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Being Pro Black When You Could Pass As White




being pro black when you pass

Source: Anya Alexander / Anya Alexander

When I started to interview therapists and parents about raising pro-Black children, I didn’t consider all realities. Being that the story idea was based on Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, I was thinking about parents who presented as Black, unquestionably. But as we all know, there are several ways to be Black.

Growing up, in elementary school, my sister and I were friends with one of our neighbors in our culdesac, Jasmine Hunter. Decades later, Jasmine is a Dr. Jasmine Hunter Winbush, a psychologist specializing in multicultural identity. Which makes sense. Jasmine’s mother is White and her father is Black. We spent so much time in her house, with her mom watching us before school, that her racial identity as a biracial Black girl was clear to us.

It wasn’t until I got older, speaking to other Black people about what they considered Black that it occurred to me that people in the world could look at Jasmine and not immediately see her Blackness.

Today, Jasmine is married (to a Black man), and is raising a daughter who she sees as a Black woman. It’s a decision that has been questioned, sometimes by the people closest to her. So her perspective on being pro-Black first for herself and now for her child was different from anyone else I spoke to—which is why I separated her comments from the other medical professionals I spoke to. Check out her story below.

My experience is unique because Nick [her husband] and I are raising Phoenix [her daughter]. And Nick would say, very proudly he was raised pro-Black. They have a long history in their family of being activists and raising him and his sister to have a level of Black consciousness that was intentional. Then there’s me, being biracial. And even him bringing me home was a thing–but that’s a story for another time.

My parents raising a biracial child, their whole approach was let’s make sure they don’t feel like weirdos. Now, there are biracial kids everywhere but back then, like they’re left out. So it wasn’t pro-Black, it was pro-You, individualism. So the problem with that was, it wasn’t until I got to college–which was predominately White and I was like ‘Wait, I’m confused. Is this the real world? Or [our school system] and how I was raised the real world?’ A lot of my education around Blackness, I had to find out in a different way than I would say most Black people.  I don’t know about biracial kids. I think most biracial people have a similar story. They want their race to be colorblind or not really talk about it. So for this conversation, my perspective is unique in that the way in which I was educated and the way me and Nick are raising our child is different.

MN: What is the approach you both thought about taking in raising your daughter?

People ask you all types of sh*t when you’re pregnant. People just get very bold. Being pregnant right off, people would say all this stuff about her being mixed, and what her hair would look like and I would have this visceral reaction to that. Because I would say, ‘We’re going to raise her as Black. I can’t know what the color of her skin is going to be, there’s no telling.’ Me and my brother are lightest people we know so I didn’t want to assume. But I want to prepare her to be in a world where she will be seen as Black. And to be fair, I can’t raise her to be seen as a Black woman when 90 percent of the time, I’m not seen as that. I’m seen as ambiguous in some way. So I took it very personally. Nick is not a Black woman but he is Black and I wanted her to have that experience.

I would say that, even to my mom, who is like my best friend, she would be like, ‘What about…that just feels like it’s diminishing a part of her identity.’ She took that personally. I, at the very beginning, even filling out paperwork would say that she’s Black. My mom would be like, ‘Well, can you put that she has multiple identities?’ And I was like, ‘No mom.’ She wanted to go into this history. “Well, people have Black blood and White blood…’ And I would tell her, this is not your play to call. This really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with you. But that’s hard to say to your mom.

We kind of get the jokes in the family like, ‘Here come Jasmine and Nick. They’re the militant ones. Don’t say anything to them.’

I kind of have a little bit of the light skin/biracial privilege like Colin Kaepernick. So often times, they’re not saying anything different than what Black people have been saying for a long time but they get people to listen, for better or for worse, and they get White people to listen. I take that privilege and I want to be able to use it. Before I had my kid, I feel like people would listen up, because if nothing else they were curious about why I had my perspective and looked the way that I did. So raising her, I’m aware that she’ll look at me and be like, ‘I’m confused.’ I’m going to have to break it all down to her. So it’s on my mind all the time. And she’s very young but I’m still intentional about the things I expose her to. The books that she reads. And girl, there’s a book for everything.

The moment your child comes out of your womb or whoever’s womb or however they get into the world, the only reality they know is the one you create for them. All that they see or don’t see is whatever you provide for them, at first. If you go around your house and ask yourself what are you seeing? What type of artwork? What color are the people on the tv screen? What type of toys are there? What type of books are there? What do your neighbors look like? I try to imagine if I was being introduced to the world for the first time, what would I think about it? And then, not very long after they’re born, they start to pay more attention to society, they start to see things. At that point, they’re going to be inundated with a lack of representation like in the Disney movies, misrepresentation or a straight up negative representation. So I think it’s important that you make sure you intentionally inundate your kids with positive, holistic identities that look like them.

I can’t tell you how many of my friends who have brown and Black little girls who think that they’re Elsa from Frozen. And you don’t want to be buzz kill all time but you don’t look like her and they need to know. Not only is that okay, it’s a good thing. Because these are all the things Elsa doesn’t have. And that’s when my parents start rolling their eyes. But they need to hear that because people are teaching and parenting them, whether you’re going to do it or not. You have to just know they’re sponges. So anything that you want them to know, you have to say it. And I think people get scared and think that kids don’t understand and I’ll tell them later. But they learn so young. Anything they’re coming into contact with, the daycare, the school system, the neighborhood you should be sure, ‘What are you showing them?’ Be intentional.

MN: Growing up, I thought my parents were a little too militant. And as I got older I understood they were trying to counteract the stuff I was going to come in contact with. But I know there were occasions when their family members thought they were doing too much. Have you ever experienced that?

All day. Definitely.  You always run the risk of not doing it right. So you have to do something, stick by it and be consistent.

Dr. Jasmine H. Winbush

Source: Courtesy of Dr. Jasmine Winbush / http://amethystpsych.com/about-me

I remember–I didn’t find out until later that my Black grandma said to my dad when they found out they were pregnant with me, she said, ‘Why would you do that? Why would you bring half-breeds into the world? They’re never going to find a place.’

And it’s a whole history there that wasn’t spoken about and kind of was talked around for a while. And my dad and my grandma were pretty close. I remember we used to go to her house every summer and I remember feeling–it was me and my twin cousins. We’re all the same age but they identify as Black. (Interestingly enough, their mom is mixed and their dad is Black but they’re darker than me.) And I remember going there every summer and feeling like, ‘I don’t know why but I feel like she didn’t like me.’ My parents never said anything but I wish they would have been more open about conversations about race. I feel like I was pretty attuned to things but because there was no conversation, I was left either internalizing or trying to make sense of things I didn’t have the language for. I was too young and they hadn’t given me that.

So it wasn’t until I just came home from one of those summers and I said, ‘Maybe I’m crazy but I don’t think she likes me.’ And I remember the look on my mom and dad’s face was not shock. I say that to say that you can’t do too much. I think it’s important to raise kids around a culture of conversation. In our family, the culture is not only can you talk about this kind of stuff, you will talk about this kind of stuff. Like I don’t want my daughter Phoenix to have questions and then her end up internalizing. I don’t want her to have some comment about the way she looks, or the way somebody else looks in comparison to her, or maybe why her and I look different, I’d rather her come and ask me than making up solutions on her own that she’s not really capable of doing.

There’s no such thing as doing too much. However, somebody will always think that.

MN: How should parents handle their child being exposed to an anti-Black sentiment. Growing up, we used to hear all the time about people having “good hair” and things like that. How should parents handle that?

I think it’s good for the kid to be around people who model standing up for what you believe in even when it’s painful to do that with people that you love. And I think there’s a way to do that where you don’t have to ruin Thanksgiving but I think you can make a stance, say something and then process it later with the kid. And I feel like growing up, a lot of things went unprocessed. They thought I couldn’t handle it. When the truth is, what I couldn’t handle, was the unknown and me being confused.

Somebody is always saying something inappropriate. You can’t hang around friends and family, Black friends and family especially, without somebody saying something homophobic or transphobic. And you don’t always want to be the person but you can say something. And they hear you, I know they do. And then you hear them using different pronouns next time. So if you’re hearing or feeling anti-Black sentiments around the kids, it’s important to find a way to say it. It doesn’t always have to be chaotic.

And then the conversation later with the kid is, ‘Do you remember when so-and-so said this? And did you hear what I said? What did you think about that?’

Because a lot of times, we overexplain with kids but they can pick up on energy and vibes and they know parents’ emotions. You can see a look on your mom or dad’s face and you know. So they pick up on that, whether we think they are or not.

So if you go back address it and give them the space, I think that is just modeling in and of itself. This is important, we talk about it.

And it’s hard. You don’t want people to be like, ‘Don’t invite her. She always has something to say.’ You can use humor when it’s appropriate. Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything, you can just give a look.

If there’s that foundation of love and respect, it can be a conversation. Also, there’s a way to do. And I’ve found myself not doing it the right way and then later being like, this is the way I could have handled that. And sometimes you’re just tired, ‘Like whatever, they’re going to do them.’ But when you have a little person looking to you like, ‘What is right? What is wrong? How do we respond to this?’ So I do feel more of a pressure to have these conversations, even if I’m not in the mood to do so.

MN: How do Black parents not pass down their own biases against White people to their Black children while teaching them to love themselves? I asked my parents about this and they said, ‘I don’t know if we did that.’ 

My gut reaction is that I don’t know if you can. There’s that whole analogy about putting your mask on, on the plane before you put your child’s on. And I do think, you need to do your work first. You need to be aware of where all your biases are and about what and why and figure out which ones you should protect your kids from. And the answer might be none of them. I’m not sure. My gut is you might not be able to avoid passing it down but you can be aware of when that’s happening and have a conversation about it. I’m thinking the total opposite. How can a White parent not pass down their prejudices or biases to their White children? And I’m like, ‘Damn, if they can’t either…then where do we go from there?’ How do we dialogue about this? And if your parents had totally shielded you from their biases, I don’t know if it would have been helpful to you or not–what do you think?

MN: I think –their preparation for me was watching Eyes on the Prize documentaries when we were in elementary school. And I remember thinking, ‘Damn, this is too much.’ But literally, in elementary, we were taunted with the Confederate flag and KKK things and Swastikas on the highway. They were telling us these things because they were still a thing. And when that happened, I didn’t have to ask any questions about what this meant. I’m grateful. And I think about myself I have a lot of resentment to White people for a lot of different reasons but I want my kid to be prepared but be open to experiencing the world for themselves. 

I know what you mean.

Babies are sponges. Whatever they taste, smell, touch, hear. Their senses are on overload. So whenever I notice her putting food in her mouth that’s new or hearing something I try to name what it is and talk about it out loud. And she just looks at me like I’m crazy but that’s how we consume the world. One day, there was a siren outside. And I was doing my thing where I talk her through. And I said, ‘That’s a police siren. You call the police when…’ And I was like, ‘Uhh, you…umm…well, they’re supposed to be there to help you.’ She was crawling onto the next thing by then. So when Nick got home, I said, ‘How do I– There are so few years where you can just be an innocent child and you don’t realize that the world is not here for you. And do I want to spoil her by making her fearful and paranoid by telling her these places are not safe? She’s going to find that out. You want them to be prepared but you don’t want them to have the burden. They’ll figure it out on their own, but you do have to prepare them. So we were talking about being as real as possible without inciting fear or anxiety. Sometimes you can do that by the way you’re communicating. It’s sad but you can be very matter of fact about it. Or if you know your own biases and prejudices, name them and talk about why that is, the history, the experiences. Parents don’t want to do that because it’s scary. Your kids do get scared but shit is scary. The world is scary. I don’t know how to get around that.

Parents who adopt kids will say, ‘When do I tell them?’ It’s best, if you can, for them to know all along. It’s better for them to realize that the world that I have and the reality I have is maybe different from other people and they are always grappling with that, then for one day their entire world shifts. And with that, the trust with you. You were supposed to be my place of safety. Same thing with this type of stuff.

It’s always going to be difficult but if they always know and it’s just a part of their reality and they never know anything else. It’s better than not talking about it and something happens, because it will– something political happens and they realize that the way they look, the color of their skin is important in this world and then you start trying to have conversations.

MN: Then it’s too late.

 

Dr. Jasmine H. Winbush is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in Atlanta, Georgia She has specialty training and experience in multicultural psychology, meaning she works with individuals who have felt “othered” in some way and/or hold identities that have been historically marginalized (women, individuals who are gender non-conforming/don’t identify within gender binaries, racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, religious/spiritual minorities, etc.).You can learn more about Dr. Winbush and her practice, here.




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