White mother, light daughter

Who am I?

I am a woman, a mother, a white mother, a single mother, and plenty more besides. What I rarely add is that I am not the mother of a white daughter, but of a light one.

I have had two important reasons for this silence.

One is that my daughter’s identity is not a part of who I am – that I am her mother is a part of my identity; but who she is is not. Out of respect for her privacy, her right to find her own identity, to define herself for herself – for these reasons I have preferred not to impose my own vision upon her, not to develop my ideas about her identity before she is able to develop her own.

The second is that (in terms of discussions of my own white privilege and my own collaboration with white supremacy) I know that this is a distraction. The fact that I married a black man, the fact that I birthed a child who was (however briefly) fathered by a black man, make not a jot of difference. I am not going to play the “I have loved a black man” card, or the “I have birthed a mixed-race child” card because those cards do not mean anything. Those experiences have not made very much if any difference to my white privilege, or to the way I see the world, the way I have been taught to see the world: trading on those cards would be downright fraudulent. So they are not relevant and I have preferred not to muddy the water with what is not relevant.

Well, maybe sometimes things shift a little.

I am finding that “white mother of a light child” is creeping into my identity. I am finding that mothering a non-white child is a topic that I am now ready to explore. I wasn’t until quite recently, and I am still on shaky ground here, but this is important so please bear with me while I grope around for meaning.

Because what I have been remembering of late, and it is no co-incidence that this has been happening in parallel with my emerging at last from a kind of post-marital numbness – what I have been remembering over the last few months is that my daughter is not white.

Don’t laugh.

She has such fair colouring that it is easy to forget: her skin is very light, her eyes are grey, and her hair is made of soft brown curls that shine bright bronze in the sun. Most people who don’t know otherwise don’t even realise that she isn’t white – although that too may shift a little as she grows out of her baby face. In a world where white/light privilege means so much, it has been easy to want to forget – especially when remembering her parentage brought such painful associations, all those memories of hurt. And the task of teaching her, alone, about a part of her heritage that I know almost nothing about (a fact which is not to my credit, I know) has felt so big… There are so many reasons to pretend, to forget, to act as though it makes no difference, to kid yourself that it doesn’t matter.

But my daughter is not white.

And if I don’t help her to find her own identity, then somebody else will. And that, actually, is what I have really been re-membering, coming to understand not just intellectually but in my soul.

I am learning, slowly – perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am starting to learn – that this can be done. A birthday card from her (paternal) Grandma means I can show my daughter a picture I have of Grandma, and show her Jamaica on the globe, show some more family pictures from her Daddy’s people, few that we have. An interest in Mary Seacole – also a Jamaican nurse, like Grandma – follows and we have been talking about that.

It is easy to try and say too much, too fast. She doesn’t understand much about time. In her Mary Seacole book, there are slaves who make sugar. At nursery, she uses sugar to make a cake. Is that the same sugar? Did people get hurt for that sugar? A long time ago, people were hurt really badly for the sake of sugar. That doesn’t happen any more. Things are better than they used to be. She doesn’t get it, it’s too much, all she can think of is the sugar in those biscuits she made me today.

By little steps, faltering, revising, learning, practising –
little steps will take us a long way.
Because my daughter is not white:
my little, light, beloved daughter
is. not. white.


3 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting this. I hope that one day Ariel will read it, to fit with what you’re teaching her, and what she’s learning, and what she will learn in the future about who she is and all that it means.

  2. This post had a lot in it I related to, as my son is a light-skinned person of color as well. I’m never able to really forget his heritage as his father is still very much apart of his life, but I find myself subtly erasing it for my own convenience, for my own lack of knowledge as to how to deal with it.

    Lots of support and commiseration here. 🙂 Thanks for posting this, and for making this site. My contribution is in progress, and on it’s way. Hopefully it will be of some use to others as you posts have been!

  3. Thanks CJ. For the comments, the support, and the promise of a contribution 🙂

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