Go Back to Your Own People
Let me start out by saying that I adore my dad. He’s awesome. He’s got more kick ass in his little crooked finger than anyone I have ever known. That being said, I have always been acutely aware that he is a human being. I feel the same way about my mom, but this isn’t about her – this time. We are all flawed. Often kids grow up into adults that have a hard time recognizing and coming to grips with the fact that their parents are actual people who make mistakes and have their own set of problems.
The reason I bring it up is because it was during one of my dad’s weak and angry moments that he said something hateful to my mother because he knew how much it would hurt her. He didn’t know how much it would shape me. When I was a kid, probably about seven, I remember my parents coming home after a night out on the town and they were fighting. They didn’t know I was awake, and that I was listening. I heard my dad say to my mom, “Why don’t you go back to your own people.” This confused me and infuriated me so much that I had the balls to storm out of my room and take on my dad. I can’t remember what I said, something along the lines of not to talk to her like that, and if she goes back to her people, where would that leave me? Who are my people? I imagine my mother was terrified and probably a little proud. I imagine that my dad couldn’t believe his ears. I only remember that they sent me back to bed, probably told me to mind my own business because that’s one of my mother’s favorite fall back directions. But it was my business. It was the first time I remember really questioning who and what I am.
I remember thinking that I would go with my mom. We would move in with her parents, my Nanny and Grandpa. I always felt more comfortable with my mom’s side. I fit with them. I blended with them. If they were her people, they were my people too. And I was pretty OK with that for a long time – until I started learning about racism and began to understand why I had the experiences I did. In the end, my mom and I didn’t go anywhere. In fact, my parents are still together to this day. So, I know that my parents love each other, and I never questioned how much they love me. I get it now that my dad said what he did because as in all long-term relationships he knows exactly what buttons to push to send her over the edge and hurt her as bad as he can. I imagine she can do it to him too, but I never heard her say anything that affected me as profoundly as what he said that night did.
I’ve learned over the years that I will never really fit in anywhere. I have cousins on my dad’s side that have a Hispanic/Latino parent. At family reunions I joke that they are my primas. For them, it’s their mother who is white and I feel like they are more whitewashed than I am but I don’t really know. My friend says I’m a coconut because I’m brown on the outside and white on the inside. I can’t think of anyone offhand on my mom’s side that has a white parent.
I will leave you with a conversation I had with one of my white cousins in the local grocery store a couple of months ago. I, of course, will protect her identity.
Me: “Hi Kelly! How are you?”
Cousin: “Oh, Ginger! I’m doing good honey how are you?”
Me: “Oh fine! I haven’t seen you in so long!”
Cousin: “I know. I never really leave the county. How are your folks?”
Me: “Oh, the same. They never change. They’re fine.”
Cousin: “Are they still raising those little kids?”
Me: “Well, they have one for now. My sister has custody of Stanley.” (Not his real name.)
Cousin: “Oh, and your brother? How is he?”
Me: “He’s fine. He lives next door to my sister. We all live in the same neighborhood.”
Cousin: “Oh really? I didn’t know he was back in town. We haven’t hung out much as adults. I remember when we were kids I always wanted to play with him but your mom would never let him come outside because she didn’t want him to get dark.”
That’s all I remember because my brain shut off from being so pissed. I don’t know which was worse, the fact that she thought it was perfectly OK to say that to me or the fact that I knew it was true.