am I. Daddy, Grandma, Mom Mom and Pop Pop are perfect too”. “What about my black grand pop and white grand pop in heaven”? “Yes, baby, they are also perfect”.
Our conversations about race and color have become very common over the last three years. She knows that I am half-black and half-white for what it’s worth and it’s no big deal. Why should it be? We love to stand in front of the mirror and look at ourselves together. She knows that the blood of her parents, grandparents and ancestors run through her. She likes her friends because they are nice and tell funny jokes.
Recently, my daughter brought home her kindergarten journal called “All About Me” that she created during the school year. In it, she wrote sentences and drew pictures about her family, friends, and herself.
“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher”.
“My favorite colors are pink and purple”.
“I like to play until dinner is ready”.
“My DS is light pink and sparkly”.
“I am brown and I am happy about it”.
Yes I can.
Joy Adams works in Higher Education and lives in Maryland with her daughter, Camille.