From the moment I open my eyes to my daughter’s waking calls, in the half-light that is 5 a.m., I worry about her. I worry about how much she’s eaten for the day, if she went #2… Am I stimulating her mind enough? Giving her enough freedom? And am I really sure that was just dirt she swallowed, not bird poo? I worry about her all day, what mother doesn’t?
Then the moment I’ve been counting down to comes. Bedtime. In those hours of silence, I look forward to deeper thoughts than halved grapes and wet diapers. I look forward to some time for self-reflection and progression. But as my daughter is now an extension of myself, there are no thoughts of me that don’t involve her. These meditations often turn into a unique kind of worry that comes with motherhood. I fret about how I’m preparing her as a person, who I’m training her to be and how I am developing her surroundings.
“I’m troubled by the idea that she’ll find a comfort in the whiteness of her skin and grow to deny her blackness as a consequence, the same way I rejected my own throughout my childhood.”
I worry that she won’t find her place in a community. As the blackness of her mother will always separate her from her father’s side and the whiteness of her skin may shun her from my own. For those same reasons, I’m also worried that she will find her place all the same. I’m troubled by the idea that she’ll find a comfort in the whiteness of her skin and grow to deny her blackness as a consequence, the same way I rejected my own throughout my childhood.
Growing up in a mostly white area of suburban Toronto, a lot of my ideas of what was required to be a worthy person came from my peers; in the way they thought, spoke, and their personal standards of beauty. I lived in the mentality of the world around me. That being white, or even light-skinned, was the epitome of beauty, a sign of intelligence and a gauge of value.
So naturally, I claimed to be mixed with anything under the sun – from Irish to Brazilian. I rejected Caribbean music, refused to try to understand my own father’s thick accent, and avoided the sun to remain my winter caramel as opposed to my summer mahogany. Anything that made me more “Other” than “Black”.
My only claim to being “Other” was my mother. She is Portuguese-Guyanese, fair and (chemically) blonde. And while she and her family identified as Black, there were few cultural markers around to enforce that image. We ate Chinese food and fish & chips, with the occasional curry thrown in; we listened to Top 40’s and there was never any talk about “back home”. I spent all of my childhood exclusively with her family, while I have memories that feel like dreams with my father’s Jamaican side – like visiting Jamaica when I was four and swimming in waterfalls just behind my aunt’s house with my cousin Melody. Or watching my cousins dance at someones wedding, feeling glued to my seat but desperate to join.
I did not see myself.
Instead I found familiarity in the faces that looked back at me – my family. But physically bearing no reflection of my mother, I really don’t know who I was trying to fool with my claim to any race but Black. At the very least, I fooled myself and did everything to portray the illusion I lived in my child-mind.
It wasn’t until I ventured away from home following my high school years that I found myself amongst men and women from parts of the world where Black was almost all there was. They walked with pride and beauty, their words eloquent and their intelligence defined. It was then that something clicked and I started to see the beauty and value of my own people as reflected in me. I started to embrace my culture and my own definition of ‘worthy’ and beautiful, which I felt in turn. I felt the power in my stride as I walked through the world as a black woman, no longer feeling lesser than someone more fair or straight-haired.
I felt the power in my stride as I walked through the world as a black woman, no longer feeling lesser than someone more fair or straight-haired.
After feeling that power and pride developed in myself, I fear my daughter embracing her “other” in ways I didn’t have the option of doing, as she is hardly a reflection of me. That she will ultimately deny herself of knowing the pride that comes with loving your heritage and embracing all the culture that springs from it, as I have learned. I fear that with her easy acceptance into a community that is not my own, I will lose the opportunity to raise my daughter to be a fierce black woman.
So I’ve been taking steps. For me the most effective way of teaching her about her black beauty and community is through example and exposure.
I started by embracing my genes. The ones that cause my mane to spiral out of control and laugh in the face of a relaxer. I’ve grown to love the sun, allowing its rays to penetrate my skin and bring out the gold that is my blood. I highlight my curves in a way that most white women cannot, as I feel this is one of the many things that make black women unique and beautiful on a physical plain.
I make a point to expose her to black voices; through music of every genre, children’s books and poetry (though she’s only 19 months, you’ve got to start them early, right?). I seek out books with illustrations of children in all shades. White, caramel, yellow, mahogany, ebony and everything in between. To show her more than what was presented to me as ‘normal’ when I was a child – books illustrated with solely white faces and the rare book with a light-skinned secondary character, straight hair flowing down her back.
“I see how her exposure to black culture has begun to shape her already.”
I see how her exposure to black culture has begun to shape her already. I see it in the way that she yells “Aye! Aye! Aye!” when any song with a soca beat plays. I can’t help but smile, in spite of my dismay, when she puts her hands on the ground and booty pops in imitation of her teenaged cousins.
I love the way she plays in my fro and says “pretty”, as I so often do with her own, and anticipate the day I can teach her to care for her own silky curls in a way that only a natural haired mother could.
I take her to festivals (okay I took her to one) where black people from all backgrounds come together, so she sees the beauty in the diversity of our people in all the inclusive ways it means to be Caribbean and how it cannot be simply defined by outward appearances. I make it a practice to tell her that I love how the sun transforms her skin brown and beautiful every moment it crosses my mind to do so.
“I want to teach my daughter the beauty that is our heritage so she never feels ashamed of it, or less proud in comparison to her ‘other’.”
As she grows I will expose her to works by black authors of all walks of life so she sees intelligence as a matter of thought, and not a matter of speech or appearance. I want to teach my daughter the beauty that is our heritage so she never feels ashamed of it, or less proud in comparison to her ‘other’. I want her to feel as though she belongs because she has lived a life culturally exposed, embraced in a way that no one can deny her of her claim to her background due to her appearance and their ignorance.
Because she will know better, because I’ve come to know better.