At the end of January, my daughter M came home with her first real school project. My second grader needed to do a report on a famous American. My husband and I felt both excitement (“Woohoo! First school report ever! She is growing up!”) and nostalgia (“What? How did she get so old? She has to do a real report?”). We enthusiastically huddled around the computer to search for the lucky person who would receive the honor of being the subject of her big project. However, M could not find anyone who was just right.
The next morning, M thought of Mildred Loving. I was ecstatic. How perfect. I asked my daughter if she wanted to put herself on display like that because it would be obvious why she had selected this person. However, M was certain. She was the product of an interracial marriage and proud of it!
Later that night, while updating my husband on the day’s events (he works late shifts sometimes), I excitedly told him that M had selected Mildred Loving for her famous American. My husband’s response was, “What?! Why did you have M pick her? Is that the type of family that we are now? The family where everything is racial?”
I was taken aback a bit by his disapproval, but I was not completely surprised. My husband is not a big fan of discussing racial issues or attributing occurrences to race. A person wearing a confederate T-shirt carrying a sign with the N word would have to march up to his face before he would claim racism. With regard to the school project, I assured my husband that Mildred Loving was our daughter’s idea. M wanted to research Mildred Loving, and she was aware that her project would place the spotlight on the racial makeup of our family. My husband shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guuuueeeesssssss.”
This incident underscores the razor thin boundary that I am constantly laboring to delicately walk along. If I don’t talk about race, its history in America, progress in race relations, racial identity, areas of racial tension, and racism, then I’m the white mom who has denied her children of their heritage and has not prepared them to face a race-conscious world. However, if I choose to embark upon the conversation of race (and all that such a conversation entails) with my children, then I run the risk of creating division where none exists, accentuating the “differentness” of my daughters from the majority of their classmates, and “making everything racial” as my husband would say.
No matter what I elect to say or how I decide to act, I will garner both criticism and praise. I understand this reality, but I must admit that I do not enjoy the pressure. As a white mother in a family of color, I sense that I am under the microscope. Each move that I make is open to other people’s opinions. Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I feel like people are sometimes thinking:
“Hmmm, how is she going to conduct herself in this setting when she’s the only one white person?”
“Hmmm, what is she going to do to make her family feel comfortable in this setting, where they are the only people of color?”
“Is she going to know what to do with their hair?”
“Oh, she does know how to do their hair. How does she know?”
“Will she be ‘weird’ about racial stuff?”
The list could go on.
All I know is that I want to make the choice that is “right” and to say what is “best.” But how do I figure out what “right” is? How do I properly navigate this sensitive subject of race? My family represents the beauty that can result when we stop fixating on race and instead place our attention on more important matters. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I can ignore race. I must strive to discover the proper balance. Unfortunately, this balance often eludes me.
Everyone in my family has operating eyeballs. We are not color blind. Yet here is the puzzle that I would like to solve:
How can this white mom help her family of color to see color, and yet color is only an inconsequential quality that we see?
Only God has the answers for me. I know that’s right.
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