My Brown Boy?

Written by new CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy.  Welcome her to CocoaMamas!

As a Black woman, I was prepared to nurture my brown child.  Showering her with love for her complexion. Empowering him with the strength of his heritage. I had so many books about African-American heroes and trailblazers. Seriously, my grandmother got me a complete set. Lena Horne, Crispus Attucks, Oprah. My kid was gong to love himself, his people and his color.

My husband loves Dave Matthews Band. He played high school lacrosse. Yup, he’s white.

My son? Handsome as all get out and a smile that’s out of this world. Brown? Not so much. He’s Black. He must be; he’s mine.  He’s also my husband’s child. How do I nurture that?

In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, the main character, Rachel, is often asked where she got her blue eyes. The question is intrusive, but not completely unexpected. The way her grandmother answers however is poignant. “You know Roger’s granddad had these eyes.” This is a lie. A lie told to “protect” Rachel from the white mother who tried to kill her as she herself committed suicide.

Rachel, however, sees the lie for what it is; an attempt to remove her mother, her whiteness, and her complications from her new life. This obviously pained Rachel. If you have to deny a parent, you have to deny a part of yourself.

There’s the rub. You can’t deny a child’s parent and expect the child to be unaffected. Whether you deny the Mom because she’s white or say negative things about Dad because he’s always late with child support.

So where does that leave me? Before meeting my husband, I had a good beat on the world. Biracial people are Black. Yes, race is a social construct, but if you’re Black and something else, then you’re Black. It’s cool to be Black and that’s how society will see you, so that’s who you are. Duh.

It felt good to know so much and not feel ambiguity about race. Then I met this white guy. Then I fell all in love. Now we have this impossibly adorable munchkin we get to raise into a man. A Black man?  Can I call him my little brown boy if he’s not that brown?

Would it be fair to my Scooba to tell him that he’s Black because that’s how society will view him? What if, because he’s so light, people view him as white? How would I feel if he identified as white? Is that “passing”? I would be devastated if he identified solely as white, regardless of how society views him. I would have failed him as a Black woman; as a Black mother. It would mean he was ashamed, that he felt Black was less-than. That he felt I was less-than.

Children are not carbon copies of the parent. You can set a foundation for a child, but he ultimately must get in where he fit in. But how would any of us feel if a part of us that we felt was fundamental to our being was not fully reflected or embraced in our child?

Can I expect him to identify solely as Black? To deny either his Black or white side would be unfair. So when he asks what he is, we’re going to say he’s Black and white. As for how society sees him? That’s society’s problem. Scooba has the right to define himself; as do all of us. President Obama identifies as Black and his white mother approved of this. Am I a jerk that I can’t be selfless and let my son identify as white if he wants to? I’m gonna be that jerk.

Husband and I need to work twice as hard to ensure he sees both parts of himself represented in books we read to him and the media he sees. This means we read Whose Toes Are Those and sing Sweet Honey in the Rock. He’ll see plenty of images of white people, so we’re covered there. We’re going to be extra vigilant not to put him in a box or let others do so either. Scooba determines who he is and where he wants to stand in the world. Is that naïve? Perhaps, but we are not post-racial, so race still matters; and I at least want to have a plan when it comes up. I will fortify my son to stand up for who he is and allow him the space to establish that for himself.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at www.BoobsAndBummis.wordpress.com.

5 thoughts on “My Brown Boy?

  1. LOVE this post. We adopted a beautiful little girl who is African American, Asian and Caucasian. AND yes, to the rest of the world she is BLACK but we don’t want to deny any part of her. We want her to be proud of everything that makes her who she is and to embrace each part of herself. So it becomes a bit of a balancing act with story books, dolls and toys that encompass all parts of her heritage. I agree the white images are easy- so it is necessary to vigilant when it comes to finding images that represent her African American and Asian heritage in this world. We, too, want our daughter to find her own space in this world. Thanks for this insightful post! 🙂

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  2. You write about what is the most difficult thing about race: is it biological? or is it social? or is it cultural? There is something biological about skin color, but that’s only tangentially related to race. When you say if you can call Scooba your brown boy if he’s not brown – well, maybe not. Once you and your husband’s skin color genes interacted, they created a child of a lighter hue, relatively speaking. But the color combinations available from two people are vast. And that’s what happens with everyone, right? My mother is lighter-skinned than my father. I happen to be somewhere in the middle. My grandmother is lighter than all of us. But when it comes to race, it’s interesting because I don’t get an option to say, “I’m light-skinned and dark-skinned” the way bi-racial people can say, “I’m white and black.” My parents and I all fall on the dark side possible skin colors, so we’re all “black.” My grandma (who has a white father) could possibly fall on the other side, and be “white.” It sounds like your son could do so too.

    But the way genetics works you could have another child that is darker and could not fall on the white side, no matter what. I know two siblings like that – have the same biological parents, one white, one black, but one “could be” white, while the other never could. And that’s the social problem about race. One could be light enough to be “white” if they have a white parent, but if one is dark enough, even with a white parent a darker-skinned bi-racial person could never be white. At “best” they would be bi-racial. The darker-skinned child would never have the “privilege” of being considered white. Even self-identification has its limits.

    So what are we really saying when a child can be “black and white”? When you write about failing him as a black mother, it sounds as if you want him to have some pride in being culturally black. You are right, white images are plentiful, but what does your husband want him to know about being culturally white? Rebecca Walker (Alice Walker’s daughter) talks a bit in Black, White, and Jewish (I think) about how she felt when she understood the gravity of white privilege, and how the discourse of race made her feel like oppressor’s blood was running through her veins. There are a lot of books out there nowadays about how white parents implicitly teach their children to be white, but I wonder what your husband thinks?

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    1. One could be light enough to be “white” if they have a white parent,but if one is dark enough, even with a white parent a darker-skinned bi-racial person could never be white. At “best” they would be bi-racial. The darker-skinned child would never have the “privilege” of being considered white. You’re right, but I want it to improve with this next generation. If he were darker, I wouldn’t be as worried about how he identifies because it would be easier to tell he was Black. I shy away from saying you are how you look however, because if that’s the case, my son could be considered white. I love him and his color because he’s mine, but I also want his (and other children’s ) “privilege” to be the ability to self-identify as both. Even if he doesn’t look like both. To identify as Black and white is a way to honor both parents. When you say you are Black, both of your parents know you’re talking about them. If my kid said White OR Black, one of his parents feels slighted. We’d understand, but it would not be fun. My husband has been very clear on the fact that our son is also his. I will say that I call him brown baby all the time. He’s light brown, but brown never the less. My husband feels less connected to whiteness per se, than his religion. He didn’t think much about being white. White people are mostly aware of being white when they are not in the majority, which wasn’t often for him growing up. In Harlem, he is very aware of his whiteness. His heritage? Being Irish? I’ve never seen him go to a St. Patrick’s Day parade, so you tell me. 🙂 This is my opinion on his thoughts though, so I’ll ask him this weekend.

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  3. great post. race is always a touchy topic. yours is a road i don’t want to navigate. children of color are up against so much from the start and adding the dynamics of racial identity adds a delicate layer for the parents and the child to address. As much as people want a post-racial society, you’re right, we’re not there yet.

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    1. Thanks and I know, right? I always figured marriage and raising kids was hard enough without adding racial issues to the mix. You pick your battles though, and I get this one. What are you gonna do?

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