When she was somewhere around 4 and proudly learning that red and yellow make orange and green is the product of yellow and blue, my spawn had a verbal beat-down with a classmate over the color of her skin.
On the way home, she told me she was gray and asked for confirmation. I laughed at first, confused by the randomness, and she pouted. She wanted my support in the statement. She was gray. That day, another child had asked her the question so many multi-racial people are asked:
“What are you?”
“I’m gray,” she replied.
They insisted that she couldn’t be gray. People aren’t gray. She was adamant.
I asked her what she said then.
She relayed the discussion, almost in tears by the time she was finished. She did not understand why they didn’t get it. Her mother was white. Her father was black. White+Black=Gray. They all said she could be brown or black, but not gray.
So simple. She was permitted to claim a shade of brown-to-black in their four-year old minds. Already… they had learned that their world was divided into white and non-white.
I’ve done my best to raise my daughter in a world that wants her to choose sides on a daily basis. Is she white enough for this or black enough for that? Food, clothes, diction, music, dating, politics… they world seems determined to divvy everything up… there’s the black way or the white way. In our family, we have developed a peculiar sense of humor around the topic. I hate that she has to choose.
I recall my first chosen sexual partner, a white man who “had black friends” and would have been the first person to proclaim that he was not racist. I ran into him in the year following our breakup (which was amicable) and he told me that he had heard I was “dating blacks” now. I nodded and he said, “Now that you’ve been with a black man, no decent white man will have you.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
Thirty years later and I still remember it… the feeling of air being knocked out of me in disbelief. The realization that he was correct about the sentiment, although the term “decent” was misplaced in the sentence. I was looking racism in the face.
When I was nearly eight months pregnant, my then-husband and I broke down in West Virginia. It’s a cautionary tale about being a mixed race couple in a decidedly racist little enclave off the highway. I was afraid -truly afraid for my life and the life of my husband and our unborn child.
That wasn’t so long ago, as the world turns. It was 1990. I knew then what it was to look at someone and know that they wanted to do me harm for one reason alone: I was a race-traitor. In their minds, I was even “worse” than he was. He was born black and for that, they feared and despised him. I was born white and turned my back on my heritage, in their estimation. Unforgivable.
I’ve been thinking about this all a lot lately, with the news cycle focusing on violence and race. I’ve been thinking that there is no way for me to protect my sweet spawn from the inevitable offensive remark or discriminatory action.
She has been incredibly lucky so far and our city is partly responsible. Columbus, Ohio is a great place in terms of acceptance and integration but we still keep our children largely bound in cages of white school or black school. We still have racial divides in neighborhoods and disproportionately white folks at the helm of our companies, our courts, our classrooms. Racism is far from dead. Hell, it isn’t even in remission.
She is a woman of color. She lives in the intersection of sexism and racism. How will she live a life without being touched by these things?
As the mother of a girl-child, I want the world to not hurt her… not like that… not like women are too-often hurt. I hope she never fears the touch of a person because someone violates her trust profoundly.
As the mother of a person-of-color, I want the world to call her friend… to even call her nothing at all, so long as they don’t call her out of her name. I dread the day when she is called nigger. I wince as I type it here but I refuse… REFUSE to say “the n-word” because even that feels like whitewashingsugarcoating bullshit. I am sadly certain that it will happen some day, the question is when.
How will I hold space for the pain that she will face?
I’ve tried to prepare her for the pain she may experience in this life. She’s tough. She’s amazing. She’s beautiful. She’s somebody… you hear me? SHE IS SOMEBODY. She is somebody that I love.
Please don’t look past my baby or through my baby.
Please don’t narrow down my baby’s life or squash her opportunities.
Please don’t hurt my baby.
Please don’t hurt my gray baby.