Sunday, December 16, 2007

What's my real story?

I just finished reading One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life--- A Story of Race and Family Secrets, a memoir by Bliss Broyard. One Drop details Bliss’ search for self after learning her father, Anatole Broyard, who lived all of his adult life as a White man, is indeed Black. Bliss and her brother, Todd, are told this family secret only days before their father’s impending death.

I first learned of One Drop while reading a review on My American Melting Pot. It peaked my interest because of the history of passablanc (passing for White) in my own family. Both sides of my mother’s family are extremely light and on my mother’s maternal side, my mom has a first cousin who simply walked off one day and never looked back. Within our family lore, it’s pretty much common knowledge he went on and lived his life as a White man, with a White wife, and with seemingly White children.

I remember family stories my grandmother told me of how she and her four sisters would pass for White now and then as they were growing up. It all seemed impossible to me, because most Black folks can spot their own, no matter how fair, with straight hair, they may be. I used to ask my grandmother about her grandmother, but she explained that she didn’t know her grandmother because her mother married a dark skin man (my great-grandfather), and my great-great grandmother didn’t approve. She didn’t want anybody darkening up the family.

When I was younger, I found these stories amusing and these assumptions of “if you’re White, you’re alright, but if you’re Black, step back,” outdated. As a small child, I remember my Aunt Pam bopping to James Brown’s anthem, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud,” but as I got older, I realized that I, too, needed to come to terms with my own color struck issues.

Away at college, I became acutely aware of the intra-racial assumptions Black folks make solely due to the color of one’s skin and the texture of hair. I remember a heated exchange with another girl, who told me; I thought I was cute because I had light skin and green eyes. At the time, this was all news to me because as light as my mom’s family is, but dad’s crew has a lot of deep mocha brown throughout and in my immediate family it just wasn’t an issue, but, if you had “good” or "nappy" hair, now that was an issue, and I was one nappy-headed chile.

During my sophomore year, I read Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and The Bluest Eye and thus began my uninformed attempts to level my privileged light-skinned playing field. These efforts included cutting the perm out of my hair and letting my natural nap to take hold of my head; dismissing light-skin brothers for no reason, other than the color of their skin; and adopting an Afro-centric veneer. To this day, when it comes to re-upping on my make-up, I gravitate to the very berry or chocolate drop lip colors, all of which are way too dark for my skin tone. Thank God for good, honest girlfriends, they let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I can’t rock these darker shades.

I readily admit part of my attraction to Loverman is his undeniable African features, his full lips and darker hue. I’ve always wanted Black babies and one of my most potent memories is minutes after laboring Olivia into the world, my mother commented that Olivia had absolutely no color and she looked directly at Loverman and in her sassy fashion taunted, “Well son, what do we need you for, if you’re not going to add a bit of color to the line?”

Earlier today, when I discussing One Drop with my mom, she admitted to understanding why Anatole Broyard did what he did. I cautioned mom to remember that all of our lives we’ve benefited from our light skin status, by being identified as “a little bit better,” because we’re not dark skinned. For me, I’ve often joked the sins of my grandfathers are written all over my face--- meaning my lighter skin, light eyes, are a result of White misogynist domination of my female ancestors, but I don’t know if this is really the truth or not. It’s simply romanticized reasoning I’ve made up. For me, I think I’m at a juncture where it’s time to find my truth, so I can pass concrete facts onto my babies and finally put the speculations to rest.


jillybean said...

Mango Mama,

I have always wanted to find out more about my history. When my daughter was born, she looked Asian, and then morphed into a Mexican, an Inuit, a Latino, a "mixed" child, a Black child...Bear was always asked who her mother was or what her mother was. He was asked if she was Asian more times than I can count!

I can't get too upset because my father has a very round face with high cheekbones. His eyes are small and slanted (as are mine). When he tans, he doesn't just get browner, but his skin has a red tint to it. My brother's hair is black and curly, mine you know has that lovely kink. My mother's nose is keen, but she passed down those lovely full lips of mine. I can see so many races reflected in my mother, father, brother and me.

My cultural inquisitiveness has been hightened by my children. My son was born light like me and now, he is my brownie baby:)with curls and he looks just like my brother. Genetics are interesting...

I look forward to hearing your story. I know Cain River was on your Shelfari bookshelf, I wonder what you'll uncover in your family's history.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Mango Mama,

This was a very interesting post. I have a lot of "unknown" blood coursing through my veins, which is why I'm considering a DNA test to learn more about my ancestry.

I have lots of people in my family who could pass. And I have a lot of interracial marriage in my family. In fact I have 2 sisters and a brother who are married or were married to a White person. So race in my family is getting more and more of a confusing topic.

I'm just so glad I don't live in a time when "passing" is popular.


ebony said...

You post was very interesting to me because I have a son who could pass. It worries me which way he'll go when he's older. I pray that he will be proud of who and what he is, but who among us can honestly say that we haven't wondered what we would do if our burdens could be lessened?

Mango Mama said...

Ebony, I'm a big believer that our kids get their cues from us.

Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your voice to this space. Please stop by often. Be well.

the prisoner's wife said...

interesting. i've always wanted to know more about my family. i'm by no means light, but i'm on the lighter side of the spectrum and in the summer i turn really red. my mother says it's because my dad's grandmother, Muma, was native american. Muma was 90 when she passed (i was 10), so i wasn't really aware of her ethnicity. she was fairly light, but i just viewed her as the cool old lady who loved drinking frozen dr. pepper lol.

as far as the dna testing goes...i saw something on 20/20 or dateline and it talked about tracing the genetics of black folks to africa & how it's highly difficult to trace our genetics because of the mixing that has taken place. they may be able to trace you to a tribe, or 10. so the information you receive doesn't give you a CLEAR picture, but rather opens more questions. it's definitely an interesting idea though.