When I found out I was pregnant and officially accepted my mission to be a mother, I didn’t count on my daughter and I being an odd couple. As my pregnancy progressed, I knew that I would be a single parent. I made peace with it and have pretty much been winging it ever since. Yet there are two things I didn’t think I would ever have to fret over until I encountered them head on.
Six years have gone by and I still find myself in the trenches of these nuisances. Let me start with the most obvious oddness: the difference in our complexions. I’m turning out to be the kind of mother that has to (or feels the need to) correct certain people when they look at my kid and immediately make assumptions based on our complexions.
Hold up a kindergarten picture of me next to my kindergarten child. You should see a reflection of me within her. She has my mouth, which sometimes flashes an extra bright smile that reminds me of what I looked like at her age. When she smiles her cheeks become full and rosy just like mine. Her hair is luscious and thick just as mine was around that time. Her eyes! She has the most amazing brown eyes with long lashes that are sure to captivate any weary soul. I actually envy her lashes. Initially I thought she inherited a cool eye trick that her father has, her pupils changing color with her mood. However, her genetic make up decided (at least for now) to keep her pupils a deep warm mahogany.
The only immediate difference is our skin. I’m more of a maple brown and she is, taking after her father, a blush of butter pecan. During her newborn to toddler stage, she was a few shades paler than her current complexion. When she was born, I was aware of her color, but she is mine. The rest of her physical attributes would prove that and I didn’t think anyone would dare to question the validity of my motherhood.
I’ve been mistaken for her nanny and another relative (as in I married a white relative of hers, but there is no ring on my finger). I still remember a shopping outing with my mother and my daughter. My daughter was only a few months old and a white lady passed us by and ogled at her for a few. She complimented how adorable she is and boldly asked my six-month-old child, “Where’s your mother?” I was standing right there. Before I could say anything my mother spoke, “She’s right there.” The lady looked embarrassed. She turned a shade of red and kept walking.
For a time she “earned” the nickname “Pinky,” among family. At first it rubbed me the wrong way, as it was associated with comments like, “You sure you belong to us?” or “Sit that child out in the sun.”
I know my family didn’t mean any harm. It was all in the name of a little joking. Yet I wondered if, subconsciously, a generational self-hate was rearing its head. Like many other African-Americans, on both sides of my family, my relatives range in all shades of black. Beautiful shades. But somewhere, somehow, the seed of self hate was planted and it carried for generations.
Even as one generation shouted, “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” the snide comments continued. Even as my mother and father enforced, “You are a beautiful child of God,” I couldn’t help noticing how society flocks to the lighter, whiter side of things.
What hurts my ears to their core are comments from family, friends and strangers when they look at my daughter and place their assumptions about light skinned females on her.
“Oh she a red bone, all the boys going to be after her.”
“Oh, she’s a red bone, the older she gets her wardrobe is going to have to be on point.”
“I wish my kids were light like that.” (Just heard that this morning from a parent at my kid’s school.)
“Oh she’s light skinned. She’s gonna have to know how to fight. Light skinned girls always have to fight.”
My child will be six in about two months. I’ve been doing my damnedest to combat these negative feelings that others have. I’ll be damned if this generational self hate mess continues with her. Sometimes the comments warrant lashing out. Other times, they are so ridiculous I have to laugh.
One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. While the character in the book is a little black girl, it doesn’t address the issue of race — unless you wanna call a cute illustration of her waking up early in the morning with her uncombed afro is a big ball of poof addressing it. It highlights all of her silly differences (her knobby knees or hippo hips or purple polka-dotted lips) and affirms that she is proud of who she is no matter what people say.
The other part of our oddness is our social awkwardness, more mine than hers, as my daughter is VERY outgoing. It’s actually my daughter’s love for other people that is testing and pushing my limits with other grown ups. I’m trying not to be overprotective of her, but it’s so hard. She’s the kind of kid that will give anyone on the street a hearty hello and depending on her comfort level will strike up a conversation. I worry that the wrong person will take advantage of that but that’s another topic altogether.I’m finding that, as I plan her first out of school birthday party, not many of my friends or relatives have children her age. Everyone is either too young or too old. That pretty much leaves me with the kids in her class and their parents. You’ve seen the web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. I’m THAT girl when it comes to socializing with other parents. I’m trying my hardest to break out this shell, by striking up little small conversations when the time is right, such as if I find myself on a yellow bus with them as we head down class field trip lane.
I have to admit I dropped out of a social group before my membership was even “approved.” A wonderful network of stay-at-home moms called Mocha Moms is a national organization that encourages fellowship among mothers of color. The moms have play dates, arrange activities for the kids and even have a moms’ day or night out. It seemed like a gem of an idea for me, as I work from home, on a budget but love to do weekend activities with my daughter. Yet I let my social awkwardness talk me out of it.
Now I’m thirsty to fellowship with moms who have kids around my daughter’s age. I am committed to working on this. For six years it has felt like my daughter and I against our own oddness. No one prepped me for the complexion wars or groomed me to be open to other parents and befriending them. I always envisioned the two of us living a life of facing adventures together, sans the noise of the real world. Of course this is slightly off from our reality. Yet as each year goes by, I pray that it gets better for us and I won’t have to protect her as much from light skin verses dark skin statements, and she won’t have to push me as much to be receptive to other mommies.
Mahoganie Jade Browne is an acrobatic word slayer – ok a freelance journalist and creative writer – based in Washington, D.C. She’s a high-heel-wearing single mom to a soon-to-be-six-year-old, high-top-sneaker-wearing Aries princess. Catch her musings at http://mahoganie.wordpress.com.