April 23, 2014

Waiting on the world to change

This post was originally published on Then Came Isaiah in February 2010.  In light of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s recent remarks and similar questionable celebrity behavior I found myself reminiscent of this emotion.

When I was in the fourth grade my mom took me out of the school I was going to in my neighborhood and put me in a school about forty-five minutes across town. She said I came home one day bragging about the 100% I had gotten on a test and when she looked it over, she realized it was full of errors. After examining my school for a few weeks thereafter, she realized it was not a mistake… the teachers weren’t grading my papers properly. So, she put me in one of the top private schools in a wealthy neighborhood where I was one of three brown faces in the whole school (the other two were twins).

I was nervous because up until that point I had gone to predominately black schools but my mom put me at ease assuring me that I always made friends quickly and everyone liked me. She even reminded me that my best friend from summer camp, Sarah, was white… and we weren’t all that different. Sarah even got me a black Ken doll for my birthday – which in the eighties, was impossible to find. So, with my stylish new hairdo and cute new uniform I started my new school.

And she was right…

… at first.

I made fast friends with two girls in the class, Lisa and Clara. I remember my first slumber party at Clara’s house. We danced to Material Girls by Madonna and painted each other’s nails. I loveddd Madonna but in my neighborhood, it was all about hip hop and my brother’s wouldn’t have me blasting a Madonna record. But hey – I taught them the running man, all about my curls and cornrows and my adoration of LL Cool J and it was great. I stayed me – but became a better me, because I didn’t have to just be one side of me – I could listen to my Madonna and my Salt N Pepper.

Anyway, Lisa’s mom used to pick a number of us kids up from school in the afternoon. She would take most of the kids home but because I didn’t live in the area, she would take me back to her house and my mom would come get me after work. It was a great set up because Lisa and I were great friends. One afternoon, I was running to get in her mom’s van and I squeezed into the last seat in the front row. I must have pushed passed another one of my classmates, Gaby, on her way to the van because when she got in the car she was maadddd. She wanted the seat and I took it.

Not one to be intimidated I said, “What’s your problem?”

“You’re in my seat.” She snorted.

“It doesn’t have your name on it.” I responded.

She stared at me for a minute. Keep in my mind – back then, “not having your name on it” was a pretty awesome comeback.

I could see her struggling to say something.  If I close my eyes, I can still see her face as she struggled to say something.

And then she said…

“BLACK.”

She spat it – like it was a dirty word. Like I needed to be reminded that I was different, less than, a transplant into her world.  I was quiet. No one ever said that to me before. No one ever told me I was black and made me feel bad about it.

A few months later, I had a crush on a boy named Jon, who was also my classmate. I wrote him a note.

“Do you like me? Yes or No.”

He called me a Nigger.

I never cried so hard in my life.

I will always remember my kind music teacher who stood with me in the cubby closet until I stopped crying.

Funny thing was, I found out years later that Jon was biracial.

I bounced back but I was guarded. For awhile, I was scared to feel too accepted, sing my Madonna songs too loudly, for fear that everyone was just waiting… waiting for me to cross that invisible line and be reminded.

For the most part, I can look back on my days at that school fondly. I still keep in touch with many of my friends and afterwards, I continued to go to schools were I was in the vast minority and that was okay… I knew who I was… but I was guarded still – just a little.

 I am an adult now and I move in many circles. I love everything that defines me and being a women of color is just the icing on the cake for me. I feel like so many things define me that I will never fill anyone’s stereotype. I want my son to feel the same way. I am 6’1, my husband is 6’4… my son will be a tall, beautiful black man. For many – he will be scary, built for athletics… etc. I want him to always know that I love him completely – he can be whoever he wants and I will love him – he can be a clog dancing gay man and that’s okay – I just expect him to be who he is.

 Last week, I read about John Mayer’s statements in Playboy and it brought me back.. If you haven’t heard about it and don’t feel like reading it – aside from some insane things about his ex girlfriends, he said that the fact that he has a large black audience gives him an “hood pass” or a “nigger pass.” He also compared his penis to a white supremacist because he doesn’t date black women. Sadly, I have always loved John Mayer’s music. The first time I heard Your Body Is A Wonderland, I was in college and I heard him sing it acoustic on The Late Show. I thought… wowowow. I felt all tingly and I wanted to be in love. Apparently, I wasn’t actually relating to the music when I bought his album… I was handing him a Nigger Pass.

 I remembered that little girl again.

The one shocked in the carpool van.

Crying in the cubby closet.

I was just reminded that no matter how dynamic of a human being I am, no matter how complex and multi-faceted… for some people, my skin color will be all they see. Believe it or not, I forgot for a second – so caught it in my own class-ism… elitism… my belief that somewhere along the line, I crossed the line and no one cared anymore.

Hey – Barack Obama is President.

I thought everyone saw me.

It made me sad last week… because it hasn’t changed and although I can handle it, I am painfully aware that I will have to feel the reality all over again through my children’s eyes and I am pretty sure that will hurt worse.

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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The Black woman’s burden

As much as I try not to, I often find myself spending more time than I care to admit watching reality television.  I absolve myself from total responsibility for my actions.  It is hard to avoid.  Whether it’s 500lb little people parenting sextuplets or aged rockers engaging in mass va-jay-jay testing (or dating shows… whatever), no matter which station I turn to I find myself drawn into the absurdity and calling my girlfriends to engage in mindless banter about what such-and-such did or did not do.  This Sunday night was no different when I nestled up with a big piece of cake and watched NFL player, Chad Ochocinco’s newest reality show, “The Ultimate Catch.”

Now, if you’ve watched dating shows before, the premise is no different from the rest.  Through “dates” and challenges, Ochocinco must eliminate a woman each week until in the end, he finds his “ultimate catch.”   Although the premise of his show is nothing unique, what’s sparking somewhat of a stir is the noticeable absence of black women in his dating pool.

Earlier this week, I was watching The Wendy Williams show and Ochocinco was a guest.  The visibly concerned talk show host pointedly asked Ochocinco to explain the absence of black women on his dating show.  After gratuitously professing his love for black women, the NFL player explained he loved all women, not just black women.  And for what it’s worth, Wendy was sure to point out that Ochocinco was also the proud parent of four children parented by three black women.

For what it’s worth.

A little later in the week, I read an interview with Ochocinco on Essence.com in which he offered a much more defensive answer.  In response to a similar line of questioning he responded: “I’ve never heard other races complaining about their men dating outside of their race besides Black people. I hate that we continue to pull that race card. Experience life in general. It’s not that there’s not enough of us because I’m going to deal with y’all anyway, I always have. [People] make it an issue because it’s now on camera.”  He went on to say he understood why black women may take issue with his choice but “but I still can’t appease you. I have a preference. I’m not trying to appease you on my show. I’m trying to find happiness for me and it doesn’t come from just dealing with one type of woman.” 

So, I would absolutely be lying if I say I did not get a little irritated by Ochocinco’s response.  But not for the reason you may thinking.    I grew up in a very liberal household where my mother often dated men outside of her race.  My brother is married to a woman of a different ethnicity and in the heart of my teenage years; I had posters of everyone from Brad Pitt to LL Cool J on my wall. Although I ultimately married a black man, I dated outside of my race in the past and never felt like less of a black woman for doing so. Call me crazy, I have always had a thing for good looking men who treated me well.  That brand of man can come in a variety of packages.  Suffice it to say, I am not opposed to interracial dating nor have I taken a personal stake it who other members of “my” race decide to date.  As a mom of two boys, my primary concern for when they begin dating is that they are happy.  Of course I noticed that the vast majority of women on his show were not black; I am proud to say I see color.  However, I just don’t feel this sense of ownership over him or any other black man.   I resented the fact that he addressed black women as if we all cared what he did or who he dated.

One of my closest girlfriends is Hispanic and has dated predominately black men for the majority of the fifteen years I have known her. Although we rarely talk about it, she has mentioned to me the “looks” she gets from black women on occasion when out on a date.  Conversely, my girlfriend who has been in a long relationship with a white man has mentioned the warm reception she gets from white women when out with her beau.  I can’t help but feel somewhat embarrassed.  Why is it that as black women we are building this reputation for being less tolerant?  Why does an NFL player have to explain his dating preference to us just because he is black? Am I remiss for not wanting to jump on the bandwagon to hoard black men for eligible black women, or save our race from sort of impending destruction?

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Seeing Color

Channeling my last Moms of Hue post, I think an appropriate place to start here is to admit I may have made a mistake.

When I was a child, my mother put me in this amazing daycare.  Since we will be discussing race, I will start by saying it was predominately Black.  It was in a middle class neighborhood in Queens and run by a bi-racial ex-hippie, the focus of the school was not only on educating the “gifted” child, but it was also on enforcing a sense of identity in its young population.  For instance, every morning, after our pledge of allegiance, we turned to the African American flag and chanted the following:

Red is for the blood of my people.

Green is for the land of my people.

Black is for the skin of my people.

Red, Black and Green.

I can not tell you how much this start did for my sense of identity as child.  Admittedly, it made me a little defensive and militant in my first all white school in the fifth grade, BUT acknowledging that the skin I was bathed in came with a unique set of strength, community and characteristics, made me incredibly proud.  I can confidently say, even in the face of the most egregious stereotypes and ignorant people, I never doubted my worth as a Black woman.

Then, somewhere between the start of my higher education and motherhood, the definition stopped being as important.  In fact, it began to irritate me.  I adopted a new outlook that being Black was a smaller part of me.  It came with a long list of definitions.  First, I was a daughter, sister, student, writer, etc., etc.  I resented the fact that I spent seven years educating myself only to be seen in my first professional experience as a Black lawyer.  Black first, lawyer second.  Relegated to “specific” organizations for mentorship and guidance.   As if I studied only the Black people law books and passed the Black people bar.   I felt like holding up a sign like Ossie Davis in Do The Right Thing and screaming, “I’m a man, I’M A MAN.”  Well, a woman….

As a mom, I unintentionally imposed this new sense of identity on my son.  Yes, he is my beautiful, golden brown, black child BUT he is also funny, intelligent, energetic and kind.  I did not want people to look at my husband and me, both over six feet tall, and see our son and think future athlete.  I wanted them to see his two educated parents and think: this child can be whoever he wants to be. 

When I was looking into a new daycare in preparation for our move last summer, I was looking for the best.  While the concept of diversity was not completely lost on me, it certainly did not measure as high on the list.  In fact, like my own racial identity, I placed it last on the list.  I wanted to find an environment that was clean, safe, valued education, was nurturing, family friendly and yes, somewhere down the line, I wanted it to be diverse.  Maybe this came from my own rearing.  After my wonderful daycare experience, my mother worked hard to find the best school for me.  In our neighborhood in Queens, that meant sending me a predominantly white area where I was only one of three.  So, with only a scintilla of reluctance, last fall, I placed my two year old son in a daycare where he was the only child of my new found least important definition.

Like I said, I may have made a mistake.  Shortly after my precocious, fun loving, intelligent child started the day care, we received a progress report from his school describing a child completely different from our own.  According to his teachers, our son was quiet, un-imaginative, and generally withdrawn from the other children.  Our son, who sings Bob Marley songs at restaurants, serenades house guests with his favorite toy microphone, counted to thirty at two, knows all of his colors, playfully encourages the younger children at the playground and challenges me with a “Why?” or negotiation at every request was none of the above at his new school.

Now, I am not going to point my finger and say we had a racist experience.  Racism is a strong word and I do not believe anyone intentionally treated my son differently because of his race.  In fact, I think our experience begs the answer to a much deeper question.  Is it possible that at two years old, he noticed the difference?  Is it possible he looked into a sea of faces and seeing none like his own he felt uncomfortable?  I consider the alternatives, he may be shy, he may feel intimidated by the other children because at home he is the center of our universe or….

Well, consider this.  When I was sixteen, I was a camp counselor at a YMCA Nursery Camp in New York.  The camp was the most diverse representation of races I have ever encountered.  Although it was predominantly Black, in each class there was at least one member of each race.  I remember coloring with two little children in the three year old room, one black and one white.  “Charlie”, the black child looked at my arms and then his and then back to mine and proudly announced, “Me and Ms. Tiara are both brown.”  I smiled at him, thinking his little observation was harmless and continued to color. 

“That’s right, Charlie.”  I encouraged. 

“Sam”, the little white child stopped coloring and looked at her own skin.  Her brows furrowed in worry and she looked at Charlie and I observing our skin and she started to cry.  I was her favorite teacher and she did not want us to be different.  I hugged her tight and convinced little blonde hair, blue eyed Sam that her fair skin was equally as beautiful (that was probably the first and last time someone had to do that). 

So there it is, children see color.  Why wouldn’t they?  It is the most apparent characteristic when we enter a room and the first on the list of descriptors when we leave it.  No matter how hard we try to highlight our other definitions.

So, how important is race in your child rearing?  When and how did you decide to discuss race with your child?  Do you think it’s possible for a toddler to notice the difference? 

Oh and I should note, I am looking for a new daycare.

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Boy… Oh, Boy: Raising a Black Man

So, a couple of weeks ago, I found out that the little half-pint taking up residence in my body is… drum roll, please… another beautiful baby boy.  This will be my second child and second boy.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some moments envisioning what it would be like to actually shop in the pink section of the kid’s clothing store but as the only girl with two older brothers and countless male friends growing up… being a Mom to another boy just feels right.

Upon finding out I was having another boy, family, friends and strangers alike all had something to offer.  Mostly words of encouragement.  Mothers of teen girls tended to tell me that I should quit while I was ahead, because boys make much better teenagers.  One mother of an older son who had just gotten married warned me cautiously, “Have a girl, have her for life; have a boy, have him until he finds a wife.”

Deep, I know.  Still not quite sure what to do with that information.

While I am sure, one day, I may feel a tinge of loss when my son goes off to be someone’s husband or partner, “losing him to a wife” is really the least of my concerns.  What am I actually concerned about?

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Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Lessons from an alleged race traitor

After reading “Sometimes the White Girl (Guy) Isn’t About You”  I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a very close childhood friend (who I’ll call Tanya) right before my wedding in 2003.  Our friendship hadn’t really survived our high school years as the older we got the more different we became. When we left for college, those differences only increased and while we spoke on a semi-regular basis, our friendship was not as strong as it had once been. When I called to let her know that I was getting married, her response was, “to that White guy?” and she went on to tell me why dating and then marrying him was a slap in the face to all Black men. She called me a “race traitor” and said that once I had kids I would regret my decision.

Needless to say, I was hurt and annoyed. Strangely and even more so, I was worried that my love for this White man meant that I was not in love with being Black. I had never thought about this before. My mother raised me to love myself, my history, my culture, and everyone else despite our differences – because of our differences. Nonetheless, Tanya’s words stung and even as I remember them now, I feel a little sick thinking about the implication that I was turning my back on my people.

Subsequently, I began noticing every look, squirm, or alleged attitude that we encountered. I became hyper-aware of what everyone around us was thinking. When people actually verbalized their disapproval of our relationship (something that happened a lot when we were around Black people), I exploded with a rage that scared even my husband. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that people did not approve even before our marriage, but it did not bother me then. For some reason, Tanya’s assertion that I was a traitor made me insecure and put me on the defensive.

I wish that I told Tanya that it had nothing to do with her. I wish that I realized that those who disliked my relationship where themselves, insecure and self-loathing. I wish that I had the insight that I have now, six years and one child later. Because, you see, when I look at my daughter, I don’t regret a thing. I know that she is the product of genuine love. She is hope. And while my White man has nothing to do with anyone else, the strength and the courage that I had to go against the grain and to follow my heart- that comes from a long history of people who said “no” to what was “normal” and yes to what was right. The only traitors in my eyes are the ones who want to undo years of struggling for acceptance.

Kristina Daniele

Kristina Daniele

Kristina, Founder and Oz of We of Hue is one of many doing it across hues-homeschooling, wifing, mothering, and business building. She is a web designer and social media consultant with a love of building communities on line. She looks forward to intelligent conversation that is eye-opening and statement-making.

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On differences

For children growing up, family represents the beginnings of our sense of societal cohesion and those experiences influences our ways of defining different. As the mother of mixed children, it occurred to me that I would inevitably be called upon to answer some awkward and even appalling questions regarding these differences ; race relations in the US being as they are. But, what I never imagined was that I- progressive mom extraordinaire could and ultimately would, struggle for years before finding the answers.

One of the more comical albeit awkward moments happened in a NYC playground between my son Jordan when he was about 4 (now approaching 18), and a boy he befriended who was about the same age. After a few hours of play, the close of their time together drew near and, the other child’s parents’ called him to leave. The children mournfully said their ‘goodbyes’ and, just as the other child turned to exit with his parents, Jordan said, “Hey, is that your mommy and daddy”? His new friend nodded and Jordan, still staring turns, looks up at me quizzically and says, “How come his mommy isn’t Black?”

Cue the chemical onslaught; emotionally, I’m flooded: laughter, sobbing, anxiety, trembling-I’m reaching new heights on my internal awkward-o-meter. “Well, because Jordan… his mommy is different from your mommy. Some families don’t have Black mommies”. Of course, Jordan is now talking about [insert toy, show, insect] and I’m well, flummoxed; we don’t talk about race, like ever. I’m so embarrassed, where could he have learned such a thing?! It occurred to me then, Jordan’s tiny social circle- until this fateful afternoon, consisted of our mixed race/multicultural friends and family; a group of people who shared the same unspoken differences.

Fast forward a decade or more and our second child, Yael, has made yet another high volume tear and snot laden entrance after being called a “half-breed” and ridiculed for being “not really Black”, by two children in an AZ playground. Hmph, now I’m looking quizzical- okay livid and quizzical. After a brief tirade, I gingerly deliver the same lame, vague speech about differences. But, all the while, I’m thinking, “Uh, yeah, so what. There’s nothing wrong with being  not really blackHalf breed isn’t the most diplomatic term, but…well, have we gotten too diplomatic, too politically correct, too hypervigilante, too homogenous”? Are we so focused on explaining the pedantics of our differences that we have turned a blind eye to the ways differences enrich our single commonality?

To expect our fellow humans to ignore our differences is not only disingenuous but insulting as it undermines the beauty of our individuality. You see, it isn’t about looking different or being differently abled that continues to plague society, but a willful ignorance and indifference to the fact that we are all different; even those of us who look the same. If we, as a society are ever to achieve on a macrocosmic level, the cohesion that exists in families on a microcosmic level, we’ll need to begin with asserting ourselves and affirming our identities as unique members of the human race.

So, if you pass the playground and overhear a child declaring that they “are not half anything but completely, 100%, one of a kind”, that one belongs to me.

T. Allen-Mercado

T. Allen-Mercado

T.Allen-Mercado is a mixed media artist, award-winning essayist, student of anthropology, blogger, wife and, mother of two.

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