A letter to my Bi-racial (cough), mixed-raced children
8 months ago Chad 2
Selena, you are only four years old and you say the cutest things. For example, you always say when I tell you I’m a strong black man: ‘but dadddddeeee, you are not black, you’re brown.’ When I ask you what’s mummy’s color then if daddy is brown, you are always stuck, and we both keel over laughing hysterically, because you can’t find mummy’s hue on the paint wheel. It’s almost as if, even at your tender age, you already realize that humankind are full of shit.
It’s comic because you have no such misgiving when I call myself superman. I see that glint of certainty in your eyes. In fact, you run to ‘superman’ and beg me to swing you around on my solar powered arms that no kryptonite could wound. And that’s all I want to be Cece, superman. For you and your brother. He’s only one. I will need to be superman too if I’m going to give you the body and mental armor you will need to endure reality in this world of white privilege.
A Brutal Voyage
You may decide one day to emigrate to daddy’s homeland in Jamaica. You will love the white beaches and the golden sun, the black skins and the dark nights. But always remember that neither daddy nor nanna nor great-grandpa chose to settle on that bespoke little island. We were herded chattel when we made that wretched journey over a middle passage too desolate to behold, in chains of iron, with welts and stripes crisscrossing our torsos that looked like grandma’s elaborate crochet designs; wounds that dug into our black skin like drills digging a coalmine. Because that is what we were Selena: black oil, diamond, gold, manganese; sowers of seeds of cotton and canes of sugar.
Many didn’t make it. They are buried deep; submerged, concealed, forgotten beneath that middle passage, thrown overboard like worthless debris, litter, waste; falling from a weightless sky, an indifferent sky, and into the waiting mouths of sharks that tore into their reluctant flesh like a bull’s horn slipped surreptitiously into a matador. Many of your cousins and aunts and brothers rest in that rechristened Atlantic Ocean (for us, it is simply known as the grave yard) beneath innumerable blends of lines of longitudes and latitudes.
Invest In A Vest
You may decide to go to the United States and matriculate at Howard University; fraternize with your black brethren of the diaspora. You will need to invest in a bullet proof vest. Personally, I would go for the riot shields those tactical SWAT teams use. While you’re at it why not stock up on shrapnel, a few grenades and Molotov cocktails. I tell you this because I fear for your black body.
We live in a ceaseless groundhog day where the destruction of the black body manifests itself in ever more cruel ways. Dirty ropes and oak branches have made way for police rifles and Tasers. We live in a time when we have to declare that Black Lives Matter and where trending hashtags such as Oscarssowhite guilts the academy into nominating Fences, 13th and Moonlight. It’s a strange world baby with some really strange fruit hanging limply from tired branches.
The Lie of Black Inferiority
You must understand that at birth, many of your white counterparts were given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of their class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by the police and not end up dead when the encounter is over or shamed or not getting stopped at all.
Those binoculars are also stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next.
The problem is they do not want to know anything different from what they think they know. Their knowledge of black life, of the hardships we face, yes, those we sometimes create, those we most often endure, don’t concern them much. They think we have been handed everything because we have fought their selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be theirs first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully.
They will call you bi-racial which you may scoff at because it carries deficits, often attached to the prefix “bi” (such as bi-racial, bisexual or bipolar) but believe me, it’s a vast improvement on ‘quadroon,’ ‘mulatto,’ or ‘mestizo.’ Many black people will think you’re the product of your dad hunting for acceptance from whites; that he did not love himself and inherently believe white people are superior.
They will think to themselves, ‘we can at least accept that whites dominate work, or even play; but to surrender to whiteness in love and procreation may suggest that blackness is simply not enough, or worse yet, just not good enough,’ and that your dad has done what James Baldwin says his father did: ‘believed all the horrible things white people said about him.’ It is true that the myth of white superiority enjoys an unsavory codependence on its despised twin – the lie of black inferiority. It would be profoundly mistaken however, if anyone were to mark you with such an erroneous stain.
Am I Black or White?
But you will learn to deal with it: to take the lumps and bruises of ignorance. You will learn that mouths will speak, tongues will wag and hearts will freeze on account of your shade. It’s nothing new though. Don’t feel special. It has been 400 years in the making.
Black people tend to ignore that biracial kids can struggle for identity. In fact, by my experience, it is mocked. To be born black you are fully condemned and you know it pretty soon. But at least you are born with full racial coverage. Biracial children, on the other hand, are uninsured.
You may even question your blackness when the police stop you one time too often; when the teacher’s pointed sarcasm gets one tone too bitter; the shopkeeper’s tracing steps one step too close. You may start to think, ‘but I’m not black…erm, not exactly. I’m half white!’ Many black people think that biracial folk will never be comfortable with their blackness that they will almost have to almost make peace with it. A tragic blessing and curse. Even though it seems archaic to say so, the one-drop rule of black blood contaminating white identity still holds sway.
In his memoir, ‘Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama recalls a conversation he had with a multiracial woman named Joyce. They talked about the richness of their multicultural heritage until he noticed that she (and others of her ilk) did all she could to avoid black people. This keeps me awake at night. I’m not asking for you to be Angela Davis or Assata Shakur, Selena. I’m not asking for Marcus Garvey or Huey P. Newton, Leo. I won’t be rocking on my chair, swaying in the gentle Jamaican breeze, hoping you have joined the Black Panthers or resurrected Garvey’s Black Star Line. But is it too much to ask: to raise black kids in a sea of hate and see them swim ashore before being gobbled up by the violent tide; to grow to love themselves and everything their blackness represent.
I Can’t Do This By Myself
That’s why I have immense reverence for your half Portuguese, Venezuelan mother. She searches out the black dolls in the dark corners of the internet; it is her that transferred you from one preschool to another when that teacher admonished you when you said you were Jamaican and insisted that you were British; it is her that often deals with the stares and snide laughs of elderly black women; looks that suggest, ‘how dare you take one of our precious few black men’; stares from white women who think she sold her soul. I tease her everyday that her people (Portuguese) and their Iberian neighbors started the black man’s plight so every time that she makes me dinner it’s a down payment on the reparations they owe.
But seriously, your mother’s emphasis on your blackness is critical to this puzzle. It is why black folk beam in pride when Halle Berry says she is utterly comfortable with her blackness because her white mother told her she would be seen and treated as black woman. It’s also why we cheer when we hear that New York mayor Bill deBlasio and his black wife have lectured their biracial son about how to behave when he encounters the police. And then of course we have Tiger Woods. The mental challenges are stark. All because some old thief was trying to justify slavery.
No More Elsa In This House
Of course, I know that you will want to claim both sides of your heritage, as you should. But know this: you are black by default! Do something good that white people notice, and then and only then will you be considered half white, biracial or mixed raced. Do something bad and you will be blacker than Kunta Kinte. It is easy for whites to claim Obama, Halle Berry or Alicia Keys after they make good.
I have been surreptitiously trying to solve this issue before you have the wherewithal to know that the marketed Mickey Mouse is a dirty rat in costumes. You tell me everyday that you are an African. I’m just about failing in my attempts to rid the house of Elsa paraphernalia but daddy is trying. Buying black dolls is an undertaking worthy of experienced Saharan camels. I hope for you to find blackness and not in Malcolm X’s autobiography either, awesome as it is. I hope to see you seeking to drink from black roots without being strangled by them.
My Heart Weeps
Leo you are still saying gaga and rara but I fear for you son. You may decide to stay in England where they will call you mixed race. Yes, you are a cake blend; a synthesis of paint in art class; an amalgam of mud and the finest ivory. We visited Jamaica recently and the constant stream of ‘oh, his hair is so pretty’ or ‘what color are those pretty eyes’ made me want to puke. I do love your hair and your eyes son but seeing dark skinned people create a mini riot over your skin tone evokes a weird set of emotions in me.
Of course, you are a cute baby but I also know that I am from a nation where we have been conditioned to think that the darker your skin, the bigger your difficulties; the less pretty you are, the lower are your life prospects. Your light skin is radiant and beautiful but signifies anxieties buried deep in my troubled heart. That light skin…don’t ever think that it gives you some special status. If I ever hear you partaking in those conversations I hear my students carry on about how ‘blick’ a dark skinned person is or how they are only attracted to ‘lighties,’ I’ll heat that backside. You could be forty years old and balding.
Leo, I also have you kicking a ball against the wall every chance I get. We work on that first touch every day. I try and explain that you should dribble with your instep and not the side of your foot and that it is handball every time you deliberately touch the ball with your hand when you’re not the goalkeeper. But you pay me no mind and laugh at me. You giggle that adorable little giggle and keep doing what you had been doing all along.
But then you know what? Even as I plot your Pele-esque rise, do you know that there are no black managers in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Seria A, Ligue Un, MLS, wherever? Oh what am I saying, of course you don’t. Just swallow your wheetabix. Talent they say will rise. Promotion will be based on merit. If you’re good enough you will be alright. That is what they say.
Selena you are my baby girl and may feel the insidious hate of the world may never violate your body but you’d be wrong, baby. Dajerria Becton was grabbed, and shoved and violently slammed to ground, the police officer forcing his knees into her back. He then pulled a revolver and pointed it at her. She was only 15 years old. Her crime: arguing with white people in the suburbs. They called the police and the police proceeded to protect and serve his constituents.
Latasha Harlins was shot in the head in a Korean store; the perpetrator was fined $500 and given community service. There’s very little justice for us, even you precious black girls.
No Amount of Success Will Change The Fact That You Are Black
I want to teach you something they could never teach you in maths or physics; something they won’t tell you in history class or English literature. Something so much deeper. I want you to know that if you grew to become an astrophysicist, an elite engineer or the Prime Minister, you’re not going to be any less black. Any successful black person who has sough to run away from their melanin has tripped and fallen. Embrace it. Study it. Learn it.
But more importantly, find that which will give you joy? On those evenings after work, what will you see as your purpose? Figure this out because life is little more than a series of repetitive events with the occasional curveball thrown in. Beware of bucket lists and taking cameras to concerts.
Avoid The Cultural Malaise
Beware of Goggle box (I must tell you this because you probably wouldn’t believe it but there is a program on TV featuring a number of families and groups of friends from around England and Wales, who react to British television shows from their own homes… are you waiting for the rest. No, that’s it. It is wildly popular too and some of them are now stars and celebrities. It has won awards. My head hurts. I fear for you in this most decadent and rotten of cultures).
Outrage appears to be the default setting to everything nowadays. Shout loudest to be heard. Be as obnoxious as possible for recognition. Who cares if you are right or not? The comments sections on online articles, Twitter, TV are indicative of this. Extreme views are the ones now most considered newsworthy.
People like to be able to say ‘been there, done that!’ but life is about more than endings. If it were simply about the end then we’d only read the abridged versions of novels (or just watch the film), eat only the dessert in restaurants and miss the main part of intercourse and head straight for the climax. Learn to enjoy each note of the symphony of life. To live intelligently is to live with purpose, to make the means the end. The end is in every moment.
You Will Only Ever Find True Joy Within Yourself
Beware of the ‘destination addiction.’ The idea that the next job, or relationship or toy will give you happiness is a fallacy perpetuated by many but lived by none. Do not live your life only to get to the end of it. The manic society you will inhabit will inevitable steer you this way and a true sense of self is the only way.
There is no future happiness or heaven. The pursuit of happiness is a disease we all suffer from. The aim in modern society is not to enjoy the day, but to get through the day. Like Willy Loman in Arthur miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ we always seem to be heading somewhere, only we never get there. There is no arrival lounge. This leads often to a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. The feeling of victory will be repeatedly deferred. I don’t want you two in pursuit of some amazing bliss that you will have no idea how to find.
Failure will inevitably come. Falling a bit is not the end of the world, and if winning becomes routine and unexciting, you’ll lose interest. If you’re that upset about being second or third, of falling a bit or not fulfilling ‘expectations’ then you’ve lost perspective. Disappointment teaches and change is good.
Long story short, I am bloody in love with you two and it’s all been fun. One day you guys may even beat me in pickup basketball. Probably not though, you can’t have everything. The universe might fold in on itself.