There are very few pics of our son on the internet. I do this mainly because I want him to own his online footprint when and if he is ready to claim it. Another reason I do this is because people are just fucking idiots when it comes to pictures of kids on the internet and I have zero patience for the nonsense. This week, someone commented on a picture of him in a tshirt that says “I Love My Blackness and Yours, Too”. The person commented (and then deleted) that he couldn’t love his blackness because he is white. He then proceeded to tell me that I was trying to whiten my children.
There are many trolls on the worldwide web and I don’t write entire blog posts about every time they play themselves with pictures of my son. The problem is, though, that there are people who know me as his mother who have labelled my son as white. There are several reasons this is problematic.
Don’t define my son’s blackness for him. Blackness spans many skin-tones, mixed and non-mixed ethnicities, identities, countries, etc. Attempting to define one’s own blackness is a personal journey, one that is colored by experiences within one’s own skin and interactions with others as well as the historical context of a person’s life. Attempting to define someone else’s blackness based on the snippets one bears witness to as an outsider will always lead to inaccurate assumptions. Growing up in Trinidad, I didn’t think of myself as a black person. I was a dougla, mixed with black and Indian. The reason I didn’t think of myself as black was because dougla was such a clear and separate ethnic group. I didn’t think I was black because I was clearly dougla. After I came to New York, I came into my identity as a black woman and actually think back regrettably on the experiences I missed as a younger person and as a child because I didn’t connect with my black community and my black heritage in Trinidad. I attended a school that was known for raising strong black woman and though I am a product of that upbringing, I would have spent more time embracing than resisting who I was. When I came to New York, I came to learn that blackness is not a singular concept…that I could be dougla and black, and Trinidadian and black, and half Indian and still be black. No one identity takes away from another. Rather, the overlapping of my identities has led to a richer internal cultural conversation. I now identify as a black immigrant in America but I wish I could have experienced life internally as a black person in Trinidad. I say this to say that my identity as a black person is so layered and complex because of my history and my current experiences. Anyone attempting to define it from constantly inadequate observations of my life would only be attempting a task that no-one is asking them to take on. Like, don’t even try. Mind your own business. I didn’t need it and neither does my son. He’s good. Don’t worry about his internal conversations about racial identity. He is who he is and will be who he chooses to be when he is ready.
By defining my son as white, others are taking away a key part of his heritage based on a factor in his life that he did not have any control over. His skin is pale. He didn’t ask for it and he certainly didn’t do anything to get pale skin. It just is. What also does not change is the fact that he has a black mother. Not only does he have a black mother, he has an entire side of his family and his ancestors that are black immigrants. To define him as white is to deny his connection to his ancestry. We are close to both sides of our families. He chats with all his cousins on both sides via the internet and he asks for them. He does not see one side as more valid or more connected to him than the other. We hope to keep it that way. To deny my son’s blackness is to deny the experiences and lessons and burdens and joys that led to him being who he is today…the product of a black immigrant mother and a white Jewish father. I don’t get why anyone would want to do that.
Defining my son as white negates my blackness in a way that is not only racist, it’s also sexist. I carried him in my belly for 9 months. My belly was sliced open to take this child out of it. I have a huge scar below my bikini line because of the experience. But you’re trying to tell me that because his skin is pale, you deny my contribution to this situation and thereby deny my existence by deeming him white? Calling him white denies his black mother her motherhood. It denies the physical and psychological role the woman plays in giving birth to and raising a child. When he was younger, the three of us would get many looks on the train. People were fascinated by this black woman with a pale baby. Sometimes, you could even see the relief on their faces when Adam entered the picture. It used to really get under my skin. Now, I don’t even notice it. It may be because I’m too busy trying to get my son to not lick the subway (that really happened last week) or may just be because I’m over people and their outside judgements. If anyone is willing to dismiss me as a black woman enough to call my son white, they don’t deserve my time of day. My time and emotional capacity for that BS is always at a maxed out stage so I save them by paying them no mind.
In the end, the main thing that matters to me is if my son is happy and well-adjusted. I’m pretty proud to say he is. He happens to be pale. He also happens to be a really amazing person who I can gush about for hours. He is not even close to defining himself but when he is ready, I am up for the task of helping him give a giant middle finger to the people who will try to do that for him. It’s up to him how he defines himself. We are raising him to be equally proud and connected to his Jewish side and his black immigrant side. The outside noise will always be just that as long as we give him a strong core.