Recently Oprah's network OWN aired a documentary called "Light Girls," a follow-up to the film "Dark Girls."
Both documentaries discuss colorism in the black community and the Interwebs were lighting up with comments the night they aired. One of the recurring themes in the comments was that some of the light girls were biracial and shouldn't have been included in the the documentary, a viewpoint I found to be ridiculous. Light-skinned black people are light-skinned because they are mixed race. It's simple genetics. But the issues surrounding race, identity, skin color and culture are not so simple.
Enter a modern-day mixed race family. My husband and I both come from a diverse gene pool, my father is black but may have had a white great-great grandfather, like most descendants of slavery. My mother is of European descent with possible pirate blood. My husband has a nice Jamaican, Scandinavian, Jewish thing going on and naturally we wonder what our son will look like. This is my first child and with each passing week my fear of another miscarriage lessens slightly and I get a little thrill wondering what this little guy is going to be like. What kind of personality will he have? Will he inherit my husband's musical talent? My stunning good looks? Will he be smart? The other day we saw his face on the ultrasound and he basically looks like Skeletor at this point, but I did say, "Oooh I think he has my cheekbones!"
But I want him to know he's black because for me, being black is not just about skin color; it's about culture and family and roots.
Friends have asked if it's possible for him to come out with dark skin. And the scientific answer is yes. If he got a gene for extra melanin, it's possible. But the most likely scenario is he'll look like a mix of us and have fair skin. He'll probably look white like my husband. But I want him to know he's black because for me, being black is not just about skin color; it's about culture and family and roots. It's knowing your history and what kind of blood runs through your veins. The blood of a people that could have been crushed by slavery but are still here surviving and thriving. It's about knowing the sacrifices that were made by our ancestors so we can be free. So we can vote. So my father was free to marry the woman he loved and have babies and not be jailed or killed for committing miscegenation. So our son can grow up and look back on our history and marvel at the achievements made in the face of such adversity.
Like any parent, I want a better life for our child. Growing up as a non-white person in America has had its challenges for me. I don't look "black" but I don't look white either. There was familial resistance to my parents' union. People are constantly asking me about my race—perfect strangers on the street, patrons at the library, people I just met—it's the first thing they ask. My son may be spared this experience. But he will be privy to people saying incredibly racist things not knowing his background. He will have people tell him he's not black, he may even grow up to be famous and get on a list of celebrities you didn't know were black.
When I commented about the "Light Girls" documentary, opposing the viewpoint that mixed people shouldn't have been part of the film, I was told, "You're not black, you're biracial." But I identify as black. I know this is in part due to my experiences growing up as "other" in an essentially all-white community. I know that I benefit from my lighter complexion. I know my struggle is not the same as darker-skinned women, but still, I'm black and my son is going to be black too.
He's going to know all about black history and not just during February. He's going to care about milestones for blacks in America and be thrilled whenever a black person achieves something for the first time. He will speak out when someone says something racist because he will learn that from his parents. He will eat soul food at Thanksgiving and go to family reunions down South in the summer. And when he looks at his family and all his beautiful cousins and aunts and uncles in every shade with every eye color and every hair texture, he's going to know he belongs.