In looking at recent racist comments in my yearbook, ways that I was racist to myself on Facebook by making posts or jokes, the other person who also continued to joke about my race is my number one hero – My Mom.
Though I’ve told my story several times, my mother’s story is also a tumultuous ride from start to finish. She went into labour on her 43rd birthday, mine landing on the following day. She is a white Acadian woman, with a blunt sense of humour. For as l
ong as I can remember she was very honest with me about my race, telling me people would be jealous, would be racist, would try to hurt me because of my beautiful skin. My mom told me how jealous she was of my skin, laying in patches of sunlight on the carpet in winter, like a cat. She wanted my golden colour and I always loved how she admired me for it.
As I grew up, her bluntness and oversharing did welcome some Black jokes. My favourite joke was when she became wheelchair bound and referred to me as “The Help” because of the movie with the same name being released that year. Looking back, I think she was trying to teach me to confront this otherness and difference head on instead of feel shame. She didn’t know that her jokes mirrored those of the kids in school who also made me feel othered for being mixed.
If I could highlight where she went wrong to anyone listening, and I say this with the most love, her fear of me wanting to be with my father is what kept her from embracing my Blackness with me. Granted, she was 43 at the start of my life and the internet wasn’t everywhere like it is now, but she wasn’t researching how to care for my hair, how braiding works, subjects to introduce to me. My mom wanted to shove Black dolls into my arms to know I was acceptable, watch the Cosby show to show a mild amount of representation, and to her that was a job done.
My moms joking has probably influenced the way I joke and laugh about things that make me uncomfortable, from my Blackness in my teen years to my traumas that I live with today. As I said, some of her jokes were funny, and I do think we should be able to laugh at ourselves. Looking back I think checking in to make sure I knew that I was loveable, worth while because of my skin would have been helpful, but like a lot of things – we talked about it once, and never revisited because it was “case closed”.
Looking back, I wonder if my mom was ever uncomfortable with my own skin tone. Not only was I a colour she wanted, but I was a living reminder of a time she spent with a man who was no longer around and didn’t care about us at the time. I wonder if my mom thought that treating my Blackness as if it didn’t exist would make me numb to racism as opposed to confused by it.
Maybe my mom was just unaware, and in a white community thought she was doing the right things for me and my identity. All I know is my mom did the best she could, always, and while I struggled with my identity we’re here now, and that’s what matters. She loves me, my braids, when I speak with ebonics and we do still, on occasion, crack Black jokes.