When I was a young girl, my cousin did my hair one afternoon. She had pulled all of my sandy brown hair very tight into five pigtails. She had braided and embellished them each with 5 different brightly colored daisy barrettes. I remember looking in the mirror and hating my reflection. I looked like Medusa, and even further, I looked like a little black girl. My mama came to pick me up and commented on how pretty it looked. However, as soon as we were in the car and out of the drive way I began to cry as I tried to pull and pry each clip from my hair. My mama asked me what was the matter and I responded with, “I wish I had hair like yours! I want blonde hair and green eyes”! I cried relentlessly. “I wish I was all the way white”!
I grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan also known as cereal city. It was a small town that smelled of freshly made fruit loops in the morning and seemed to appear almost abandoned at night. My mama was a short, pale white woman with curly blonde hair, and eyes that alternated between green to hazel. My daddy was a tall, black man with broad, thick shoulders. In 1991, their senior year, they had me. Only one year and eleven months later they had my brother. My mama and daddy were both students, and had full time jobs therefore causing my brother and me to go to school and then spend the remainder of our evening with our grandparents.
I remember afternoons at my black grandmother’s, we called her grandma Hampton. She was a plump, short woman that was smiling every time you saw her. My Grandma Hampton’s house was where I, my brother, and all the rest of my cousins would go. Her house always smelled of cigarette smoke and fried food. She had white carpets that she had cleaned regularly, she stayed in the kitchen most of my life, preparing over three meals a day. As I think back, no matter what day a week it was, there would always be a large crowd of people there, gathered together. Each adult would have glass dark liquor, or a beer. I would collect the empty cans once they left the table so that when Papa took me to the store, I could buy candy with the 10 cent refund. My cousins, brother and I would run around playing games. The only time that we would stop would be to “times out” to eat a plate consisting of fried pork chops and macaroni and cheese. We would then chug cup after cup, of red Kool-Aid that we had poured extra sugar in. We would go through a box of Drumstick ice cream cones in one hour as we snuck them past my Papa. We tiptoed, not knowing that he wasn’t aware of most of the things that went on. We would watch Selena, or Titanic or episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bellaire until we all fell asleep. We would wake up to the smell of sizzling bacon and eggs and once again, a clean house. That was my life at Grandma Hampton’s house, which was life with my black side.
Then there was my white grandma’s house. My white grandma, who we called Grandma Julie, had brown hair with a very petite structure. I would walk into her home and everything would be quiet with nothing but a lamp on. My aunt would be watching Dawson’s Creek in one room, while my other aunt was watching Growing Pains in another. Most of the time at my grandma Julie’s house was spent in the back yard. My aunt, my brother and I would play and pick things out of my grandma’s garden. She had the biggest, fullest raspberry bushes that I still have ever seen to this day. When the sun went down we would come inside and my we would paint or color We would then gather around a table, and say a Lutheran prayer as we ate dishes such as lasagna, and whatever vegetable was in season. We would normally reside to the living room where my grandma would begin to sew, while my aunts attempted to teach me board games. The contrast was unbelievable as we listened to Aerosmith and Celine Deon and still had visits from the tooth fairy even through our parents were nowhere near.
As I reflect on my childhood, I have to come to realize that I didn’t dislike my black half, I just was so in love with my mother that I would do anything to be more like her. I still find pleasure in the memories of my excitement when my mama would come to visit me during school hours. I’d confuse all my classmates when I would proudly claim her as my mom. It was the ordinary days with my white grandmother as we fed the ducks, took long bike rides, and picnics in that park that made my life with my black side seem inferior. I was always wishing my afro was more tamed or that my dark brown eyes would mysteriously turn a blue or green color. I struggled with accepting that I was interracial. As I look back on my childhood I spent far too much time longing to be someone that I wasn’t. I wanted to be white, because my mother and everyone around me deemed it as beautiful.
It was my move from the north to the south that resulted in my love for myself. It was the warm southern heat and hospitality that took me in. Ironically, it was the south that seemed to view my pigment as beautiful. It was the diversity of people that I came in contact with that gave me confidence. I was able to enter high school feeling self-assured and superior, due to the fact that I was so much more than only one race. I am mixed with black and white. I have the best of both worlds. I was born with the opportunity to experience such diversity and difference in cultures. I feel as though I can communicate and relate to such a wide variety of people. No matter where I go in my life, I will never be an outcast. One day, when my son asks me about his curly hair, and his brown tinted skin, I will explain to him that he has it all. I will explain to him that his race will open whatever door he chooses. As of Today though, I am this beautiful light skinned woman. I have hair that is never consistent, never submitting to neither white nor black products. I have my father’s dark eyes, and athletic build, and I am okay with that. I have my mother’s legs, as well as my Grandma Hampton’s hips. I am at a happy median between black and white, and even further, a mixture of the two.