A thoughtful submission on finding identity

Had A Wonderful Childhood - Both Parents Were Proud To Be Black

My parents were both from Mississippi, a place where there is still grinding poverty.  Every year, for about five years from the age of six to twelve, my siblings and I visited our grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.  We’d get in the car or travel by train or bus.  My mom would cook bread, prepare potato salad and baked beans and the course of chicken in a variety of ways.  My mom was very close to her mother, who lived in Itta Bena, Ms.  Grandma had her own small garden with lots of vegetables that she grew and cooked.  Her neighbors fished everyday and told wonderful stories about their childhood.  My grandma, also had a neighbor with children my siblings’ age and we played with them.  We learned the maturity of the neighbors regarding sewing and cooking at a very young age for the entire family. Many of the girls had adult responsibility before they reached the age of ten.  My grandmother was always showing me how to do things; peel vegetables, water plants, identifying insects and what they did.  It was a colorful world of warmth from black people who tried to educate the young by showing them how to get along with their neighbors and how to be the best cook, seamstress, business person ever.  They stressed education.

Around the time I turned nine years old, I asked my father why he left the south and he would answer in a riddle.  At first, I was puzzled but as I asked the question over the years, I began to understand his riddled answer and it became increasingly important to make them proud of me and what they had done for the family.  He would vaguely say that he didn’t appreciate the way the whites were treating the blacks — yelling and cursing at them for the least little thing.  My parents created a foundation where the siblings and I did not call each other black.  We saw the love and respect they gave to each other and we followed suit.  Because back in the 1960s to call someone black was a shameful remark.  It was depressing.  It was like you were tagged as an outsider.  My father and my mother, but especially my father would say that we were so beautiful.  We didn’t know if this was his way of preparing us for the world (or not).  But, it gave us confidence and made us proud.  The story my dad told me as a child was that his own mother did not want him to marry a dark-skinned girl, my mother.  But, he did anyway.  And, he told all of his five kids when they were old enought to understand this dynamic.  My father would say:  No one is going to tell me who to marry, not even my own mother.  I thought that was powerful.  My father’s mom was dark skinned.  She was ashamed of her blackness by what she said to her own son and my father saw through it.  I shared the story with my oldest sibling - almost 14 years older and she said he told her the same story.

In summary, my father and mother did not get caught up in societal’s “willy-nilly” waverings about skin color or texture of hair.  By the way, my mom was dark skinned.  But, had thick wavy hair that hung to her shoulders - an oddity in the 1930s.  So, her two daughters - darked skinned inherited her hair.  And, people would stop and stare.

Lesson learned:  Be proud of who you are and build on it.  Don’t get twisted advice from the media, friends or husbands and wives.  You never know why they are the way they are… hating everything black, or wishing that they could be something other than black.  I’ve never dyed my hair blond, blue… never wore blue or gray contacts… never tried to affectuate a european accent.  When people have participated in the latter, they really do lose their identity.  Where is their identity coming from?  All over the place?  And, what a mess that can be.