I am my mother’s daughter: Assumptions about my multi-racial family
I have been told many, many times that my mom and I do not resemble each other. My mom has straight blonde hair, green eyes, and White skin while I have café au lait colored skin, curly brown hair, and brown eyes. It didn’t matter when people saw us that I had her hands or her bone structure—people labeled us as mismatched.
When I was growing up my best friend was a White girl who had more phenotypical similarities to my mother, and if the three of us were at a store or at a playground, invariably someone would look at my friend and say, “It’s nice to have friends over after school…” And with this statement my role was reassigned—I was the other—the visitor who did not belong.
As a little girl I wanted more than anything to be identified with my mother—I wanted to be like her. But, too often, in a cursory glance strangers would dislodge me. As I got older I would often interject,
“Actually, I am the daughter—she is the friend.”
Now that I am an adult, I wish I could say that I never have these moments, but recently I was waiting in a hospital to hear about my mom’s progress after a procedure and when the doctor came out to the waiting room the first thing he said to me was, “I was expecting someone who looked like her…”
And once again I was struck—how could he not see her in me? How could he not recognize me as her child?
Last fall when my mom took my oldest son to church without me, a woman who was visiting the parish asked her if he was a “ward of the state” and my mother, aghast, informed her, “No, this is my grandson.”
If we leave the antiquated turn of phrase aside, what strikes me about that moment is that the woman’s ignorant and biased statement was meant to be kind by recognizing my mom as a charitable White woman helping a poor Black boy. Hearing of this I felt the familiar rage and helplessness I had as a child. I could not protect my son or my mother from that moment—nor could I confront the woman who made such biased assumptions about my child.
I unpack the moment with a critical lens: the assumption that brown boys are expendable so of course this must have been a discarded child (rather than a loved treasure) and the assumption that an older woman behaving in every way as a grandmother could not be related to him.
These moments infuriate me—and yet they have also helped me. Because I am my mother’s daughter, I do not assume that I know which people belong to one another—I ask.
“We don’t know what relationship people have with one another without asking,” as I tell my son, “because you can’t know which person belongs to another just by looking at them.”
I do not assume that families fit my mold. I try to check my own expectations and biases to consider the possibility that my “normal” might not be the normal for others.
In loving memory of Josephine Hanincik.
Lori Taliaferro Riddick facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children with Raising Race Conscious Children. Lori also consults with public school districts to develop effective leaders. She formerly served as the Executive Director of Policy and Practice Services at New Leaders. Lori identifies as Black/Bi-racial/Multi-racial and is a mother to her six-year-old son and newborn son.