My mind is racing after watching the CNN special “Who is Black in America.” For the past 30 minutes I have been analyzing the past 30 years in regards to my thoughts on black Americans, myself, my family and how it affects the way I view race today.
I suppose it all started with Melvin. My first black friend. Really my only black friend at the time. I lived in North Dakota when I was four, so black friends were hard to come by. But I was lucky, I had Melvin. He was gorgeous to me. I used to rub my arm on Melvin’s arm in hopes that his ebony would rub off on me. His sweet momma probably thought I was crazy. Not only did I look crazy, I also got chicken pox from rubbing Melvin’s skin. Not exactly a win for me. But it was fun hanging with Melvin while we battled through our virus.
Eventually my military family ended up in Charleston, SC. My schools were well mixed with many races, although the two prominent colors that paraded the halls were black and white. I remember asking my friend Angel, in the fifth grade, if she could teach me how to be black. The lessons that ensued were quite amusing and I can’t help but smile as I look back on our innocence. Asking Angel this question wasn’t about me not wanting to be white, but rather me wanting to absorb and know the culture of a close friend.
I had lots of little “boyfriends” growing up; Black, White, Hispanic, Asian. I was definitely attracted to color. I knew this about myself on a weirdly deep level. I felt plain, maybe even a little boring. I knew how my black friends talked about white people. Not in a bad way for the most part… but it always seemed like white people kinda sucked on some level. All the statistics indicated this, they still do, but we white people still seem to deny that it can be difficult to be a man or woman of color in America. And for that reason I disliked my whiteness. I wanted to just be with my friends without color being an issue or a dividing line.
That feeling has never completely gone away. I now find myself married to an Asian man with three beautiful kids of various shades. I look so white in our family pictures. Especially in the Summer when everyone else in the family turns bronze and dark ebony.
However, there is one thing that has changed since my school days. I’ve stopped viewing race and color as something you only talk about with your close friends, whispering so you aren’t overheard. I’ve learned that the only way to work through all this mess is to talk it out. We are a mess because we’ve spent so much time trying to act like we are all the same when we know good and well we aren’t. We are equal but not the same.
Every race, every culture has something to celebrate. I think this is why I’ve always been drawn to those outside my Anglo-Saxon heritage. There is so much to experience by way of music, food, speech, art and just plain old day-to-day life. By allowing people to claim who they are in direct correlation with their race we are encouraging their traditions to thrive and flourish for years to come. Isn’t that what America is about?
I hope I can raise my non-white children to love who they are. I hope they do not feel the need to choose their identity based on mine. Yes, two of my children are half-white… but it’s likely they will be identified as Asian and I hope they can cherish that. Not everyone gets the chance to be biracial. I also hope I can raise a black son who is comfortable being black. I don’t ever want him to feel like he needs to be more Asian, or more White. I remember asking a woman in our community about the racial composition of our schools, she informed me that I shouldn’t be worried about that because my son, being raised by a white family, wouldn’t hang out with black kids anyway. Well, she was wrong about him being raised by a white family, we are rainbow… and I sure hope she’s wrong about my son (and all my children) having black friends.
My children are still very young. Right now they talk about skin color and race like it’s no biggie. I love hearing them describe their own skin color and the color of their friends skin as well. They use so many positive and endearing terms. I think we could learn a few lessons from them on transparent and positive discussion as well as how to appreciate and love each other for who we are, color and all.
Perhaps with their generation we will finally break down the race barriers and just live. Wouldn’t that be amazing? There’s a part of me that hopes for that day but I also know we will never have true harmony until Jesus takes us home.