Saturday, February 15, 2014

White Mama, Black Daughter; Fierce or Invisible

Good or bad for all of you, I process the events of my life pen to paper here in this space.

This one might be long and winding, jumbled and brutal. I'm pretty certain it won't be for the faint of heart.

My daughter is 7 and I am just beginning to fully realize the extent of what it will be, to be her mama for life.

I am being forced to see things in the world that I always thought I saw but never really did.

I am being forced to become a fierce woman.

I have experiences now, with my daughter, that other people don't believe actually happen, because "that doesn't happen in America anymore," because "people aren't like that anymore."

I witness things with my own eyes that I literally can't believe are actually happening. I can't believe they are happening and happening to my daughter because of the above sentences. I have believed those phrases for most of my life.

When I start asking around to friends and listen to their responses to what I tell them I think I might have seen or experienced or lived, their answers almost force me to believe I never should have doubted my experience in the first place. They simply give me the kinder, gentler, more appropriately Christian-ized version of "that kind of thing really doesn't happen." It's code for "you're being paranoid".

So, either I'm crazy-which is possible and I'm investigating that just to make sure I'm not cracking up in the mind-or, what I think I'm experiencing is actually what is really happening right before my eyes to my daughter.

I'm not typically the sports parent in our pair here at home. I don't do a lot of the practices or games and if I do get the tap for that, I am a drop off and come back sort of parent. I like to trust in the coaches and kids and other parents that they will be kind and reasonable and all of that. I like to let the kids have small doses of "safe" spaces to test out their independence.

Today was the first time I had parent duty at my daughter's basketball game.

In our church.

In a Christian sports organization.

Come as you are.

This is the place I am being forced to learn to be a fierce woman.

If those big brown eyes hadn't been locking with mine all through the game I would have walked out, locked myself in a bathroom and bawled my eyes out.

Instead, I blinked. I bit my tongue. I gave her the thumbs up.

I gave her smiles and eye contact.

To me, she is not invisible.

I confirmed that she is real and does exist and was in fact part of that team and playing well.

By the end of the game and the end of the coach's post game wrap up and the end of the snack passing out, I wanted to stand on a table and scream at those little porcelain princesses and their prissy mama's and all the other stereotype groups of people I suddenly saw all around me.

I didn't.

I took my baby by the hand and walked away from the group with her. I knelt down on the floor and looked at her face.

This is supposed to be fun. It should have been a happy, excited face. It was sad and quiet and looking at the floor, not at me.

I asked her a question, "Do any of the girls on your team ever talk to you?"

She just kept on looking at the floor and shook her head, acting like she was in trouble or had done something wrong.

I asked more questions. She kept acting like she had done something wrong.

"Do you ever get to sit with any of them on the bench or do you always sit by yourself?"
"Do they always squeeze 2 girls to a chair so they don't have to sit next to you?"
"Do they always turn their back to you and put their heads together like that whispering and not including you?"
"Do any of the coaches ever notice you are the only girl watching the game from the bench?"
"Does the coach always stand in front of you, so you can't see the game?"

She just quietly put on her pants and coat, picked up her snack and water bottle and asked if we could go.

In the truck she said once in a while one of them will smile at her and sometimes they let her sit with them. She explained all this to me with that hopeful voice that left me wondering if she was trying to convince herself or me that it wasn't so hard.

I asked her if maybe today was just an off day on the bench. Then she remembered, one of the girls did talk to her today.

The little girl told her she couldn't have two friends.

My baby asked me if I wanted half her cookie because it might make me feel better.

How fitting to look over my shoulder in the rear view mirror and see her snapping a heart in half.

Half a broken heart cookie doesn't fix this hurt, because I wanted to believe it wasn't real.

All my life, until now, I have believed in some way or another, because I didn't live it, that it wasn't really real.

My little girl is invisible to her team.

She's not WNBA material at 7, but her skills are at least as good as any other girl on that team.

My daughter isn't invisible.

My daughter is black.

But they may as well be the very same thing.

This is the thing that is driving me to become her very fierce mama.

When I asked around about my experience this morning, my moments of did I really just see this very subtle "acceptable" racism, I got three answers.

1. Yup, I've seen the very same thing happen to her at a different time and setting.
2. Yes, I see it. It's real and it's sad.
3. Well, she has a "big" personality and that can drive people away...

That combination made it solid for me.

Yeah, my girl does have a huge personality, and she will unleash it on you, but only if you are one of the few that she trusts. For the rest of the world, she is shy, quiet, polite, well mannered, kind, patient, all the things you would want your child to grow to become, and yet, it doesn't serve her well. In some weird sick twist it makes her even more invisible.

My girl isn't invisible.

My girl is black.

Being black isn't her fault. It should not be her punishment.

But it will be.

Driving home today I realized, it doesn't matter how good she is on the court. She can match the white girls, skill for skill, but they can't see her or respect her or befriend her.

No wonder black women become a force to reckon with as adults.

My girl will have to have skills, at anything, that are double or triple her white female peers to even begin to be noticed at an equal level.

For her entire life, she is going to always have to work harder and be better. Not just the "women have to work harder than a man to get the same notice or praise or prize as a man", but as a black woman she is going to have to pour out an effort that is so far beyond that, I am speechless thinking about it.

I would never begin to claim that I understood what it is to live life as a black woman. Over my life, I've respected them in a way, kept my distance to be sure, feared them definitely.

All of a sudden though, I see them differently.

Hell, I'm struck by the fact that in our present day world, where "that sort of thing doesn't still happen" I am fully aware and recognizing that until now, I have always thought of it as us and them.

Where I used to see something I couldn't identify or didn't want to identify, I now see a fierce strength. I see warriors. I see survivors.

I can honestly say I now see something in a black woman that I can respect more than I can say.

I have a few white women friends that have adopted black daughters.

They are fierce women, a force to be reckoned with.

Not one of them is going to let their daughter grow up being invisible to anyone.

I'm not going to let her grow up being invisible either.

She is black.

She is amazing and beautiful and fierce.

And those little porcelain princesses, well, they're a dime a dozen and they are the one's missing out. If they could see beyond her brown skin, they could befriend an incredible little survivor.

I doubt the tears I shed today over my "invisible" black daughter are the last ones on our journey to being fierce, but they are the last ones to come with the sense of shock over the level of acceptable racism and bullying.

Or maybe, none of this is really real. Maybe it's just kids being kids. Maybe it's a hypersensitive paranoid mama with a mixed race family fishing for a reason for the treatment her child received. Maybe she asked for it or had it coming. Maybe she deserved it or brought it on herself.


Tricia said...

No matter if she ever did anything (all kids do things) she Does NOT deserve to be treated like that. She is one very very special girl and we love her very much!!!! I know you will become as fierce as you need to be and she is very lucky to have you as her mama!!!

Jen said...

Jen said...