A horse of a different color
As a kid I loved The Wizard of Oz. OK, who am I kidding? I still love The Wizard of Oz! Like a lot. A whole bunch. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Dorothy and her crew finally enters the doors of Oz to find a carriage with a white horse. With a change of one camera angle, the horse is shown as purple, and then proceeds to change colors through the Oz procession. The driver even uses the American phrase, “Well then, that’s a horse of a different color,” which is used to point out our differences rather than our likenesses.
It’s slightly ironic that the phrase is used this way, because it originally stems from a Shakespearean play where the character Malvolio says, “…a horse of that color,” referring to the same issue, not different. Over time (and with the help of a political parody of John Adams), the phrase was inverted and that is what stuck.
That phrase has always got me thinking. What really is color all about? Our societal meaning behind it has always especially fascinated me. And now that I’m a mother to white/black mixed children, it’s got me really thinking.
What does it mean to raise children of a different color? A different color than you. A different color than their immediate community. I’ll explore this topic through interviewing other mothers and writing this two-part article. It’s truly in celebration of mothers in Northern Colorado raising their children to love and live their truth.
A two-color blend
My mother is white and my birth father is mostly black. I identify myself as a black/white mixed woman. I say it this way on purpose. It’s not meant to be offensive to anyone. I know it’s simplistic. I know it makes sweeping over-generalizations about race, culture, and to some, even gender. But still, it’s my family and it’s the label I choose to use.
My mother once gifted me with a DNA ancestry test. It was so cool! It told me that I was 41% sub-saharan African, 57% European (a blend of British, Irish, French, German, and more), and 2% Native American (my great-great grandmother was Blackfoot Tribe…or so the legend goes).
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he spoke of a future with a character as the focus of a person. This dream was a dream for his children. For my children. And for yours too. I’m not sure we’re any closer to his dream than when he spoke those words outside of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. But, I think it’s still a worthy dream endeavor.
Before MLK Jr., there was another man (okay, many men and women) with a similar dream. W.E.B. Du Bois explained his dream in the book The Souls of Black Folk, where he wrote, “…feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things: the right to vote, civic equality, and the education of youth…”
What my mother told me
One time in high school, I asked a boy to a dance and he politely declined per his parents’ request. Apparently, they had connected the dots between my “unusual” name and my possible ethnicity and they didn’t approve. That night I cried my eyes out to my mom and begged her to go talk to them so they could see that I was white, too. She held me tight and gave me a string of the best advice ever given to an adolescent girl.
My mother taught me how to embrace the pain of this prejudiced rejection and find the truth in it. These people didn’t deserve me in their life. I was awesome. Their rejection did not define me. It did not place me in a box. It did not write my story.
Racial bias would come in many forms in my life, but with my mother’s sage advice that day I was always able to see it for what it was and not take it personally. Now, don’t get me wrong, it FELT personal. Every. Single. Time. But the events did not take hold in my heart and shift my true self. My mother helped me to be rooted. And this is the thing: children of color who will face injustice are forced to figure out early on where they are rooted. It’s unfair, but a necessary part of growing up. This is exponentially true for those multi-ethnic kids who live in a predominantly white community.
What other mothers told their children
One mother I interviewed said she advised her daughters that being black doesn’t make them inferior to anyone; that they should expect acceptance, and it’s the other person’s loss if they reject them. She warned them not to wear their race on their sleeve but that no one gets a pass when making derogatory remarks.
Many of the mothers I spoke with shared the same sentiment of making sure their girls were exposed to successful, progressive black women in current times and from history. There was an intense desire from these mothers that their daughters not embrace any level of shame associated with the color of their skin but rather held a strong sense of pride over it. I’m not sure these are the same thoughts of a white mother to white children. They may be. But maybe not.
Another mother shared that she wanted her child to love her hair. She worried about her daughter constantly commenting that her hair was too frizzy, when it was beautiful curls. Oh, hair! Trust me, this could be a whole article all by itself! In fact, there have been full-length movies on the topic!
Join me in my Part 2 of this article as I dive into raising rainbow kids, and cover how all of us can be colorFULL and not colorblind.