I was always aware, growing up, that I was neither white, nor black. No one directly called me out. Although, the question, "What are you?", did always feel like a public challenge. It wasn't spoken, but it didn't need to be. I didn't quite fit in on either side; not white enough, not black enough. I wasn't sure if I would ever belong to one group or the other, but as I grew up I learned that being white was never even an option. I was half and half, but the world never views white/black mixed kids as white. I guess that made me black enough by default. Eventually, I knew that I didn't need to be enough of anything, for anyone but myself. I choose the labels I wear. It never occurred to me, though, that any issues with racial identity would follow me into motherhood.
My children don't shun me, but they don't feel like I understand their experiences, as black kids, either. I didn't even know I was that different in their eyes until my daughter said to me, "Mom, how does it feel to be the only white person in a house with all black people?" OMSheeesh, I thought, you can't ask people that. Even if they're your mother. I wasn't really offended. I actually laughed in the moment. I've got that thick "motherhood" skin you need, to maintain your self esteem while raising children. It did make me realize, though, my daughter really thinks I'm white.
She looks at my skin color as an advantage over her own. I'm comfortable in my skin, but I am secretly obsessed with her golden brown tone. Then again, I see brown skin as a thing of beauty. I don't automatically think of the negative stereotypes that are sometimes associated with it. Even though I was a bit confused about which heritage should dominate my description, I've always had a natural pride in who I am and all the wheres I come from. I've definitely experienced prejudice, but I never internalized it. For me it was more a reflection of the person looking down on me. It exposed their character, not mine. It's different for my children. The oldest two primarily, experience our white washed world as a defective sore thumb. They think the issue lies with them. They don't see their beautiful reddish brown skin, or their African American heritage as a blessing, and that makes me incredibly sad.
I know I can't change the way some people will see them, but it's my hope that one day they'll absorb my example of how I see myself. I also know now, that the only way I can do that is to share with them some of my own experiences. I don't bake myself in sunshine the way I used to throughout my high school and college years, so chances are I'll never not look like a bright light. I can't make us look more alike in that way, but I can help them understand that I've never experienced white privilege. That brown is brown, and my lighter shade has never exempt me from prejudice.
I'm grateful my daughter said what she did, because it made me aware of how she sees me as different. Now the challenge, for me, is to help her see that, really, we're very much the same.