I have been thinking a lot about my children lately, and not even in a “is my period late?!” sort of way, like usual. I couldn’t figure out why until… ding ding ding, I realized: I’m black. (To be fair, I’ve had the assumption for a while.) However, my boyfriend is white. (Twist!) Three recent memories have stuck out in my head since this realization:
- Two summers ago, I attended a post-graduate program at Columbia University. There were about 100 students, and only three of us were black. The other black girl and I became friends, and one day, she asked me, bluntly: “So you’re dating a white guy. What’s that like?” “Nothing different, I guess," I told her. “He’s taking me sailing.”
- A year ago, in Brooklyn, New York, in 2012 and in Obama’s America, I was walking hand-in-hand with the same white boyfriend down the street. A woman walking in our direction gave us a dirty look, and crossed the street to avoid us. (It’s possible that she just hated young people, or too-tight H&M jeans, or smiles. I’ll never know.) A month earlier, we were walking home when we were accosted by a drunk white man on the street, shouting at us about how black men keep taking white women. He praised my boyfriend for being able to steal me from them.
- My boyfriend and I were driving home one night when we were talking about Rashida Jones. “Her dad is Quincy Jones, he’s a really big deal. You know she’s black, right?” I told him. “She is?! She doesn’t act black,” he replied.
The above situations have deeply struck me, as a woman, as a person of color, as a person in an interracial relationship. Situations like these still hurt and surprise me, even with 21 years of being black under my belt, and getting teased in school for the way I talk, and being told I wasn’t black enough to hang out with the black kids, and getting asked if my hair is a weave, and smiling politely when people around me use the “N” word casually, and hearing “oh, but you’re not really black” as a compliment. (Once, I swear to God, I was told that I wasn’t really black because black people put a lot of cream cheese on their bagels and I don’t. I swear to God.) I have had years of experience, years to build up armor, but they still sting and burn and chip away at my confidence, at my sense of self.
And I think: if all of this hurts so bad, how is it going to affect my child?
If this is coming across as a “my boyfriend and I are definitely having babies!” sort of thing, then you must be my mother, and I am curious to know how you found out about the Internet. We are definitely having burritos sometime in the near future, but that’s about it. But this isn’t just about him— I could marry any white guy. I could marry any Asian guy, Hispanic guy. I could marry any black guy, and pop out a kid who is the spitting image of me— but will still have to deal with shit from people almost every single day, because no matter where you go, there are intolerant people. There are racist people. There are mean people. And that scares me.
It was difficult enough to grow up and be rejected by anyone, let alone people who look like you telling you that you are nothing like them — but what if no one looks like you?
I am in a constant struggle of identity: humans, particularly insecure, neurotic, coming-of-age ladies like myself, are in a constant search for identification, an anchor that we can hold onto that validates our existence and legitimizes any worries we have that we aren’t normal. I do this all the time: junior year of college I got a pixie cut, and suddenly I was all about Keira Knightley and Halle Berry. I feel less inadequate when I see other people on the subway carrying a lunch-bag in addition to their trendy briefcase (Tupperware is too thick!). I pay more attention to girls with large grandpa glasses like mine. I am constantly tethering. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do this in regards to my skin color… but what if no one else looks like you?
I feel as if it’s dramatic and trite to repine the plight of the biracial child in what is perceived to be such an accommodating America, especially when the white/Caucasian population of the US will be in the minority in 2043. (This will be around the time I have a child.) But this doesn’t mean racism is dead—guys, I still can’t walk down my fucking street with the person I love without being judged! What type of reaction would someone have to my kid, a child who may not “match” their parent? It is crass. It is strange. It is heartbreaking.
I told my boyfriend of my worries about my children, biracial or otherwise—this tearful outburst came after I made him watch an episode of GIRLS, no less—and, after he told me that I was jumping an artillery of guns, we had an open discussion where we both shared our racially-based worries about the relationship (among his: “I worry that people in the street will say something mean to you, especially when we pass older white couples.”) About halfway through the conversation, I realized: I can’t be angry with him for not knowing something he was never taught. My thoughts about my children were always tinged with a fear that my white husband— if that’s who I marry— just won’t get it. I have a running list of “Things Your Black Girlfriend Should’ve Taught You About” as a half-joke, half culture class on my desktop (cocoa butter, baked macaroni and cheese, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, casual racism). But the “black experience” can’t be summed up with a chapter of W.E.B. Du Bois and a viewing of “Do the Right Thing.” There’s no class you can take or books you can read or movies to watch. There is only one thing: you must be tolerant and willing to learn. That’s all I can ask from my boyfriend—and, thankfully, that’s what he’s giving me in return.
Don’t even get me started if I have a girl.
Jazmine Hughes is a freelance writer and online producer at New York magazine. As a child, she always wanted to walk down the aisle to "Black or White," by Michael Jackson, but now fears it may be a bit too on-the-nose. You can follow her on Twitter here.
This post originally appeared on Literally, Darling, an online magazine by and for twenty-something women that features the personal, awkward, pop-filled and pressing issues of their gender and generation. It is an exact representation of their exaggerated selves. Republished with permission.