What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race?

 (sign from a NOLA bar)

Probably the world does not need another middle-aged, white, cisgender woman writing about race. But the world DOES need my daughter's take on it, and she doesn't blog, so here I am.

When we first knew we were having a girl, we knew she would have blue eyes, because mine are blue-grey and Patrick's are blue-green. The genetics don't vary much on that one. Other than that, we thought, with dominant genes and some luck, that she might look like her Aunt Patrice. Which she actually does.

Except for the tiny little issue that somehow my Nordic genes totally went dominant rogue and she turned out to be blonde and very light skinned.

(age 1.5 in the Scow family christening dress)

So since she's been old enough to communicate, she's had people confused about her racial identity. She's been told she checked the wrong box on forms, she's had teachers deny her ancestry, she's had government officials question her Global Entry, she's been told, so many times to her face by people who damn well should know better that she "doesn't look Black enough."

Honestly, some of the only times I can remember where her race hasn't been challenged is at SPA, where the Black Student Union enthusiastically invited her, the Director of Intercultural Life loves talking to her, and her theatre teacher discussed how thrilled he was that 3 out of 5 of his class this spring were strong young women of color and the kinds of projects he could have them do in class. (and it's not perfect, there's been racism there where it's clear kids know she's Black and think less of her for it).

The latest variation on this sad, tired theme was at her Right Track internship meeting the other day. They have weekly meetings about money management and workplace ethics and executive functioning skills and societal politics and all kinds of things, things you would think kids should learn with their first job. And, most of the kids as far as I can tell are kids of color.

So yesterday their topic was "race." And for some reason absolutely unbeknownst to me, they apparently decided to lean hard into race being about physical characteristics, basically how people look, rather than even addressing the even slightly less dicey definition of shared ancestry.

So once again, a room full of people (youth, but also the damn adults leading the session who should have known better) telling my kid she's Not Black Because She Doesn't Look Black.

To her credit, and probably because it's been a constant pattern that she's had to deal with, Beatrix handled the situation with courtesy and grace. But she also sat back and disengaged, because it was clear to her that no one was going to listen to her. And I'm furious for her (again), and more than a little sad that that cohort of kids was not given the chance to think differently from the personal experience of someone in the room, but instead was given the same basic oversimplified construct (because we all know how well that's been working in society.)

She's still debating writing an email to her program advisor, who is also mixed, but she's not sure that she wants to deal with it more, and I don't blame her.

She's 15, and I am just so tired on her behalf that she has to keep going through this. And I don't know what to do about it. I just love my kid and wish she could just be her.


Anonymous said…
Your frustration is visceral. I see you. Your anger on her behalf is a mother's anger.

Coming from the white mother of a visibly mixed race child, please know that there are injuries to deal with on the flip side as well. My daughter - who's 26 now - is still not 'black enough', in the judgement of some, because she was raised in the suburbs, is an actor and rides horses. She's always been othered and sometimes excluded. Although I tried like hell, I couldn't protect her from the world. It's left her with some hurts that still need tending.

I wait as the safe space, here for her always when she needs to vent or cry or scream. I hold onto hope that the long arc of justice, and the slow creep of demographics, will lighten the load of pain and exhaustion she carries.

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