When I found out I was pregnant with my last child I felt the same feelings as many mothers. I was excited, anxious and a bit scared. I was going to have more than one child, which meant adding to an already rickety balancing act. Although everyone on both sides of my husband’s family and mine seemed to have a preference, I did not care. When we learned we were having a girl one would have thought Fourth of July fireworks went off. Finally, another girl!
When she came into the world, the same excitement rolled over. I was ready for all of the questions that follow having a baby.
How is she sleeping?
How are you feeling?
Is it different having more than one?
How much does she eat?
How often do you change her?
Are you getting any sleep?
I was ready for all of those questions. The one question I was not ready for was, “why is she so light?” Maybe it was because I was sleep deprived, or maybe it was because once again, I did not care about something so small, but I had not given any thought to the color of my daughter’s skin. She was simply my baby. However, it seemed like the world around me did care. Instead of being this joyful bundle of cuteness and baby breath, she became an anomaly, a puzzle to solve.
My husband and I both have dark skin. Our oldest has dark skin as well. What happened to our daughter was the debate.
Who in your family is light skinned?
If I thought explaining why my daughter was not the same color as me was annoying, hearing people who wanted me to explain my family lineage was even more annoying. The sad part is I actually provided details. I spoke about my father and most of his family having light skin. I spoke about my mixed-race grandmother, my great-grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins who are not the same color. I spoke about my siblings and I all being different shades. I discussed my husband’s family. There were even times when I felt like I was defending her paternity as there were more than one occasion, be it a joke or serious thought, which someone wondered if she had a different father. It was ridiculous. I was frustrated with myself at times for even giving into the conversation. Why did I have to explain, or rather, why did I feel the need to explain why my child did not look like everyone under the same roof?
A part of me thought if I helped to enlighten someone that did not come from a similar history, or ethnic background, perhaps I was doing a service. However, black people initiated the bulk of my conversations, actually all of my conversations, about my daughter’s complexion. How could they not understand the reason a child is not the same color as her parents?
Maybe the people asking did not grow up in families where there is a mixture of shades. Maybe they were just ignorant and thought everyone in a family is supposed to look alike. I am not one for math, but I imagine when such people look at my family they figure two dark-skinned parents equal dark-skinned children. Just as if they would think two light-skinned parents equal light-skinned children. Considering genetics likes to mix things up a bit, these are two simple equations to toss out the window.
Despite there being so many articles, studies and documentaries to explain the complexities of race, people still want to whittle it down to something as simple as two people having a similar complexion and their children having the same. Families do not always look alike. That is the beauty of a family. All of these unique features and characteristics that are the result of a mixture brewing from centuries past is beautiful. Rather than dissecting one’s outward appearance because something seems “off”, how about embracing it. If that is too hard, I have two suggestions. One read a book or watch a video on race and/ or genetics. I promise it will change your life. Two, stop assuming everything has a solid look. When you assume you make a . . . well, you know the rest.
Latanya Muhammad is an advisor, group facilitator and freelance writer. To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook.