There is a certain kind of guilt I have. I’m not always aware it’s there, but I am reminded of it often. Too often. It surfaces when I am helping my daughter comb through her light brown curls, and in the background, I hear someone on the radio talking about a black child who was killed by police. The guilt comes on strong when I stare into my daughter’s grey-green eyes as I tuck her into bed, only to return to my computer where I read about another black man whose hands were in the air as he was shot by the police anyway. I feel the guilt when I see my daughter in a swimsuit, her perfectly tanned skin an acceptable shade of brown- a shade white girls would pay for- and I think of black girls at a pool party being manhandled by police. The guilt is there, too, when my daughter wears her favorite hoodie and I am reminded of overzealous neighbors with guns who patrol the streets in search of black boys.
The truth is, what I really feel is relief, but this kind of relief is inseparable from guilt.
My daughter is free to move about her world. Her white skin offers protection that she is no more deserving of than anyone else, but it is there all the same. It’s a matter of luck, I know, that things will be easier for her because there are already systems in place that make it so. There have been occasions when my brownness went unnoticed and I was assumed to be white, and at those times I also benefited from those systems. But unlike my child, I can’t hide my black quite as easily. The white of me did not prevent one of the kids in my Girl Scout troop singling me out as “the chocolate one.” It did not stop a classmate from looking disgusted as she told me I had “big lips like a black person.” My daughter is white so she will not have experiences like these. The black of her does not show.
Like most mothers, I want to spare my child from heartache. But it is as wrong of me to feel grateful for my daughter’s skin color as it is for blacks to be killed because of theirs. I know this; this is where the guilt comes from. I am not sure what this guilt says about me or the kind of parent I am. I am not sure this guilt serves any purpose at all. I just know the stories of racial injustice are circular, apparently without end, and yes, sometimes, I shamefully allow myself to retreat into the safety of her whiteness.