Her own mixed race daughter made her feel alienated
Omilaju Miranda knew her child would be mixed race even before she got pregnant. "I knew if my child was brown or 'high yellow' with cottony hair, he or she would be a black kid with a white father, and if my child’s phenotype obviously showed his or her racial backgrounds, then I would raise my child as mixed," she says. At this point, she thought she had all the answers. Well, not quite.
She wasn’t prepared for encounters with strangers (and even with people she knows) where she was mistaken for a nanny or some distant relative and constantly being bombarded with such comments and questions: “She don’t look a thing like you,” “She looks just like her daddy doesn’t she?” “I don’t see any black in her,” “She’s white. You’re not going to let her say she’s black are you?”
She wasn’t prepared for her own daughters question: “Why am I white and you’re chocolate milk?” She was speechless and felt alienation from her own daughter. It took a few minutes of feeling this way before she could answer: “People are different colors to make Mother Nature happy.”
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Omilaju has had to learn to deal with her anxieties over this saying: "I cannot fix my daughter’s perspective that she is the 'other outsider' amongst the women in our family and that I am the 'other outsider' in her daily world of friends whose families all 'match'." And I can imagine she feels this more because Omilaju is a single mother so amongst her daughter's friends, she is the only child who doesn’t have a parent that has the same skin color as she.
But all wasn’t lost. Her daughter’s questions about the Disney Princesses have actually become a learning experience for Omulaju in relation to the answers she gives. For instance:
“I am Mixed. Where is Pocahontas from?” - “Here– the United States.”
“What type of Princess is Jasmine?” – “Saudi Arabian.”
“Am I Saudi Abeen?” - “No.”
“What type of Princess is Pocahontas?” - “Native American.”
“Am I a Native American Princess?” - “No.”
“Where is Merida?”- “Merida is in Scotland.”
“And I am in New York?” - “Yes.”
“What type of Princess is Tiana?” - “African American.”
“What type of Princess are you mommy?” - “African American like Tiana.”
And then she finally declared: “Okay. I’m African American like you.”
Phew! It’s over. And while her daughter was trying to figure out which princess she matched with, Omilaju says, “I was trying to hide the tension I feel resulting from my knowledge of the pressure we both face— the pressure to fit a racial identity on this child and make sure she commits to the political agenda served by the identity we choose for her.”
As of now, this is what her daughter identifies herself as: “mixed African American white princess with a brown mommy.” That is how her four-year-old perceives color and culture.
“But what I’m learning is that I cannot allow the tension within me, to choke off conversations with her, about race. Unlike some others in our life, I will not cut these conversations short with a quick, “Aren’t all colors pretty and all people from everywhere good?” when I see that she’s trying to figure out a part of her identity. I am not willing to leave her flailing in the wind to figure out her ethnic identity at some indeterminate point in the future when I hope race and ethnicity don’t matter or her decisions don’t involve an uncomfortable conversation with me. Instead, she’s teaching me that if I speak to her openly and on her level about race and identity—she will continue to be curious and engaged with all aspects of who she is. And, instead of being intimidated by others’ opinions or scared to talk about race, she will talk it out with me and come up with the answers about her ethnic identity that give her peace of mind.”
I guess if all of us listened, we would learn so much from our day-to-day experiences in relation to race and culture. Are you listening?
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