By Bethany Pinto
This is the second post What is Family? blog series in honor of the season. Your favorite bloggers write about what family means to them. Come back tomorrow for the next post in the series.
“What are we thinking?” She must have asked him in the quiet of the night. They were finally alone after the excitement of the news they had received earlier that day. The social worker had called and confirmed they got a baby girl! Their sleeping three-year-old was beside herself with excitement when she heard she would have a little sister soon. She was singing and jumping around all day. They’d called everyone, overjoyed with the news that before the end of the year, they’d be parents again. “Who are we to think we can do this?” she asked again. After all, it was 1976. It was a small town in middle America, and the baby girl was Black.
“I thought you said you wanted another baby?” he asked her, gazing at the top of her head in the crook of his arm. A single warm tear, laden with an overwhelming, full and present love. “More than anything,” she responded quietly. “Then we don’t need to think. All we need to do is feel our way through this. We’ll know what to do.” Daddy kissed Mommy’s head and sealed our fate.
* * *
Now it is 2013 and we are living happily as an interracial family. My niece and nephew are lily white with red hair. I proudly display their pictures on my Facebook page and they tell their classmates their aunty is a Black person. My other nephews are biracial, like my brother, and my own little man looks Puerto Rican, thanks to me and his daddy’s multi-ethnic backgrounds. Yup, Mom and Dad have a beautiful and colorful family portrait of grandbabies they are more than willing and quite eager to share with the world! What they must have gone through in the mid-70s, consciously choosing to raise Black children in a time when interracial couples and babies were not always accepted in society. They must have known what they were facing. Blacks and Whites were not getting along, or just barely tolerating each other’s cultures at best. Some of our family—on both sides—tried to discourage them from adopting us. And I know that some people turned their backs on these two determined young school teachers—neither of whom had much exposure to the Black community—who both believed love was more powerful than cultural boundaries. How did they manage to raise two biracial kids and one White child together in the same family in the 70’s and 80’s?
Mom and Dad refused to make color an issue. They dressed me and my (blond, blue-eyed) sister alike for pictures. Whenever people stared at us, my sister would encourage me to smile and give a friendly hi. And when people in our small town asked my mom whose kids she was watching, she would proudly say we were her babies!
I was quite aware I was Black from a very young age so my parents never had a problem telling me I was adopted. My mom helped me explore my natural curiosity about the Black culture. She exposed me to such books as Alex Haley’s Roots (which I read the summer before 7th grade) and Autobiography of Malcolm X. She bought us African masks and sculptures and made sure my sister and I played with both black and white baby dolls. When I went away to college, I tried pigs feet for the first time, I learned the Black National Anthem (okay, I don’t actually know it—but I learned of its existence for the first time), and started greasing my scalp. Instead of playing the victim or focusing on the negative, my parents taught all three of us to be loving and accepting of others (including ourselves) despite our differences.
While I can see now what my parents took on by choosing this lifestyle, I was confused about my cultural identity throughout my childhood. Our small town seemed like a realistic representation of American diversity at that time: predominately White with smaller numbers of the Black, Spanish and Asian populations. I went to school with mostly White kids and by high school, my group of close friends nicknamed ourselves the United Colors of Benetton after the diverse models shown in the clothing company’s ads. My best friends were Chinese, White, Jewish, Iranian, Korean and I was biracial. I felt most comfortable with these girls because I didn’t feel totally “in” with either the all white crowd or the all black crowd. I never felt Black enough to meet the Black kids’ approval; and the White “popular clique” was never going to fully accept me as one of them (one particular comment I heard in high school that I’ve never forgotten, from one of the cute popular White boys was, “You know, you’re really pretty—for a Black girl.”)
I had a lot of issues feeling ashamed of being half and half. On the one hand, I didn’t know what it was like to be Black American any more than I knew what it was like to be Italian or Chinese. I didn’t identify with the culture or the people. At best my knowledge came from what I saw on tv—hip hop music and Black athletes or an occasional fashion trend. But I didn’t know how to be Black American. And, at the time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be.
My parents encouraged me to never deny being Black. Yet, as a teenager and young adult, I couldn’t get the Black thing right. Even worse, I felt I was betraying the Black culture, and all the rich history and pride that went along with it. But even when I would act “White” I couldn’t allow myself to completely embrace it. How did that make any sense? I went away to college feeling embarrassed to be from a small White town, from a White family and have so few Black friends. Where was my place? Who was I meant to be?
While I didn’t understand it at the time, now, as an adult, I recognize the discrimination my parents faced during our childhood. Whenever I would ask why people were looking at us, my mom would tell me they were staring at us because of my beauty.
My family accepts me.
I’ve become a Black girl because of the freedom my parents have given me to explore my culture and the unconditional acceptance of my lifestyle choices through my adult years.
I’ve become a White girl because of my own acceptance of all the love and happiness I’ve experienced as part of the culture.
I’ve become biracial. And I will always embrace my White as well as my Black heritage. Thanks to the colorblind love that led a young White couple to act in enormous faith, I’ve grown up to learn that we’re all one, created in God’s image. If I can replicate this quality from my parents, then I will be all right. Because I’ll finally understand, better yet, live, their example. And that means so much to me.
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To read all of the essays in this series click here.