(a post which contains, among other things, an attempt to summarize Utah's complex web of race relations in a pithy paragraph but which ends up being a complete mess and makes me look like an idiot and possibly a racist myself (which I'm sure that on some level I am, in the same way that I still find homophobia within myself) so please don't hate me after you've read this, I just need to get it out, and I'm willing to listen to others' thoughts on the matter)
Our baby is only 6 weeks old, and already we're having race-relations problems.
A pre-shooler informed Kristin that our baby has a black face. "That baby's face is black" she went on to elaborate. Her mother quickly replied, "Oh no, her face isn't black, it's just her skin's darker than yours."
What's wrong with this exchange?
Let me just sketch some context here. We live in Salt Lake City. In the heart of Utah. A state which is characterized by most people who don't live here (and, to be honest, quite few people that do) as one of the whitest places in the US. This is not true. We have a very diverse population. We all just stay hidden in our little ghettos. Some examples: Utah is currently taking in thousands of refugees from all over the world, but for the most part citizens don't see or interact with them, heck, most Utahns don't even know about them; per capita we have the 3rd largest queer population in the country, yet we have some of the most draconian anti-gay laws on the books which were placed there recently not because Utah admits to having a large gay population that needs to be punished/controlled/put-in-their-place but to "send a message to the rest of the country" (italics mine); and we have large areas in all our major cities (ok, two out of the three) where English and White faces are rare. The numbers of our non-wasp population may be small compared with other regions in the country, but per capita the numbers are significant, and significant in the fact of their virtual erasure in the public sphere. However, we don't have large numbers of Blacks. Well, we have an increasing number of Africans, but not a large number of African Americans. (One other point I'll just make here: on the Wasatch Front -- our metropolitan area that contains all our important cities except Park City -- Mormons are actually in the minority. The problem is that they're the largest minority and they're solidly united, while the other population segments tend to be fractious).
So, as you can see, we have race (and other) problems. Our big (big big) race conflicts manifest themselves between Anglos and Latinos. We also have conflicts between Whites and Pacific Islanders, but since most of the Pacific Islanders immigrated under the aegis of the dominant religion, (and the Latinos are mostly Catholic) those problems are glossed over like a crazy relative hidden in the attic. Yet, most of the dialogue and materials on race relations and racism (at least those presented here) are based on Black/White tensions. So it's very easy for Utahns to "talk the talk" and think that racism isn't a big problem here because we are such dang nice, evolved people and we would never call a Black person a nigger or insinuate that by aborting all Black babies we would solve our crime problems. After all, "it's not Blacks that cause crime, it's the Mexicans". Racism as expressed towards Latinos is just "unfortunate but those illiterate, dirty Mexicans [if you speak Spanish you're Mexican whether or not you actually hailed from Mexico] bring it on themselves by coming where they're not wanted and taking our jobs and draining our resources and not even bothering to learn to speak our language." Oh yeah, and they're ungrateful and rude to us (for us read Anglos). Oh, we're evolved, all right.
So, back to the personal in this political moment. Our donor is Black. This in itself made it impossible for people to know that we used a known donor and not to know who it was since he's the only Black man in Kristin's and my friend circle. But more importantly (since we can't keep a secret so everyone was sure to know who our donor was anyway) this makes Julia biracial. And it makes her biracial in a unique situation: biracial children aren't unusual in Utah, but the races involved are Latino, Pacific Islander and White. Black/White biracial children are much rarer here. Whereas if Julia were half Latino or half Pacific Islander she would have resources to help her honor and hold to her non-white half. She would have a community both of people who identify as the race of her other half, and as biracial in the same way that she is. The way it stands now, the only access she has to more than just academic knowledge of Blackness is through her donor. This is tricky in itself because though we want him to play an important role in her life, we don't want him to play such an exclusively important role in her life. We don't want any judge for whatever reason to ever think that Julia would be better off in his (or his family's) custody. Yet to be seeking out role-models and "intentional family" members based on skin color also feels wrong. We don't want to make skin color a criterion for a relationship.
It is very important to both Kristin and I that Julia not be forced into a racial identity. We know that in very important ways everyone is forced into a racial identity, but we want her to be able to hold and honor and inhabit as much as possible both her racial heritages. This is why we found the tableau I started this post with so upsetting. In one moment Julia was both racialized as "other" (though the pre-schooler doesn't have a full grasp of the meaning of what she said, she definitely gets the "other" part of what she heard, the most upsetting thing is that she picked that language up from someone speaking in a racialized way about Julia either to her in front of her) and had her differences (e)rased. We do not want to force her into being White just because we are both White and most of our extended families are White any more than we want her to be forced into being Black because of the color of her skin. It may be crazy, but we want her to be able to be both, at least until she is old enough to choose for herself. Is this unrealistic? (I'm serious here, we're grasping in the dark, if you have thoughts please share them) Until Julia can choose which race she wants to identify with, or choose to try to hold her space between the two, Kristin and I want to hold that space open for her. Though we feel, in some respects, woefully inadequate for the task, we are giving it our best shot. We were taken by surprise in this instance, but the next time it happens, we're planning on trying to have a dialogue about making space for both of Julia's races.
If you have any thoughts at all, please comment. I'm sure my logic and thought processes are confused and flawed. Kristin and I are still trying to work out why we feel the way we feel and the best way to do what we want to accomplish. You'd think that we would've worked all this out during the ttc and pregnancy, but having a baby made it suddenly real and not merely an academic exercise. I've spent days working on this post and am a little afraid of posting it for fear that I sound like a horrible racist or terrible idealist or a completely incomptent mother. I may be all of these things, but I'm not completely sure, so if you want to point it out, please do so, but be gentle; I learn best when I'm dealt with tenderly.