I can celebrate my blackness without stunting my future biracial daughter's self-love
"When are you going to have cute light-skinned babies?"
"Aw, your baby is going to look like North West."
My unspoken responses to crass statements about our future children expand daily: "First of all, I am the reason our babies will look beautiful. Like, he's fine, but I'm definitely the hotter one. Secondly, don't ever associate me — or anything that comes out of my coochie — with that family."
Yes, we want kids. Yes, the baby fever is real. However, as a dark-skinned black woman, I get annoyed when people who I thought appreciated my physical beauty seem to envy our unborn kids for having features I don't possess. My husband empathizes with my frustrations. As a biracial man, he has had both positive and negative experiences with colorism.
We blocked out ignorant comments and made a policy not to school loved ones on their inappropriate messaging until we had kids. Life post-November 2016 was already a dumpster fire; there were other issues to worry about. Sharing Instagram babies via chat became our stress reliever. Who could be upset when there were so many precious chocolate babies in the world?
"You know what? You might be a reversed colorist," he said at one point.
Apparently, I only forwarded and responded enthusiastically to dark-skinned black babies and tanned Latino babies.
"You know our babies are gonna be light," he said.
I felt like that confused Mr. Krabs meme. What do you mean I can't has chocolate babies? Cognitive dissonance. While I knew countless biracial black people and pointed them out to my husband, mentally I pictured our boys looking like him (Ecuadorian mixed with white Wisconsin cheese) and our girls looking like me (dark island gyals with bright eyes).
I wasn't trying to promote (reverse) colorism; I was sharing a baby ideal I had in my mind based on my life experiences. See, my mom has light-to-medium-toned skin. Her makeup advice resulted in me wearing face powder that was too light for my skin tone for almost a decade. This was unacceptable, and I made a conscious effort to compile life advice specifically for my daughter — who would be a carbon copy of me. I thought I had a well-developed plan for helping my future daughter on her path to self-love, but the curveball of being in an interracial relationship came unexpected and beyond my realm of imagination. The type-A in me hates to concede that parenting means navigating the unexpected.
I was expecting to promote black love. When #BlackGirlMagic started trending, I felt so lifted. I'd learned to love me. Dark girls and nappy hair were finally getting some respeck. But now when I thought about my future daughters, I worried about how to be open about loving me without making them feel self-conscious about being mixed-raced and having lighter skin and looser hair.
Growing to love my body has been one of the longest journeys of my life.
I was just entering puberty when I became tall enough to look at myself in the bathroom mirror without a step-stool. I was black, lanky, wore braces, and battled body odor issues. (Thank the gods for stick deodorant because that spray stuff was not cutting it.) By 13, I'd been called some pretty nasty names, including "black burnt up bubble-eyed biscuit." (Yes, really.) Every day, as I entered and exited the shower, I realized that I often dodged the bathroom mirror. I didn't like taking photos. I avoided looking at myself even while I brushed my teeth. I didn't want to be a "sex with the lights off" person, so I devised a plan to get comfortable with myself and my body.
Phase One: Always make eye contact with the mirror and smile while brushing my teeth.
Phase Two: Spend at least one minute each day checking out my figure while wearing a big T-shirt and a bra. The goal was to become comfortable with the idea of having a torso.
Phase Three: Same as previous except modified to only wearing a tank top and a bra.
My community told me that black love was dying and it was up to black women to preserve it by marrying and procreating with black men. So at 25, I jumped into the online dating scene because I was tired of waiting for the perfect black man to recognize my awesome. If I'm extra honest, dating online was easier because childhood teasing made it difficult for me to make eye contact with black men. Although I was completely comfortable with my naked body and sexuality, every time I saw any black man, negative thoughts would cause me to divert my eyes.
How dare you look at him. You're ugly. You act too white. You don't know how to gyrate your hips and butt. You can't cook for squat. Cover your face; you're repulsive.
For a girl — now woman — who the world saw as witty, well-traveled, confident, and compassionate, this burden of unworthiness was crippling. Around the same time, I learned about increased dating challenges for college-educated black women. I tried to deny it, but as each dateless week passed, I knew I needed to do something different. Adjusting every filter on OKCupid resulted in only two potential black-identified matches. Eventually, I decided to open the criteria to include men of all races. Two years later I married the love of my life.
"Do you think I would be a crappy mom if I cut our daughter's hair off just so that I can have long hair?" I asked my husband. "I love how my long hair makes me feel, and I'm not going to spend 15 hours a week playing hairdresser. But I also don't want people to think I'm cutting their hair because of jealousy."
He replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "Toddlers don't need long hair; we can let them grow dreads." We discussed this as he prepped our lunch. Eventually, he explained that my fears were kind of like the #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter debate. "When you say 'black is beautiful' you're saying black lives matter; you're not negating all lives," he said.
I know that's super simplified and real life will be more challenging. However, that conversation was enough to stop my panicked thoughts. I still only forward chocolate Instagram babies because don't hate, appreciate. My ego still only allows me to assert that my children will be beautiful mostly because of me. But I'm trying not to stress about the unknown and trust that the answers will come when I need them.