“So, I have to ask… are your sons mixed?”
Did you really have to ask? I’m not really offended, but thank you for confirming one of my biggest, deepest, darkest, and most shameful insecurities. It reminded me of when i did this event for a black sorority. They loved my presentation, took me out to dinner afterwards and everything …I’ll get back to that story.
So here’s the thing. I didn’t realize I was so color conscious until after the initial shock and awe of the birth of my beautiful sons. Olu and Dela were 5 lbs 1 ounce, and 3 lbs 9 ounces respectively. It had been a trying, complicated pregnancy. The second born, Dela, looked like a sleeping frog, including the narrowest butt in captivity. Among his many nick names (bantam weight champion of the world, skinny mini) “frog booty” is probably my favorite. He initially had problems breathing and drinking at the same time, but he worked through that just fine and they both look like handsome humans. He’s going to be Andre 5000. He can dance, beat-box, sing and play the jembe at the same time, despite the fact that I can never get the camera on in time to catch him. If he’s supposed to be the next Einstein I hope to know how to help him get there too. The first-born, Olu, is a stud; early sonograms show him kicking the crap out of his smaller brother. He walks around with legitimate (and overly used word these days) swagger, and is fiercely independent and alarmingly smart for a 2 year old. He’s at that cute stage where he can be smart ass and be applauded for his intelligence instead of sent to the corner for time out, and he knows it.
Almost immediately after they where born I noticed that these where the palest people I’d ever seen in my life. They were lighter than all the white doctors and nurses in the delivery room. I can’t even remember how my mind tried to rationalize it. I think I kept waiting for the color to kick in, some of my friends told me that’s what happened when they where born. But no, they are still at least 3 shades lighter than their mom, whose at least 2 shades lighter than me. Ahhh, and the blond hair around the edges of their face…
Okay, lets take this even further back. Their mom is half Cape Verdean. No, that’s not the made up ethnicity Tiger Woods said he was 10 years ago (that was “Cablasian”). It’s a small island of the coast of West Africa colonized by the Portuguese, a major stop in the Portuguese slave trade with Brazil. The people there are of every complexion you can imagine. Her grand father, one generation removed from Cape Verde, could’ve passed when he joined the U.S. military in WW II, but didn’t. They eventually made an all Cape Verdean division. There are now more Cape Verdeans in the US then in Cape Verde. They have damn near taken over New Bedford. When we first started dating, she told me not to be surprised if our children have hazel eyes and blonde hair, because Cape Verdeans are a hodgepodge of DNA. She has cousins, brothers and sisters with the same parents, who look black, Puerto Rican, and “mulatto” respectively. Neither of us knew how serious that possibility was.
It’s funny, but with my African last name people often ask me where my family is from. They look at me side ways when I say South Carolina. I haven’t done the whole “Skip Gates” thing and traced my DNA. I’ve traced my fathers family on his mothers side, the Hancock’s, through a 150 year old family tree scribbled in a bible to the “Hancox” plantation, lord knows the gumbo of combinations that happened there. My fathers mother, my grand mother, was about the same complexion as my children. She deserves a whole article to herself, but that’s for another day. We keep saying we’re going to go to the county seat and check the property records and track it even further. My father tells me that I have Cherokee or Katawba in my blood lines on his fathers side. So, basically “I got Indian in my family”. My mother side is black, as simple or complicated as that is in South Carolina.
Until I can find a way to narrow that whole explanation into one sentence, I just tell people, “nah, my sons are black, just mixed the way all of us are”.
Which is a much longer answer than the, “why should it matter?” that I want to say. But in reality, I feel like I understand. I would have the same questions, I wouldn’t have asked, but I think those things. The “black power” part of me is offended that people think their mother is white. I don’t judge anyone for deciding to be with someone of another race. It’s hard as hell finding love, and I don’t stand in the way of any one who thinks they have found it. At the same time, I could never see myself dating someone who didn’t identify themselves as black. I’ve never thought someone not black could relate to me because my blackness is a huge part of my self identity.
I’ve dated black women exclusively my whole life, of every complexion and shape. I must admit, however, that I’m as partial to light skinned black women as most black men. As sort of a nod to our conditioning, a favorite club game in college with one of my best friends and I was called “is she REALLY fine? or is she just light skinnededed?”. (you’ll find that if you really look at a lot of “fair skinned” women, they don’t have as much in common with Halle Berry or Alicia Keys other than their complexion). Talking black peoples obsession with race can get you on many tangents. So…
The look on black womens’ face, especially older black women, when I’m in the mall with my sons away from their mom, shifts from “They are the cutest little things in the word!” to “Shoulda got a sista!” in half a second flat. I get all the unspoken flak from being with a white woman, without any of the perks (you know, good credit and stuff like that), and I hate that I care. I become, in their minds, what is wrong with black men. On some level I feel like I should be able to relate to people in mixed marriages who go through that on a daily basis, but that’s not hardly what I signed up for. “They’re black dammit! I’m not your favorite basketball player or successful businessman who needed a white woman to complete his assimilation into society!” That thought is wrong on so many levels, but exactly what goes in my head.
I’m worried for my sons, and the strong African names I gave them, knowing that there is no way someone from African would ever consider them black. I’m also worried, because the few group physical confrontations I got into when I was younger, where always about jealous guys going after my light skinnededed, mixed friends. I’m more worried than anything that my own latent color consciousness will affect how I interact with them.
…So, I’m at the dinner table with a group of beautiful educated black sorority women, who are all laughing and engaged because they think I’m clever and a positive role model. They think I’m admirable because of my concern for our community and our children. I’m grinning from ear to ear because “This ‘Read a Book’ guy is the kind of black man we need more of in our community”. They love the way I speak glowingly of my sons. Naturally, they want to see a picture. When my wallet gets passed around, (they try not to, but non of them are theater majors) their faces change dramatically. After seeing that, so does mine.