That’s my daughter. She has dimples and her hair is the color of burnt copper. She’s smart. She does puzzles, and then she dances and pets the dog and tells it, “No!” in a way that is decisive and direct. She even knows kung fu. Her four inch kick is tha bidness! (Her foot gets about four inches off of the floor) My kid is the bomb.
The day she was born, the nurse looked at her woozy chocolate mommy and said, “She’s beautiful… Is her father white?” I was in the room. My eyes were bloodshot because I had been up almost all night. I was wearing the yellow plastic bracelet. The one that they give to people who are going to be there for days, not hours. But the circumstantial evidence of my daughter’s color outweighed the nurse’s common sense.
Just so you know, I am my daughter’s father. And I am pretty light myself. Light like Al B. Sure, but without the “good” hair and the velvety voice. My mother is light too. Her father? Even lighter. Still, with the exception of a native american from the Creek Nation (I think), all of my people, right back to the 1800’s, were Black. I come from a very long line of assumptions.
I’ve been called half of one of everything. Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Spanish… The part of me that people think isn’t Black sounds like a bad joke. A Jap, a Jew and an Englishman go into a bar… That other half stays the same, though. No matter what the mix is, the foundation is Black.
In case you’re wondering, I still get the Black treatment. My high yellow ass has been called nigger more times than I can count. Not nigga, but N-I-hard G sound, Hard R sound. Once there was a 12 inch knife backing the word up. I’m pretty sure it never crossed his mind that I was light skinned; perhaps even half white. If it did, he’d just make sure to put all of the knife into the Black half, I guess.
I’ve also been told that I’m not Black enough. One of my employees at my previous job told me, “I’m Blacker than you are.” He was a white dude with a bowl haircut and buck teeth. He would have been right at home The Andy Griffith Show, but he was from North Philadelphia. All of his friends were Black.
For a lot of people, Blackness is more about class or geography than genetics and genealogy. That’s bad news for white people. Not only are a whole lot of them two paychecks away from financial ruin, but they now they have to surrender their whiteness at the door. Psyche! It doesn’t work like that.
When a Black person has his Blackness revoked they don’t issue a white passport. We are in exile. Neither here nor there. White people, on the other hand, can be dual racial citizens. They can earn Blackness. It can be granted or bestowed upon them. And they don’t have to give up their whiteness do so. How’s that for affirmative action and reverse discrimination?
If you’re Black, you’re never more than a few syllables or shades away from being a racial orphan. Meanwhile, the Black community bestows honorary Blackness like it’s a supermarket club card. Bill Clinton? Honorary Black man, sworn in right after we found out he liked soul food and smoking, but not inhaling weed. Barak Obama? A half Kenyan who married a Black woman from the South Side of Chicago, had two Black daughters, and not only inhaled, but took photos of himself looking damned cool doing it. But to some Black people, he still isn’t Black.
Justin Beiber? He’s earning Black credits right now. Miley Cyrus? Twerking her way toward her hood pass. Drake? If Facebook comments are any indication, his Black card is provisional, and it’s hanging by a thread.
One day I’m going to have to talk to my daughter about this. One day she’ll come home and someone will have asked her, “What are you?” I got that a lot. Or, they’ll tell her that she isn’t Black. And nothing that she says or does will convince them otherwise. But she’ll try. She’ll try hard… because if she isn’t Black, then what is she?
Or they’ll tell her how privileged she is to be light skinned. I read that recently in a post from Ebony.com entitled Dear Beautiful Daughters Who Happen to be Racially Ambiguous… What followed was lot of nice, fancy ways of saying, “you’re lucky. Now, don’t fuck it up.”
Most of the it looked like pretty good advice for any little Black girls out there. “If you’re going to get naked in the media, do it for a cause…” Um, yeah. I guess posing for a PETA campaign is better than pole dancing for wrinkled dollar bills in a grainy Youtube post.
“Use your privilege for good. People will listen to you…” That’s cool, right? I mean, wasn’t it Voltaire who said, “With great power comes great responsibility?” Maybe it was Spiderman’s Uncle, right before he died. The problem is, her privileged is assumed, while not a single challenge that my daughter will face was ever mentioned.
We’re lucky to be light. Right? White people like us more. Doors open for us. Glass ceilings retract. Cops pull us over less frequently. Water boils a little bit more quickly and butter has %23 percent fewer calories if you are light skinned. That’s the assumption. That we live a life of pseudo-whiteness. As if such a thing exists.
I’ve never been anything but light skinned, but the paper bag test wasn’t so long ago. I also know the family dynamics that took place in a lot of households, where the light child was favored. I won’t try to suggest that light privilege doesn’t exist.
Some of it, though, is mythology. Were all house slaves light? Absolutely not. But that’s the perception. We were the ones sleeping with Master, and snitching on the hard working dark brothers and sisters out there in the field. But being a light skinned child was no guarantee of preferential treatment. After all, how many mistresses would want evidence of their father’s or husband’s bestial – we were regarded as sub-human – infidelity serving them biscuits in the morning? Not many.
On the flip side, with the prevalence of rape perpetrated by master on the slave, is it really a privilege to be the one turning down his sheets and laying out his clothes at night? Anyway, did a thing like privilege even exist on the plantations in the deep South?
Anyway, one day I will sit my little awesome girl down and try to explain to her that she is Black, and nothing can take that away from her. I will tell her that Blackness is big enough for little brown girls and little cafe ole girls, and onyx girls and buttered popcorn girls. It doesn’t matter what you sound like, or what music you listen to. No matter where your from, or where you go, you’re Black. And it’s all beautiful. I’ll tell her that all of you are sisters, even though people just outside of the door will tell her otherwise.
As for the privilege that is her skin color, I’ll tell her to listen. Listen when people talk about those things that lurk in your blind spot. After all, she’ll never be anything but what she is. But just because she listens, doesn’t mean that she has to own it. Because if privilege comes with the very real threat of exile, then it isn’t any kind of privilege at all.