Whenever I looked into the mirror, I never saw a reflection of her, so for years I often wondered why she always told me, “You look just like me.”
It wasn’t until around 2008 when Mom visited my office that I learned why. I introduced her to the custodian that day. The custodian replied, “Oh, she looks just like you.” Suddenly, my Mom jerked around and answered, “You think so? You’re one of the few people who have ever said that. Actually, she looks like her Dad.”
I can’t tell you how shocked I was not only hearing those words, but visualizing Mom’s expression when she uttered them. Now, years later I had my answer and it came directly from Mom’s mouth. It was at that exact moment I realized that Mom, just like a protective animal whose instincts automatically kicks in to protect their young, used her loving motherly tactics all these years to protect my emotional state, thus my mental complex. Mom used her motherly skills and “know how” to shape a healthy identity within me.
You see, I’ve long known that even within the Black race there’s a sense of bigotry and hidden hegemony where skin color is concerned. What would one term this sort of racism? Intraracism, interracism, inner racism? Who knows? What I’ve experienced is the lighter the skin tone, the more advances you’d receive in life. I grew up hearing lighter skin toned girls fondly referred to as bright skin, red, or yellow bone. They appeared to be favored by most and were considered the prettiest girls in school. For me, something was wrong with that picture (ideology) because whenever I Iooked into the mirror, I saw beauty existing in my dark skin.
From a very early age, I remember countless incidences at Mom’s side whether it was a funeral, family reunion and/or the like. People remembered which child I was due to my dark skin tone. One of my Mom’s friends said, “Oh, I know exactly which one you are. You’re Cherrye, the dark one.” Although Mom tried to hide it, I could see how incensed she became. How dare anyone identify her baby by skin color! I heard messages such as this, and more, all my young life. The more I heard these words, the more Mom would say, “You look just like me.”
I was confused by her conviction, but I never confessed. I never saw an image of my face within hers. I always felt that I did favor my Dad’s skin tone because I am the darkest of my siblings. I’ve always had that “chocolate” hue and/or overtone, and my siblings are a golden brown, but I never shared my inner thoughts with Mom. As honored as I was to share in her beauty, somehow I felt she’d be the one with hurt feelings.
In my eyes, I saw reflections of my younger brother and sister (each to the far left and right) of Mom, and as one can see, I am darker than the rest. What I noticed, however, was that my Mom never used skin tone when referring to her children. Why would she? Along with our Dad, Mom spent time rearing each of us having deep self-assurance and love for self. They bragged on our intelligences and performances whenever warranted.
As time moves on, I’m reminded of profound divisions among races of people, especially when there are high profile cases in the media. Seemingly, we read and hear stark differences in opinions, but not based on right/wrong; just/unjust, and morals/values, but on the color of one’s skin tone.
Realizing this, however, jerks my heart strings because I know first-hand that skin tone isn’t just a Black and White issue, but an issue within races of people. Where did this come from?
Since most people realize what racial prejudice means (separation, hatred, division, segregation, intolerance) why or how could a race of people do this one to another? Is it due to political power, the sense of social economic advancement, prestige, money, or supremacy? Whatever the cause it’s a devastating political color complex issue that we should readily want to liberate ourselves away from. Historically speaking, we know the stories of domination, cruelty and oppression based on skin tone, so why in the world would people inflict the same pain on members of their particular race? Wasn’t this sort of bigotry hated by the oppressed?
Similarly, it is just as damaging for darker skinned people to embrace power movements while disallowing lighter skinned people to become a part of groups, forum discussions, and the like. The philosophy and belief system of a true melting pot nation shouldn’t convert into a one-sided message.
Regardless of your take on the matter, you’d think race and color wouldn’t have stock in twenty-first century America, but there are still divisions today.
Now we’ve merged into an influx of interracial marriages, thus biracial and multiracial unions. After 46 years, interracial marriages have flourished, but we still do not have a “good grip” on color and race matters in terms of the traditional African Americans on one side and Caucasians on the other side of issues, let alone color complex biases and prejudices within a single race.
The 1967 landmark case Loving v. Virginia ruling should have given us the step needed to get past race issues. Many people may not know the story, but Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. It was deemed that their marriage violated the state’s anti-miscegenation (sexual relations between people of different races, especially of different skin colors, leading to the birth of children) statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which barred marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored” (a term/classification for Black race used in those days). The Supreme Court’s undisputed verdict seized this ban as unconstitutional. This victory also meant that Pace v. Alabama (1883) ruling was overturned, so there are no longer race-based lawful limitations on marriages in the United States.
Our 21st century America is more diverse than ever before with the potential of becoming a true melting pot. So much so, I married my husband not based on his race, skin tone, or hue, but due to the content of his character. What was once known as exotic, strange and outlandish is now commonplace. With this in mind we must make paradigm shifts needed for embracing people based on their talents and character and not skin tone.
As a parent and mother of a biracial child, I knew right away that I would empower my child just as my Mom and Dad had done for me. There wasn’t going to be an “Imitation of Life” episode in my mixed-raced family home.
Irrespective of one’s skin tone children should feel empowered with a belief system of having skills and virtues in life worthy of being shared with others. Children should possess deep-seated affirmation of self-worth and a strong sense of being capable of making valued contributions in our society. We must shape and support the identity development of our children, whether they are monoracial, biracial or multiracial, and regardless of their skin tone and/or hue.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful place to dwell realizing that each of us has raised our children to consider the content of one’s character and not base their self-worth according to skin tone alone? (This is how I’m choosing to raise my daughter.) By doing so, I believe we’d be better off as a nation. And it’s possible; we can erase the fundamental racial divide world-wide. Then skin tone wouldn’t matter at all.
Cherrye Vasquez is a public school administrator and an adjunct professor. She has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Curriculum & Instruction; a Master of Education in Special Education; and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Pathology/Audiology. Vasquez specializes in Multi-cultural education and holds certifications in Early Childhood Handicapped, in Mid-Management and as an Educational Diagnostician. She lives in Houston with her husband, Roy and her daughter, Kelly.
To learn more about Dr. Cherrye Vasquez, and her work:
Books That Sow: Strength, Character & Diversity
and visit her Website at: http://www.BooksThatSow.com