I recently shared my daughter’s decision to quit homeschooling in favor of attending public school, along with some of the difficulty I am having with that decision. The time has come for us to enter the BPS lottery so we have been talking about school a lot lately. The other day we were on the topic of diversity and during this conversation, my daughter revealed to me that she feels “pretty much white.” This is a change from how she has previously identified. For as long as she has understood racial identity, she has claimed her 1/4 blackness. Of course, this new declaration of self is not a surprise; in many ways it’s inevitable. A stranger would not look at my child, especially in my absence, and assume she was anything other than white. And she is, in fact, mostly white. Nevertheless, I am having a lot of conflicting feelings about this.
While I understand how and why my daughter arrived at this conclusion about herself, there is a tiny part of me that feels rejected. It’s senseless, I know, and it undoubtedly says more about me than her. This is not something I should take personally, but it always felt kind of sweet when she claimed that part of herself that came from me. In some ways, it was an expression of our connection to one another, a simple way to acknowledge we belong together. I suppose, at the heart of this, is the issue of separation. Sometimes it feels like motherhood is nothing but dealing with separation over and over again. And this is just one that hurts a little more than others.
There is, of course, the issue of privilege. I am not a stranger to this because I know there have been times when I was mistaken for white, or pretending to be so, and that was used to my advantage. My daughter, though, doesn’t need to pretend. She can just say she is white and no one will ever suspect otherwise. I don’t think she really understands what this means, though. She knows about racism, and she knows about some of the racist encounters I have had. I’m just not sure she is able to fully grasp what a privilege it is to be able to just get to decide to be white. And I am not sure I know how to teach her that.
I feel shameful for admitting to this, but there is also a part of me that simply feels relieved over my daughter’s racial identity. It’s a terrible feeling, and I know it comes from wanting to protect her from some of the things that I went through as a child. She may have difficulties in life, but they thankfully won’t be rooted in racism. I’m sure this feeling of relief is, in part, due to internalized racism. As an adult, I have an awareness of this concept, but awareness does not equal relinquishment. I cannot reflect upon my childhood without feeling the hurt of being unwanted, or knowing I did not belong because of my brown skin. Obviously, I am glad my daughter will be spared those experiences.
All of my concerns may be unwarranted as my daughter’s childhood does not resemble my own in any way. She will not be attending an all-white school, and multi-racial children are most definitely not the rarity they once were. Still, I think a lot of parents will tell you it is often hard to step away from our own life experiences and look at things objectively. We can’t predict our children’s futures, so our past is what we have to go on. For me, this means issues of racial identity are a big deal. I know race is only one of many descriptors my daughter will have throughout her life, but it is an important one. Our country, both in the past and present, have made it so. Race does matter, and I won’t pretend otherwise in my parenting. I hope my daughter, white or not, always remembers this.