by JENNIFER JOHNSON
I wasn’t ever the prettiest girl in school. In fact—I was never even close. But that didn’t stop me from being one of the most outgoing girls in my class. I was a cheerleader, in the band, class president. I signed up for and tried out for nearly every club imaginable. But the fact of the matter was that the deep south, where racism is still fresh and obvious and seering, was not the ideal place for dating.
I remember in high school reading a newspaper article about a school in a town—too close to ours—that was having their first integrated prom. My school wasn’t this far behind the times, but it certainly was a lot like that other town's school in other ways. People were much more comfortable choosing sides.
Not me, though. My best friend was white; friends from my neighborhood were black. And it wasn’t very common to have close friends of both races (I say both because where I grew up in Georgia there was just black and white—not much of anything else). By the time I started high school, we had moved to a predominantly white neighborhood, which then turned my neighborhood and school demographics into “mostly white.” Overall, it is safe to say most of my friends growing up were white.
When I turned 16 (the magic number in my house to begin dating) I imagined the phones ringing off the hook on the weekend, boys waiting in line to ask me out. But they never called and the dates never came. Instead, I had a lot of “guy friends.” You know, the ones who would hang out with you, and talk to you on the phone, but they’d mostly be plotting ways get hooked up with your friends.
This was the case with one of my best guy friends for quite some time. We were very close. He wanted a girlfriend, I wanted to be his girlfriend. But one day after school, he told me why that wasn’t possible. “Because you’re black,” he told me point blank.
Some of my girlfriends blamed not dating outside of their race on their religion. “It says in the Bible that you should stick to your own race,” they’d argue. But my parents always told me differently. "If that is the case, who are biracial people to marry?" they'd ask. "Only biracial people?"
I didn’t let those experiences drag me down. In fact, they built me up—made me a better, stronger woman. And when I moved away for college, I had the opportunity to date all sorts of men—men who weren't scared of something different. The man I married—“The One”—happens to be white. And while we don’t share the same skin tone, we do share the same religious beliefs and many of the same cultural experiences. We are in this life together because we are in love and want to be together; what others think about it is really inconsequential to us.
Still, we often find ourselves questioning where we’ll live and raise our children because while I was strong as a single woman, and we have been strong as a couple, we worry—worry that things could be more difficult for our children. I worry especially that my daughters will face the same challenges I faced growing up, but won't deal with it in the same was as I did, by pushing through it. I was able to brush it off my shoulder, but there are plenty other women who hold grudges, get upset, and turn it into much bigger things. I also worry my sons will have a hard time finding women to date because their parents don't want their daughters dating "black boys."
I worry, too, that if my children look biracial, adults will be too complimentary to my children. I don’t want my kids to suffer the “light-skinned complex," in which they think they're cuter than most because of the color of their skin and texture of their hair, or they learn to hate it because others are giving them a hard time about it.
I hope as my children grow up they meet other children who are taught to have friends of all races, and date people of all nationalities. Religion, career, personality—those are all things you can choose. You're born your race.
I don't want my children to grow up wishing they looked "more like daddy" or like their white friends, and I don't want them wishing they looked more like me, either. I want them to be proud of who they are, and proud to be whatever color they may turn out to be. Most of all, I hope others around us are accepting and open-minded enough to see my kids and others for more than just the color of their skin. After all, hasn’t our country advanced far enough to where race and color shouldn’t matter? In some places, I think yes.
Growing up in the South gave me thick skin, and confidence in who I am as a person—as an individual. For me, “choosing sides” wasn’t easy. I can only imagine how much more difficult it will be for a biracial child who has one white parent and one black parent.
I can only pray that by then, my babies won’t have to make a choice.
About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Future mama Jennifer Johnson chronicles her journey toward motherhood on her blog, Baby Makin(g) Machine.