Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I am white. I've never been confused by this - never doubted my ultimate whiteness. [In fact, my husband frequently points out how very white I am - in a whole host of ways] A heritage of nearly all Eastern European people, sprinkled with a Native American about three generations ago insured that I am as non-specific White American as one can get.
Terrance is Black. Like most Black American families, he can claim heritage from nearly every race. His paternal grandfather Josef was Creole/Cajun - very light skinned with a white grandfather. His paternal grandmother, Queenie, was a very dark skinned woman from Alabama. Terrance's Mom is fairly light skinned, and from the pictures I have seen of Her mother - so was she. The members of his side of the family vary from being as dark as Queenie, to as light(or lighter) than my daughter.
Terrance and I knew when I was pregnant that our baby could have skin as dark as his - or skin as light as mine. You just had to wait and see.
Emily is, undoubtedly, light skinned. She has a lovely caramel tone to her skin, which darkens to golden in the summer. Her hair is more like mine than her fathers, and it too gets golden in the summer time.
When Em was an infant when her father was not at my side, little elderly ladies might gently probe as to whether or not my child was "Italian" or "French" - which I came to understand was their way of trying to figure out why this baby was obviously duskier than her mother. I tried to be patient with them - usually finally stating that her father is black before they dug themselves deeper into any cultural stereotypical hole.
Usually that - plus the sight of my liberal white, breastfeeding nipple coming out of said babies mouth - was enough to stop the conversation.
Terrance has always been unequivocal. Emily is Black. I too have understood that in American society, Emily is and remains Black. For the purposes of teaching her how to defend herself and maneuver in our society, she must think of herself as a Black woman.
That has not stopped me from referring to her as bi-racial too. In fact, it is a term that Emily also uses when asked by her classmates what she "is". Now that we are in Montreal there are so many more variations on the racial and cultural theme that Emily is more often than not told that she ISN'T black by her peers. She assures them that she is - she has a black dad and a white mom - that she is bi-racial.
Poking around the internet, I found this article at Jack and Jill Politics. I deeply understand the point of the writer of this blog article. The idea that it makes some of the American populace/electorate more comfortable with President Obama to think of him...and his children as bi-racial is not shocking to me. The idea that the issue of skin color politics within the black and white communities are still alive and rearing it's misshapen head does not surprise me. I have been by my daughters side when an elderly friend in Detroit might comment on how "pretty" my child is...or what "good hair" she has.... Yes. These are the code words for "whiter" in these contexts and it needs to die out. The idea that a child or person is more attractive or able because of the pigmentation in their skin is something that lies in such a deep dark place in our collective American psyche that it will have to be physically exorcised out to fully uproot it.
But where does that leave my child? Where does that leave me, her white mother?
"I think “biracial” is being pushed around by white people to divorce their non-white offspring/non-white person they like from the “undesirable” minority group they came from."
Hey. I take issue with that.
My use of the word "biracial" comes from a place of trying to honor my side of the family, much like my decision to not take my husbands last name at marriage. To simply say that Emily is Black - end of story - effectively erases me - and all my heritage - from her persona. To say that her Educated Black father chose a White prize wife and therefore turned his back on his side of the family is equally inaccurate.
It is time for the discussion to move away from the Jungle Fever stereotypes of Black men and White women, just as much as it is time to move away from the Tyler Perry stereotypes of black families. Not because we don't acknowledge those pieces as authentic points of reference to " A not wholly accurate but still touching upon some pretty deeply held beliefs" - but because it is time to scrape all the pus out of this wound and let it scar over.
I call Emily bi-racial...because she IS and to deny one side of her heritage is as bad as pretending she isn't black.
Posted by Dawn at 4:18 PM