What My White Mother Taught Me About Being Brown
I am biracial. My mother is White and my father is Black. Living within the confined walls of my colorful family, I was always safe. That all changed, however, after a dramatic encounter at school.
I am biracial. My mother is White and my father is Black. Living within the confined walls of my colorful family, I was always safe. When I was 4, however, my “racial safety helmet” was about to be unfastened. It was then that I was able to begin preschool. I was actually excited to start preschool because my sister was already in the very prestigious second grade, and she was my idol. I would have sold my soul to wrap my fingers around her purple Beauty and the Beast lunch box.
The night before, I remember tossing in my bed, unable to stifle my tiny body into the yellow covers that suffocated me. When I picture it now, I’m wearing my pink silk pajamas. I wore them every night because my mother wore silk pajamas, and I would have given anything to resemble my mommy, who, to me, was my twin. Whether I really wore those pajamas has escaped me now. Time often finds its way into your head. It smooth’s out the edges of your crinkled past and creates this faulty reality of how you interpreted the event.
“Black and white makes gray, Heather,” my friend snapped. I just smiled and began to stir, not even acknowledging her. I became a mad scientist as I threw myself into my work.
The day preschool started I willingly adventured off to my new life chapter. I could have sworn I was a woman as my father walked me down the hallway and through those glass doors, which would in the end, teach me more than school ever would. Once through those doors, I was independent.
Being social, I was excited at the possibility of making new relationships. Once inside those preschool walls, I made my first real friend of my own who wasn’t stuck with me due to a bloodline. We shared our animal crackers during snack time, whispered through our naptime, and quickly became confidants once the initial excitement blew over and we decided we missed our mommies.
At the end of the day my mother came to pick me up. I grabbed her hand and proudly introduced her to my “best friend,” and then it happened. In the few moments she left me to go speak to the teacher, I became tainted.
“That can’t be your mom,” my previous confidant blurted nonchalantly, “She’s White.”
I said not a word of the incident to my mother. But as the next morning passed as quickly as it came, I was beginning to become upset at the idea of not yet proving my relationship with my mother to the girl. That was until we were able to paint.
I watched as the other children began their finger-painting portraits. Most of the colors cluttered their hair and clothes rather than the paper itself. Reaching for a bowl, I snatched the black container and fastened my small fingers around its handle. The paint passed like tar as its thick contents consumed my bowl. Reaching for the white paint, I copied my previous motions as I blended the two colors to form one.
“Black and white makes gray, Heather,” my friend snapped. I just smiled and began to stir, not even acknowledging her. I became a mad scientist as I threw myself into my work. The noisy room grew silent as I stirred vigorously and bit my lip while waiting for my master plan to unfold.
“Heather,” my teacher now started in, “black and white does make gray, sweetheart.”
Tears began to stain my cheeks as I stared at the deep gray sky that sat on my table. For an hour I sat, refusing to break my gaze. Not a muscle in my body moved, besides the hand that just kept stirring. As parents began to collect their children, I finally closed the eyes that had for so long never been open at all.
Then my mother came. Compressing me into a tiny ball, I collapsed in her arms. I begged her to never bring me back to this place; never again could I show myself to these people who had stolen my mom from me.
At home, I told my mom of the terrorizing ordeal I had faced all on my own. I could see in her eyes the agony she felt at not being able to save me, as she always had done in the past.
“You can’t paint people,” she said, as she began the speech that would explain that skin and paint are two separate entities.
“How do I prove to the kids at school that you are my mom from now on?” I asked her.
“Well,” she began, “you just look them in the eyes and tell them, ‘because I said so.’”
When I told this story to my kids at summer camp years ago, it hit me in a completely new light. How often do you think Satan approaches God saying, “They aren’t yours? Look at them! They look nothing like you!”
And then I can see my God just smile. “Trust Me,” He says while shaking His head, “They are mine. They’re all mine.” And then He raises His nail-scarred hands, looks the devil straight in the eyes and says, “Because I said so.”
Heather Thompson Day is a lecturer for Southwestern Michigan College, Purdue Tech University, and Ferris State University. She is the author of five Christian books and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.