When I was growing up and filling out applications for school the race designations were cut and dry, you were either white non Hispanic, black, Asian or Hispanic. I always checked off the latter because of my father’s heritage – a Spanish Jew or Sephardic. This is my identity. As I became an adult, I always dissociated myself from other Jews because the Sephardic are considered the darker Jews as we came from Spain originally, but were dispersed in 1492 to places like Morocco, Turkey, and other parts of Africa and we are different from European Jews in our customs, our melodic chanting, our food, and even in our skin color.
Although my father and brothers had dark curly hair, olive complexions, and large noses, I myself was different from them in that my skin tone was pale, my hair blonde, my eyes blue. A Jewish butcher once commented to my mother that I looked like an Irish Catholic girl. As I made my way through adulthood, I carried this inside of me and thought of myself as white on the outside and darker on the inside. I felt as my neighbor who is white and Jewish once told me, “I always thought I was black.”
Then I adopted Tin and I read many tomes about transracial adoptions and I realized one day he and I would have a conversation about skin color where I would be viewed by him as white and he would have to understand his race color and difference. Even that was not black and white, because when I looked at his chocolate brown skin color, it was hard to think of him as black per se. Even though I have come to understand black as a culture, with pride, and not a skin color. And African Americans, like those of people of European descent come in many shades.
One night early on, I was putting Tin to bed and I came back to where his video camera was and I looked at the screen and I froze. The video screen showed a white baby sleeping in the crib and every part of me just cringed. I wanted my brown baby. Later, I was speaking to an African American father at a birthday party and he said to me that his son was six years old before he realized he was black and not white. This came about after a girl in school had written a poem about him and his beautiful skin color. I looked across at my son playing with the other kids and thought, okay, at six years old, we will have this conversation. But that was not to be, as a therapist once told me, just when you think it is time to have that conversation about sex with your child, you should have had it five years before.
We have a collection of books Why, When, Where, How, and What. Tin loves these books and when I turned to the page in Why about skin color, I almost closed it. My son was two and a half, surely we did not have to have this conversation right now. But he wanted to read it. It was about how the amount of melanin in you creates your skin color. And so we talked about my freckles and his brown skin and how he has more melanin than me.
Recently, during Obama’s reelection I was reminded again of being embarrassed to be lumped into the “white” category because I don’t identify myself as white. As I’ve begun having conversations with Tin and thinking about all of the conversations we will have, I’ve had to address my own whiteness and the fact is that I am a white parent by all definitions. So I’m actually now working on accepting this fact for myself. It’s as if in helping Tin identify with his race identity, I have had to learn to find pride in my own. A difficult task when white is pejorative in my own dictionary made so by the cult of angry white men that have been trying to run our country into the ground.
Yes, the pollyanna in me would love to believe that skin color doesn’t matter, that race classifications are just ways for people to classify you, but just in knowing that his skin color is classified pejoratively by some in the world, that even in Israel brothers are fighting brothers who think they are different, makes me want to do everything I can to raise awareness of our oneness while cultivating a respect for our differences.
I wonder how many of you do not match on the outside who you think you are on the inside?