“I wish I had a white mom.” This is what my daughter said to me on the way home from school one day. Innocent enough, her statement concerned me heavily. I first thought some of the kids in school may have said something horribly cruel to her about having a mom that didn’t look like her. You see, if you don’t already know, my husband and I are an interracial couple and we have two biracial children. Our childrens’ skin tones match neither mine or my husband’s. They’re my Golden Babies. Inevitably, the conversation about skin tone and race comes up quite often in our home. In the very beginning, I wanted to avoid it all together until I knew my kids could fully grasp the totality of their racial identity. I didn’t then, or now, want to have any biases one way or another. My hope was that my kids would learn to view and love people before making a decision based on skin color. Unfortunately I think every parent knows that when a kid has a question, they will ask you until they get an answer! So we’ve talked. A lot.
On this particular day, my daughter heard a song on the radio and she was curious about the man singing. She wanted to know what he looked like. So she asked me, “Is he a black man or a regular man?” I was puzzled. I mean, coming from my daughter, “regular” could be anything from a zombie to a boy in a catsuit and everything in between. I had to ask her what she meant–just to be clear. And she answered that she wanted to know his skin tone. She further explained that the regular man is white and other people are black. This is the part that made me the most sad. In her mind, anything other than white is not regular. Despite me being an actual living, breathing example of a regular person (debatable) who is consistently and actively a part of her life, black people aren’t regular to her! We’re different. Other. Them. This is the problem. This has always been the problem.
Expressing this as a concern sometimes feels like talking through a brick wall–but this experience I had is one of a thousand reasons why we keep shouting at the top of our lungs that REPRESENTATION MATTERS! This is why Black Girls Rock. This is why we went on a Girls Trip. This is why we needed to Get Out. And this is why Wakanda is forever. This all matters, not because we selfishly want to see more people of color on TV and snatch away every white role or job that ever existed! No, no. It matters because the standard for what is considered “regular” or “normal” is usually white. It’s perpetuated in everyday things like TV commercials, magazine covers, cartoon characters, billboard ads, dolls and, well, you get the idea. For many of us, we can probably think of a time we first saw an ad featuring someone that we could identify with. I distinctly remember seeing a black model in a Crest ad many years ago. She was beautiful. Her teeth were so white and pretty and when she smiled at the end of the commercial, my heart was racing. To even fully describe how that commercial made me feel is not possible. I’ll just say that it’s the reason I decided to exclusively use Crest for my teeth. The point is, all too often, we get the shock of seeing the first |insert race here | to do something, to be something, to have something, to rank somewhere. It’s troubling. Especially to our impressionable youth.
I have found it common in talks I’ve had with family and friends that some white Americans have no concept of feeling “othered“. Understandably, how could they? Imagine living your whole life being the standard of wealth and education and beauty and, pretty much the standard of human and one day hearing voices of people screaming to be seen. It probably doesn’t make sense on the surface. I mean, people are just people, right? Yes, until the nightly news reports of a man who robbed a bank and is on the loose. Yes, until the nightly news reports of a black man who robbed a bank and he’s tall, dark skinned and wearing a denim jacket and did I mention he was a black man? You see, we’re visible in bad lighting. But this concept of constantly feeling like the other type/color/race/creed/salad dressing is one that is sometimes painful to describe because of the emotional toll it takes on people who go through it. My husband revealed to me a few years ago that he never experienced unusual stares and looks from people until we got together. He would get upset and question what exactly are they looking at–what’s the big deal? You’re holding hands with a pregnant black woman. That’s a pretty big deal (not me specifically, just in general, I mean the entire concept, it’s a big deal for the sake of this talk but, I mean, I am a big deal). There I sat listening to my husband complain about something I’d dealt with time and time again throughout my whole life. If I remember correctly, I laughed and told him to get used to it! Admittedly, it took me a while to get comfortable enough to have those tough conversations with him without getting emotionally disconnected from the root of the topic, which could have disrupted his opportunity for understanding. Since then, we’ve engaged in some discussions I wish I could have with all of America. Perhaps it just takes one person at a time to change the world. I want to change this world.
Good things are on the horizon. That is clear to me. I am seeing lots of good change almost everywhere. And while some of these firsts feel decades behind, it is a glimmer of hope for future generations who get to witness less of them. Still, the conversations need to be had. There are an unfortunate amount of ignorant people who see the praises of |insert race here| and get annoyed or confused about why we celebrate our people and our culture. Those types of individuals lack any understanding of the history of the country and world we live in. They lack an understanding of how media shapes our society–specifically how it’s shaped their world view and dangerous mentality. The simple fact that people can hardly understand the connotation of the use of blackface every Halloween, is an example of the blindness some people have. And this blindness isn’t due to the absence of knowledge and books and documentaries and speeches and just about every medium possible used to communicate this American plight, rather it’s a person’s willingness to remain in their ignorant little bubble. Conveniently, in school we learn the desirable aspects of American history, you know, that regular good ol’ important stuff. It’s an involuntary ignorant bubble, so-to-speak, that we’d all succumb to if we dare not to explore outside of the textbooks. Thankfully some schools offer African American Lit and other history in America as an elective! Yay! Should you choose to take that elective, you’ll learn a heck of a lot about 13% of the people in this country. Speaking of percentages, I’ve heard people argue against more PoC in media because they will be “over-represented”. You know how problematic that can be. Thirteen is a special number.
Anyway…the goal isn’t to saturate the field. Simply put: we just want visibility. Positive and creative and loving and happy and regular visibility. I’ll speak for myself here–I want my daughter to believe that all humans are regular. I want her and her brother to see black people doing regular things like selling toothpaste. I want them to see a regular Asian family and not associate them with any stereotype. I’d like my kids to see a regular person with a disability and have compassion for them. I want my kids to hear a regular person speaking Spanish and not assume they aren’t meant to be here . I am okay with my kids seeing white people as regular. But that is doesn’t have to mean other people are not.
Race is a funny thing. On one end, we strive to embrace ourselves and our backgrounds while also wanting to blend in and be treated equally, all as one of mankind. This makes the conversation that much harder for people who’d rather only see it one way. Either you’re fully, hardcore, celebrating |insert race here| or no one should talk specifically about their race because all lives matter. Yet there is middle ground. We can proudly celebrate who we are–and each other–and receive fair and equal treatment. That is totally possible! Yes, that reality is still a long way ahead of us. The road to full equality is a rough and rugged one–one that we may never see come to fruition. But we can continue to make an effort to get there. We can do this if we talk and be honest with each other and most importantly, if we listen to each other. I listened to my daughter. I heard what she was saying. And although she is just five years old, her voice needs to be heard loud and clear. My daughter doesn’t want a white mom. She wants a regular mom. Our place in this world has created a normalcy that she and many other children without white moms are subject to. It’s a world that doesn’t make half of her feel regular. At the core of her desire, she wants to be normal. And unfortunately for her, she is a rock star; so it’s just not possible.
Let’s talk. How do you discuss race and racial identity with your children? Or, how was it discussed when you were a child? No hate. No judging. No fighting. Let’s talk. Like adults.