Thursday, July 2, 2009

Here's To Hoping It Won't Matter To My Babies (and Their Friends) If They're Black or White


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.

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  1. I share your hopes and your fears. I think things are getting better in Columbia, SC and even in some of the more rural places. There will always be people of both races (I too think in black and white) who get upset by interracial marriage. On the other hand, I know there are more "mixed" couples around here and fewer people look at them funny.
    As more and more people choose "other" on the census, maybe we can look to our shared culture and rejoice in the delicious flavors all different cultures (not just black and white) bring to our lives.

  2. So true, Denene. I, too, hope all of our children feel good in their own skin.

  3. Wow, what a post! Ok, listen your kids will be as strong as you if not stronger! You and your husband are the first people they will ever know so you are the catalyst, the foundation for whoever they become. If you instill in them who they are and make it clear out the gate, they will be strong, independent and they will know how to overcome any obstacles they face because of you:)

  4. THe mantra in our house is the world would be a boring place if everyone looked the same. My girls roll their eyes because I've said it so many times but my broken record parenting has worked because they seem to not even notice their rainbow of friends at school. I saw this when I was a teacher as well, I really do think that our children and the future generations are going to look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, I'm hoping it will all be a non-issue for them. If we all, s parents, teach and model love and kindness the world will be a better place for all of us.

  5. Being biracial myself I can tell you that it's very easy for me to "be" with both races, comfortably and most likely, so will your kids. I mostly was "rejected" by Black girls growing up, but you know how teenagers are. Now that I'm older, things are way different. I definitely don't think I'm better or better looking because I'm "light", either. I wasn't great looking in High School, but I gather I must have blossomed more as I got older based on how men reacted to me. It's interesting that my father is White and my husband is Black, though, so it just goes to show how much America is blending and I'm sure your kids will be very well-balanced. :)

  6. What a great post!! You are very pretty too, by the way:) Your children will be fearfully and wonderfully made!!!

  7. You have both beauty and brains. Now, those are going to be some lucky offspring! Loved the post!

  8. Great post! Kudos to Jenn for writing it and Denene for publishing it! Looking forward to some great conversations in the Chevy!

    Winks & Smiles,

  9. Thank you for writing this piece, it brought tears to my eyes. I am white, but still a mom, wife, daughter, friend, sister.I cant imagine a life of picking sides. I have lived in southern california for 43 years. There is every ethnicity here. I didn't grow up seeing "color". Maybe it is my faith that tells me "My God died for Everyone, not just this race or that". I cant stand division. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Everyone has a God given purpose. May God bless all of you.

  10. I was just reading Pansy Cottage Girl's comment. I was born and grew up in Southern California until I was 13. The only friends I had were Mexicans. I didn't have white friends and only one black girl friend. We were real close - but I got hassled from my Mexican friends about her. When we moved to Alabama I thought I wouldn't fit in anywhere. I wasn't surprised by the division of the black and white because well I knew the division I had in California was black, white and mexican. I think things are better now but I think racism will always be a part of some people's mind. I really believe it is how you are raised.

  11. Do I have to be brown to read this and comment? I just wanted you to know that I loved your honesty in this post. I enjoyed getting to know you as a person a little bit better, and getting a different perspective on the challenges you faced while dating. I'm not going to lie, my high school and dating experience was very similar to yours even though I am a white girl. Not similar in the racism, but with the fact that I was involved in everything, I had tons of great guy friends, and not very many dates. Anyway, I love you, your future brown babies are going to have a wonderful mother.

  12. I love this post. And I agree with Ana, I love your honesty. You do a great job keeping things real for us readers. :)

    Cute picture by the way!!

  13. As a mother of two beautiful biracial daughters, I say don't get too caught up in the future until it gets here. Some or all of your fears may happen. As long as you and your hubby are solid in your beliefs and instill them in your children, they will be fine.

  14. As a black mom of a biracial child, I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  15. I am also a mom of a biracial child.. and a sister of a bunch of biracial brothers and sisters... and I love it. I don't know what its like in the south but i can imagine. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I'm reading this late, but as a future mother to biracial children (still a couple of years away for my fiance and I), I also want to thank you for sharing this post. You've spelled out a lot of things that I think about when I imagine our future children, and will continue to think about, in the remaining before DF and I get married and start our family.

    I'll be saving this to look back on in a few years. I wish you to the best of luck as a parent. (Not that you'll need it!)

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  18. I know is nearly a year since you wrote this post but everytime I read it it reminds me of mine own experience as a black girl growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood.
    It was a dejavu when I read that Jennifer had a white male friend who liked her and she like him but refused them to date because of her colour.
    I still have the note which this guy wrote to me when I asked him why he was always teasing me when we are in front of his friends but in private he was nice to me... "he liked me but could not be with me because..." that is a long story.

    I then grew up and felt in love with a wonderful man who happened to be white.

    Now sometimes I wonder if our children will gave to take sides, and I know that the society will always ask them to take side but I hope they will just take both sides, because this is how we will try to teach them.


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