MixedRoots

MixedRoots Blogging while mixed. Commentary on being biracial, challenging perceptions of race & religion in life and politics. Connecting all Cultures. Unity and Peace. Dedicated to celebrating all cultures, including mixed-heritages, inter-racial & inter-religious families and unions while educating others about the unique mixed-race and multicultural experience. Bridging the gaps between racial, ethnic, cultural & religious differences.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Blue-Eyed Black Baby

My Blue-Eyed Black Baby...

Blue-Eyed Black Girl
How many do you know?
-By T. Fatimah Freeman Williams


When my husband and I were dating we sat in a picture booth – the kind that takes your pictures then gives you a computer generated “idea” of what your child may look like.
Although we didn’t think the computer got it right, I saved that photo and looked at it from time to time, dreaming of becoming pregnant. As far as what our baby would look like, we came up with our own ideas. All bets were that the baby would have honey brown skin- somewhere between my light caramel tone and my husband’s dark copper brown tone. The baby’s might have warm brown hair - possibly with natural highlights, brown eyes and hopefully my husbands extra long eyelashes and dimples.

Well, we’d have to wait a while to see our baby because my journey to become pregnant after we were married was a long and emotional one. Becoming pregnant at thirty-seven, as any “older mom” can understand, I didn’t put much energy into speculating what the baby would look like. I was more concerned with having a healthy baby.

When our daughter arrived, her skin was nearly white, but that really wasn’t odd, lots of babies -of color-black and brown are born light and then their skin gets darker as the days pass by. Likewise, the eyes can be light and then get darker too. Moments after the nurse looked at my daughter, I overheard her say to the other nurse, “Look at her hair, I’ve never seen blond tips on a baby before”.

I still hadn’t gotten a good look at her because the nurses took her immediately after delivery so I was trying to imagine what they were talking about. I looked at my husband hoping for a play-by-play commentary of what he could see, but I think he momentarily forgot about me, as he just stared at our daughter. So there I was living the moments following a cesarean, waiting to be introduced to my baby. The moments seemed like hours. When the nurses brought my baby over to me she was wearing one of those cute little baby hats so I didn’t notice her hair. But as it turned out our daughter's hair look light brown with blond on the tips of what quickly grew to be curls. I did however, notice her eyes. They looked really light but I assumed they’d get darker over the next few days. I hadn't been that close to a newborn so early in their little life so I thought maybe that’s how all babies’ eyes look at birth. Meanwhile I was totally preoccupied with kissing her, talking to her and beginning the long awaited bond of baby nursing from her mama.

The next few days came and went, as did the next few weeks. Her eyes were blue and her skin was white. My sister looked closely at baby’s nail cuticles saying ‘I’m looking to see how dark her cuticles are, maybe she’ll be as dark as they are” “I thought that’s how it usually works, but her cuticles don’t have much color”, I answered.

During a well-baby visit our pediatrician looked closely at her and noticed her eyes then looked at me and asked “Who has blue eyes in your family?” I replied, “My mother does… I think they’re blue or bluish green”
“Do you think they’ll stay this color doctor?” I asked. “It’s difficult to say, they could stay blue or they could change even up to one years time,” said the doctor.

Soon after that my mother-in-law reminded me that several of her twelve siblings have light eyes and while she and her husband both have black/brown eyes her youngest child, which is my husband’s youngest brother also has light colored eyes. Well, they aren’t blue or gray I guess they’re what you’d call hazel. So although my husband and I each have brown eyes we obviously have a light eye gene – a recessive gene.

As time continued to pass by people began to speculate if and when the color of her eyes may change. At first we’d smile and go along with the conversation, but after twelve months, when conversation turned to “will they change”, my husband would peacefully squash it by quickly saying, “if they change they change, as long as she can see well”.

If her eyes weren’t being talked about then it was her hair color. There was quite a bit of attention being paid to the baby's "looks". Sometimes her hair looks red, while other times it looks blond and then brown and back to red again. My sister swore I was manipulating her hair color in photos with some kind of photo software, but I had not. It reminded me of when I was a girl not even old enough to drive yet and strangers would ask me what color I used on my hair.

One day in the airport a Hispanic woman starred at my baby and finally said, “she’s so beautiful, look at her, her hair- those curls and those eyes. She continued, “Where’d she get that blond hair?” I replied, “well mine is quite light too- especially after being in the sun, but my mom had blond hair when she was young and then it turned red.” The woman said, “She’s got it all, even dimples! She’s lucky, but she’s gonna have it rough” I thought, “Ok what does that mean?” But deep inside I knew exactly what she meant.

I have a Chaldean friend; she has several children all of whom are healthy and beautiful. One day as she looked at my daughter, she said to me “You’re so lucky, she has beautiful light eyes”. I said “why am I lucky” “I wish just one of my kids has light eyes, my husband does” she replied. I said “well both my husband and I have brown eyes so our daughter's eyes are a big surprise to us”. She again said, “You’re just lucky”. I still didn’t understand my luck in it, but we had moved on to another topic anyway. Months later, nearly a full year later she brought up the subject again saying, “do you think my grandchildren have a chance at having light eyes?” I answered, “well I’m no expert on this light eyes thing, but I believe a person must have two parents who either have light eyes or both parents must have a light eye gene (that recessive gene).”
Filled with spontaneous excitement she said, “ well my husband has green eyes, his parents and I have two grandparents that had light eyes”. I didn’t know what else to say, but “well there ya go”

I’ve come to terms with the fact that people are drawn to our child. Begining when she was four-months-old people would come up to her and talk to her as if I weren’t even there. The most shocking though is that men have approached her as well; one even went as far as giving her the affectionate squeezing of the baby cheeks. Now, I found that to be strange that men would talk to and reach out to touch a baby that they didn’t even know.

It became so frequent that woman would comment on how beautiful or cute she is, it would honestly make me feel uncomfortable at times because these women would admire my baby from behind their own child’s stroller. I finally came up with a quick response saying, “yes they’re all so beautiful aren’t they, and we’re so blessed.” And saying that phrase helped me feel more comfortable because I included their child in the adoration.

I’m beginning to wonder what the impact of her bright eyes, dark blond hair and fair skin will have on her life, negatively or positively. How will she be treated, favorably, hatefully or fairly? Most likely it will be all of the above.

Global society finds itself in a structure which places people into social categories, be it economical, ethnic, religious or other. When people who sort of blur the racial category lines come along-- you know people with mixed roots --it somehow challenges what and how people think about race. And what's more is sometimes people don't know how to deal with the mixed race person.. I don't really know how to explain it but I know it to be true because I’m a mixed race woman myself and I have lived the "experience".

As a mix of black and white, I've been told "you have the best of both worlds", or "you have access to priviledges that I don't".
It's a delicate dance one does in life, feeling like you belong to both, but also feeling that you really don't fit in fully to either. While I must admit I have definitely recognized times in life where being light skinned afforded some "privileges" along life’s way, it can also be a constant thorn in your side and work the other way on you. I was often asked what are you, who is white in your family, or people would speak to me in Spanish, Arabic and even French. One person had the audacity to become visibly annoyed with me when I replied to them in English. I believe that stranger thought I was just refusing to speak what they assumed was my native language. I’ve also experienced negative treatment from African American’s just because I’m light skinned and being mixed adds another element of issue (having a white mother) So in my skin I see both sides of racism and it’s not pretty.

I do understand all this is just the nature of people. We're just trying to figure things out as we go. Some people are nice, some are not. Some people could care less what your racial, ethnic or religious background is and to others it means a lot. It's just the way of the world and I understand and accept that. But it doesn't change my 'what would the world be like if race, ethnicity and religion weren't things that separate us' vision. For me, I've lived the experience and I managed the best I could. But now it's become an issue in my mind again as a mother to a mixed race child.

What might be the life of a blue-eyed black girl? I don’t have the answers to the future. I only know that my own personal experiences will shape the way I guide her and protect her. I understand blackness and whiteness will play a role in her life, but my hope for my daughter is that she lives her life as a citizen of this world. I do believe because of the way she looks she will be able to connect with people of many colors and ethnic backgrounds worldwide.
And because her look can be borderless- blurring the lines of distinction, people may think she’s of their nationality. That gives her a unique opportunity in this world. If my daughter has a caring attitude and the proper disposition she may be able to affect positive change in the world on some level. Take Barack Obama for example, he is by many standards, a black man, born to a white mother and a black African father. It’s being said that Obama’s appeal to the American people is broader because of his diverse background ethnically, as well as academically. Now I realize my daughter's background is different and her academics have yet to be determined, but I believe the same idea applies. Her appearance screams diversity and that’s exactly why I believe she can have the capacity to connect with many people from many ethnic backgrounds. As a parent, I hope I can meet the challenge to prepare her for whatever lies before her and to know her greatness within. Though she looks like a person caught between two worlds that often collide, I anticipate she will use her common sense guided by her heart, wrapped in her intellect to bridge the often unapparent gaps.

I don’t doubt it for a minute that at some point in her life she’ll put to the test just as I was. With her African American peers it will be to prove her blackness. While with white people, whether she realizes it or not, it’s true she’ll be the safe black friend or associate. She will at times, feel the innate pressure to persuade white people to disarm their minds from the negative perceptions they have about black people. It’s twisted and wrong, but it’s the reality of life in this country and dare I say around the world.

I will do my best to teach her to be secure with who she is, what she looks like and with her mixed roots. I will help her develop ways to define herself that go beyond the color of her skin, hair, or eyes. I’m reminded of a song by India Arie entitled “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectation, I am the soul that lives within”! It talks about not being defined by your hair or other physical attributes and not allowing others to define you by such either. The song is a refreshing reminder to all that, we don't have be defined by our physical attributes.



© 2006 T. Fatimah Williams-MixedRoots

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